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Answered by Erlene M. Shea

In order to answer this question, educators first need to consider the goal of IEP development.

For a student with a learning disability, the goal of an IEP is to maximize the student’s ability to access the curriculum.

Now, what do we know about students with a learning disability? We know they are smart; that they have average to above average intellectual abilities. We also know they will have needs in their ability to learn and that these needs will require accommodations to facilitate success.

Educators’ Beliefs about Math

Sutton & Krueger indicated in their publication, What We Know about Mathematics Teaching and Learning, 2002, p. 1, ‘All students can learn mathematics, and they deserve the opportunity to do so.’ This is a critical belief for teachers of math and translates into creating an equitable environment for all, with a variety of instructional strategies employed. The Ontario Curriculum, Grades 1-8, Mathematics indicates the need for students to acquire a positive attitude toward math, as a necessary condition to learning math in a way that will serve them well throughout their lives. Carol Dweck’s book, ‘Mindset’ and Mary Cay Ricci’s ‘Mindsets in the Classroom’ provide teachers with insight and strategies to build a growth mindset in the classroom.

The big idea in creating an effective IEP to support math learning for a student with LDs is that most students can access mathematical concepts at grade level in some capacity. Therefore, in order to provide opportunities for all students to participate in an engaging math-learning environment, we will want to develop IEPs that are more closely aligned with grade level expectations. This process involves differentiated instruction and assessment of expectations tailored to the student’s strengths and needs.

In making a long-range plan (an IEP) for a balanced mathematics program, teachers need to consider where to start:

  • Be familiar with the knowledge and skills that students are expected to acquire at their current grade level, and the knowledge and skills they were expected to acquire in the previous grade.

(The Guide to Effective Instruction in Mathematics, K-6, Vol. 1, p.48)

  • Though teachers should not go beyond the expectations for their grade, it is important to have an awareness of how the expectation will be dealt with in subsequent grades.

Focus Instruction on Key Concepts
The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat, Capacity Building Series, Differentiating Mathematics Instruction, September 2008

  • To differentiate instruction meaningfully for any mathematics concept, procedure and/or strategy, teachers need to recognize the key concepts.
  • Overall curriculum expectations provide a starting point for what the key concepts are, but probably do not help a teacher easily plan to differentiate instruction.
  • One approach: cluster specific curriculum expectations and use them as learning goals over a series of lessons. It is by clustering specific expectations, in conjunction with looking at the curriculum for other grade levels, that the key concepts become evident.

Example: Focusing Instruction on Key Concepts
Gr. 6 lesson; Number Sense and Numeration, Multiplying whole numbers by decimals

Goal: performing a computation like 3 x 1.5

Key Concepts:

  • Multiplication has many meanings (e.g. repeated addition, counting of equal groups).
  • Multiplication has those same meanings regardless of the values being multiplied.
  • Multiplication can be accomplished in parts (distributive property).

In the Grade 6 multiplication example, the key concepts relate more to what multiplication means, when it is used and its fundamental principles about the operation than the details about what kinds of numbers students can multiply. This allows for multiple entry points, which can address students at different levels of mathematical sophistication.

Good Questions, Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction, Marian Small

The following chart provides considerations for instructional and assessment accommodations:

Instructional Accommodations

Assessment Accommodations

Know the student’s strengths and leverage these strengths in instruction.

For example, a kinaesthetic learner will benefit from engaging in mathematically rich tasks, heterogeneous grouping and adequate resources coupled with explicit instruction

(e.g. manipulatives, calculators, digital tools), as will all students (UDL, Learning for All, 2013, p. 13).


Know the student’s needs and accommodate for them in instruction.


  • a student with visual-spatial needs will benefit from having visual representations paired with verbal explanations and instructions; a think-aloud strategy
  • a student with memory challenges will benefit from a formula chart for assignments and tests
Consider the student’s strengths and needs in assessment as well. Typically, the best assessments for and of learning for students with a learning disability will not be paper and pencil tasks.


Though such assessment will need to be practised at times, make a point of recording and documenting thinking in other ways; e.g. observations, conversations, products.



A Continuum of Support

When developing the IEP, work from an understanding of a continuum of support, with accommodations only as the first consideration, then modification to the number and complexity of expectations at grade level and finally, if necessary, modifications to a lower grade level.

It is advisable to consider each mathematics strand independently. For example, a student may have modified expectations for geometry and spatial sense from the current grade level and modified expectations for number sense and numeration from a lower grade level.

Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities, PPM 8, 2014

Continium Image

The continuum can be fluid; it can move both ways.

Thus, considering the goal of IEP development, the student profile and our beliefs about math, one can create an effective IEP, which will result in continued growth in the learning of mathematics.

Related Resources on the LD@school Website

Click here to access the webinar recording, "IEP Development and Implementation: Considering the Student, the Environment and the Academic Domain".

Click here to access the Ask the Experts answer to "What Strategies are Most Effective for Students with LDs in Math?"

Click here to access the article, "Mathematics and LDs".

Click here to access the learning module, "Concrete – Representational – Abstract: An Instructional Strategy for Math".

Click here to access the webinar recording, "Understanding Developmental Dyscalculia: A Math Learning Disability".


Ontario Ministry of Education. (2006). The Guide to Effective Instruction in Mathematics, K – 6, Vol.1. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). Policy/Program Memorandum No. 8, Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities.

Ministère de l’Éducation de l’Ontario. (2013). Learning for All: A Guide for Effective Assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12. Queen’s Printer for Ontario.

Small, Marian. (2014). Good Questions, Great Ways to Differentiate Mathematics Instruction. Modulo.

Sutton, J., & Kruefer, A. (2002). What We Know about Mathematics Teaching and Learning. McRel.

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Erlene Shea has been an educator with the Peel District School Board for over 30 years. She has experience in all divisions, with special education being the focus for the bulk of her career. Erlene has also worked at Trillium, one of the province’s Demonstration schools, in support of students with severe learning disabilities.