The Dyscalculia Screener is published by iansyst Ltd and has been developed in collaboration with Loughborough University.
Clare Trott, Mathematics Support Tutor from Loughborough University who has led the research project, provides an insight to the screener’s background.
Some years ago, a student suggested to me that she might be dyscalculic. I talked to the student in depth about the issues she faced with maths and I looked at her module notes.
It was immediately clear that she did not understand percentages or simple formulae. In fact, her notes were quite muddled, particularly the mathematical aspects.
At that time, I searched for an age appropriate screening tool. I could not find one. The student was screened for dyslexia and did not register as dyslexic. I wondered how many more students would present with possible dyscalculia.
A suitable screening tool was essential to use alongside the discussion with the individual.
As such a tool could not be found for post 16, it was decided to write a suitable test. Development on the Dyscalculia screener began.
There was initially much research into dyscalculia. The emphasis had to be on understanding Mathematics. A model was developed that took account of both number and applications of number. The model is given below.
The three number categories focus on the concept of number, comparative number sizes and number operations. The comparative section is further divided into 3 categories that develop comparisons by word, by symbol and by visual-spatial means. The operational section is split into conceptual and inferential. The former focuses on the conception of the correct choice of operation to achieve a required outcome or to reverse a process, while the latter highlights the ability to make comparative inferences about an outcome when given an operational definition.
The applications of number pinpoint the specific areas of graphical representation, tables of information, time, spatial orientation and symbolic abstraction, not in any formal algebraic sense.
The individual items were developed alongside the model and over a period of time with testing and modifications through a number of trials. From the outset, the appearance of the screening tool and the use of language were key considerations. All of the items had to fit in one screen shot so that scrolling is unnecessary. There is no set time limit within which the individual is required to complete the test. Whilst the screener is not a timed tool, most individuals will complete it in under an hour. Participants are encouraged to move on through the items and not to dwell on them for too long. This is designed to reduce anxiety that timed assessments cause, further eroding mathematical confidence. Without a time-limit, it can more easily establish what the participant understands.
There are many reasons why individuals experience mathematical difficulties, including dyscalculia, dyslexia, maths anxiety, pace of teaching, learning styles and working memory issues.
Dyslexia can be both a strength and a weakness for mathematics. There are many able dyslexic mathematicians. However, some dyslexics frequently reverse or miss out digits. They may struggle to read the accompanying text or experience memory and recall issues. It was therefore important that the screener provided a differentiation between the dyscalculic and the dyslexic individual.
Early trials of the screener yielded very encouraging results. Throughout the development and trials, a comparison was made of three groups. These were a dyscalculic group (those with a recognised assessment for dyscalculia), a dyslexic group (those with a recognised assessment for dyslexia) and a control group (those with no known neurodiverse profile). When an item did not differentiate the dyscalculic group from the other two groups, the item was removed from the screener. For example, one of the original items asked participants to compare the size of 0.71 against 0.17. Results for this item showed that the dyscalculic group did better than the dyslexic group. It is conjectured that this may be the result of digit reversal. On the other hand, a similar item asked participants to compare 3.59 with 3.509. This item resulted in difficulties for the dyscalculic group but not the dyslexic group thereby showing good discrimination for the dyscalculic group as required for the screening tool. This latter item was kept and the former discarded.
The final trials were split into two parts. The first part was conducted on a much larger scale with 504 participants. This was designed to collect general population data. From this data the thresholds for the statements “severely at risk‟ and “at risk‟ could be established. These were accordingly set at the 2nd and 8th percentile ranks.
The second part of the final trials saw the screener being tested on a number of individuals who had already been identified as dyscalculic through recognised assessments. This was to establish that the screener would correctly identify these dyscalculic individuals.
“The overall picture of results gives substantial evidence in support of the effectiveness of the Dyscalculia screening tool, not least in the substantial agreement between the appropriate indicators of “at risk‟ performance on the screener and those individuals who have already been identified as dyscalculic through recognised assessments”
(Trott, 2009, page 134).
Each individual will have a different profile of strengths and weaknesses across the 11 categories of the screener. This profile is available immediately after the individual has completed the screener. The profile utilises the “severely at risk” and “at risk” headings as described above. “Severely at risk” shows as red and “at risk” shows as amber with “not at risk” being green in a “traffic light” system. The coloured profile covers both the overall score and each of the 11 individual categories shown in the model of the screener in figure 1. An interpretive indication is given with the profile.
The Dyscalculia Screener is designed as a first step in the process of the identification of dyscalculia. It is designed to give an indication of possible dyscalculic difficulties. It is not a diagnosis, however, it is important to establish if the individual may be “at risk” and to get a clear picture of the difficulties experienced. Following an “at risk” result to the screening a formal diagnosis is usual. The screening process should consist of both an age appropriate screening test such as The Dyscalculia Screener and a detailed history of the mathematical background of the individual, including their strengths and weaknesses. The screener is designed for those in the 16+ age range. It is an online delivery which aims to provide an effective tool to identify those who might be “at risk” of dyscalculia, before referral to formal assessment.
© Clare Trott, November 2016.