Testing for dyscalculia: why and how
This article concerns how adults may be tested for dyscalculia, the reasons that students and adults might want to be tested, and issues relating to admission to sixth form, university and employment for people with dyscalculia.
Please note there are two other articles on testing on this site
1: Why should an adult or a student taking GCSE exams and above be tested for dyscalculia?
First, the negative: testing does not make the dyscalculia go away. It simply confirms (if that is the result) that the individual is dyscalculic, and normally where the problems are. Nor does it automatically exclude the need to have a pass in GCSE maths or any other exam. More on this below.
A diagnostic test for dyscalculia may be helpful for several reasons:
- For the school – it enables the special needs department to see exactly what the problem is, and how the teaching of maths may be varied in order to help the individual pupil or student. In general terms this is the same as dyslexia – once one know the individual is dyslexic or dyscalculic, the teaching can be adjusted to account for this.
- For sixth form, college or university applications. Some institutions require a GCSE pass at a particular level before students can enter the establishment or take a certain course. Where the requirement is for laid down because the course being applied for contains maths at a certain level, then it is hard to argue with such a requirement. However, if (for example) a student wants to study for a degree in English, but the university requires GCSE maths at a certain level as an indication of a general all-round educational ability, it is almost certainly not reasonable to exclude a dyscalculic person, given the provisions of the Equalities Act. There are more details concerning this Act (which applies to the whole UK) on our website. The best approach is to make representation to the college or university before doing anything else, to see what their position is on this. In our experience many individual departments in higher education will waive the requirement for maths at a certain level, providing the course does not require the ability to undertake maths.
2: Compulsory retakes of maths at school.
Government regulations in England state that achieving a level 2 qualification, and in particular a GCSE grade 9 to 4 or A* to C, in both maths and English helps students to progress to further study, training and skilled employment. The maths and English condition of funding requires students to retake the exams until they achieve a pass at the required level.
It is therefore essential that the student is given the right sort of tuition in accordance with their special needs to be able to reach this attainment. Some schools, we know unofficially ignore the requirement but that of course is a matter for the school.
But all schools in the UK are also bound by the Equalities Act which clearly states that
a) under the Equalities Act the education must be given in a way that recognises the special needs of the student and b) under the compulsory retake regulations the student has to resit the maths exam if it is not passed.
Not to provide teaching that takes account of diagnosed dyscalculia would be a breach of the Equalities Act. Not to forward a suspected dyscalculic student or pupil for testing would also be a breach of the Act.
Thus quite clearly (in our view) if a student fails GCSE maths and thus becomes part of the compulsory re-sit situation, and there is any suspicion that the student might be dyscalculic, they logically need to be tested and then if diagnosed, given tuition that is commensurate with their disability.
What are you wanting to achieve?
People get tested either because they wish to satisfy their curiosity as to whether dyscalculia is why they can't do maths, or because (by way of example) a university or employer might require GCSE maths at a certain level before entry or appointment, or because they are finding the regular re-taking of GCSE maths exams is emotionally very disturbing.
Because of the laws outlined above, it is important to be very clear why you want to be tested, as this will indicate what route needs to be taken.
The most common reasons for wanting to be tested are:
- Simply to know if I am dyscalculic. In this regard our on line test is probably the best way forward. It is not as definitive as seeing a psychologist, but it is only about one sixth of the price.
- To start the process of helping the individual learn maths. While a psychologist specialising in the subject may well be able to indicate where the problems are, he/she normally don’t indicate how to overcome these difficulties. Again, in these circumstances the on-line test might be best as if dyscalculia is found, we also supply some teaching materials that can help the individual start to progress in maths.
- To gain admission to a college or university. Before doing anything else, write to the institution, set out the details of the case, and then ask them if they can waive their admission requirements in the light of this special need. They may provide their own test for dyscalculia and remedial materials, so this should be done before arranging for any other diagnostic test to be taken.
- To avoid having to take the GCSE maths papers over and over again because of failure to reach the government’s required grade. However there is nothing in the regulations that recognises dyscalculia. Therefore the logical solution has to be that the school or college tests the students who have to re-sit the maths GCSE exam for possible dyscalculia, and then if dyscalculia is found, to teach these students in an appropriate way. If this is not done, it is difficult to see how the school is obeying the requirements of the Equalities Act although we know of no case law which resolves this situation.
But it is important to distinguish why maths is required, beyond the government’s regulation about resits. In many situations a maths qualification such as GCSE is a pre-requisite for continuing in a course, no matter what, because maths is of the essence in the profession one wishes to follow (for example for an accountant) or the course being studied (for example a maths GCSE may be required before entry to a Chemistry A Level course).
But where a university or employer asks for maths as an entry requirement in order to show a "rounded education" then showing one has dyscalculia can be used to set this aside, under the rules of the Equalities Act. (See http://dyscalculia.me.uk/special-needs-and-the-law.html for more on the legal situation).
You can find the details of the nearest educational psychologist who specialises in dyscalculia from either the British Psychological Society or the Association of Educational Psychologists - both of whom have web sites containing details of their members. We believe the cost is around £300 for a session including the writing of the report, but obviously you will need to check.
Our on-line diagnostic test is a lot less expensive because it is online, and thus because it cannot be as accurate as the diagnosis of a psychologist who meets and individual one to one, but many people do find it helpful. The details are at http://dyscalculia.me.uk/dyscalculia-in-adults.html (see part 4 of the article on that page).
However in conclusion I would stress that although the tests can tell you if it is likely that you have dyscalculia or not they will not of themselves improve your maths. Although with our test, if we do find dyscalculia is likely to be the cause of your problems with maths, we do provide, free of charge, some materials you can use with a friend who is not dyscalculic, which can help you improve your maths.
Tony Attwood C.Ed., B.A., M.Phil (Lond), F.Inst.A.M.
Head of the Dyscalculia Centre