In February, The Utah State Board of Education launched a four-part book study to assist parents in improving math skills for special needs students.
Becky Unker, an education specialist with the board, led the book study. The discussions focused on developmental psychology and performance expectations for students with disabilities.
"This is the first book study that we have hosted at USBE. Our main goal was we wanted to raise expectations for students with disabilities in our state. We find that we don’t have very high expectations for students with disabilities and more so in mathematics than any other subject. And this comes through in the data we see and the achievement-gap we’re trying to close," she said.
Utah’s Student Assessment of Growth and Excellence (SAGE) for the 2013 school year found that 4 in 10 students without disabilities in grades three through ten were mathematically proficient. Proficiency rates for students with disabilities were lower at just 1 in 10. That difference amounts to a 29 percent achievement gap. To address this, the book studies aim to foster a growth mindset in parents and students. Cheree Rowley, a third grade teacher, said the talks helped her change her approach.
"The way I talk is the way the kids end up thinking about themselves and I needed to change my vocabulary, the way I encourage them, the way I instruct them so that they realize that the process is important and watching their progress from start to finish is more important, really, than the outcome and that they don’t give up on themselves," Rowley said.