If your child is having trouble with math, you may be wondering what’s causing it. Does she have dyscalculia, or is something else causing the difficulty? There’s only one way to know for sure. You’ll need to have her tested for dyscalculia (which is now diagnosed as “specific learning disorder,” with the areas of math weaknesses listed).
A full evaluation can show the exact areas where she’s struggling. Evaluators look at how well a child can do basic calculations, recall math facts and solve problems quickly. Each test for dyscalculia looks at different skills. Specific tests may assess:
- Computation skills
- Math fluency
- Mental computation
- Quantitative reasoning
Here are four types of tests that are given when evaluating for dyscalculia, and examples of each type of test.
Tests That Assess Computation Skills
Example: Woodcock-Johnson IV (WJ IV) Calculation subtest
Similar tests include: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test IV (WIAT-IV) Numerical Operations, Mathematical Fluency and Calculations Tests (MFaCTs), certain subtests of the Comprehensive Mathematical Abilities Test (CMAT)
What it measures: Your child’s ability to do math operations efficiently and accurately.
Why it’s important: These are the skills that allow kids to make correct math calculations. They’re involved in all math operations, from addition to trigonometry.
How it works: Your child is given a series of basic math problems to do with pencil and paper. The type of problems she gets depends on her age or grade. Younger kids will get addition and subtraction problems. Older kids will get problems that involve multiplication, division, decimals and fractions. High-schoolers may get some basic algebra questions, as well.
These tests aren’t timed. If your child gets a low score, the evaluator will assess what types of errors she makes. When kids make an error like 38 − 29 = 19, they may not understand a math concept, like borrowing.
But some kids make mistakes even when they understand the math concepts they’re working with. For instance, after doing two addition problems, a child may do a third problem as an addition problem, too—even though it’s a division problem. This can point to attention issues.
Tests That Assess Math Fluency
Example: WJ IV Math Fluency subtest
Similar tests include: WIAT-IV Math Fluency subtest, MFaCTs Fluency Test
What it measures: Your child’s ability to call up math facts, like 3 × 3 = 9, quickly and accurately.
Why it’s important: Having basic math facts at their fingertips frees up kids to spend more energy on learning new concepts and skills. It can really slow them down if they have to count on their fingers or struggle through basic calculations. They’re also more likely to be confused and get lost in the problem.
Having to do problems quickly requires kids to stay focused. So a low score could point to attention issues in addition to math difficulties.
How it works: Your child is given written tests of math computation problems. (These are similar to the problems in the computation test, but easier.) She must complete as many problems as she can within a certain time frame. The amount of time varies by age, but is generally between three and five minutes.
Tests That Assess Mental Computation
Example: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-V) Arithmetic subtest
Similar tests include: Paced Auditory Serial Addition Test (PASAT), Test of Mental Computation
What it measures: Your child’s ability to do math problems in her head. This is also known as mental math.
Why it’s important: Mental math requires kids to do a few things. They need to remember the information they’ve heard, retrieve math facts and then make calculations. A low score can mean they haven’t mastered basic math strategies. It can also mean they struggle with working memory or anxiety.
How it works: The test can be given in two ways—orally or visually, on a computer. In the oral version, your child listens to a series of problems. She might hear 9 minus 3 plus 6, for instance. In the visual one, she sees numbers flash on the screen. She might see a 3, followed by another 3, which she adds together. Then she might see a 2 on the screen, so she has to add 6 + 2, and so on.
Tests That Assess Quantitative Reasoning
Example: WIAT-IV Math Problem Solving subtest
Similar tests include: WJ IV Applied Problems, CMAT Problem Solving
What it measures: Your child’s math problem-solving skills. Specifically, her ability to understand quantitative relationships and set up a computation to solve a word problem.
Why it’s important: Kids need to use reasoning in order to solve math word problems. That requires being able to understand numerical concepts. A low score on this test can signal an issue with math, language, or higher order skills, so more testing may be needed to tell what’s behind it.
How it works: This test uses both verbal and visual prompts. The evaluator gives your child a series of word problems orally. Or your child might read the problem. She also has a pencil and paper to help calculate, and a written version to refer to.
A typical problem may be: John walked to the store. The store was 10 miles away. He bumped into Alice at the store. They both walked back to John’s house. What was the total number of miles walked by both children? (The answer is 30.)
What Happens After Dyscalculia Testing
The evaluator will look at the results of all the testing together. He should also look at it along with other types of tests, such as intelligence tests.
It may take a few weeks to get the results. The evaluator will put all the information together and write a report.
If testing shows that your child has dyscalculia, find out what to do next. Learn about dyscalculia accommodations your child might be eligible for. And check out a simulation that shows what kids with dyscalculia experience.