Special Education

One State’s Approach for Struggling Math Learners: IEP-Style Plans

By Lydia McFarlane — August 02, 2023 3 min read
Sand Pine Elementary fourth grade students, from left, Ayden Jenkins, Ceinna Davis, and Kera Gordon review math lessons with teacher Stephanie Sheridan at the school on Feb. 18, 2015, in Wesley Chapel, Fla.
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Students struggling with math in Florida may get more attention in the classroom this upcoming school year.

Earlier this week, Florida’s Department of Education announced an unusual proposal that is aimed at helping students in kindergarten through 4th grades who are identified with substantial gaps in their math knowledge.

Under the plan, schools would be required to develop individualized education programs for students, much like the IEPs that are mandated under federal law for students with disabilities.

The Florida plan targets a wider range of students struggling with math and the qualifications differ by age.

For example, for kindergarteners, the evaluation is based on the students’ ability to identify and compare three-dimensional figures and shapes. For 4th graders, the evaluation is based on the students’ abilities to interpret data and understand mathematical concepts such as mean, median, and mode.

Florida’s Department of Education wants to implement this proposal to ensure students who are struggling with math are receiving the support and help that they need to succeed for the rest of their educational experiences.

While this plan is now just a proposal, if it were implemented into Florida schools, it would be unconventional.

Many students with IEPs are diagnosed with learning disabilities that ensure their protection under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, or IDEA, which then identifies them as special education students. Students protected under this act are given resources from the school that are funded by the state.

However, if Florida’s Department of Education follows through on its proposal, the students that would potentially be getting IEPs would not necessarily be protected under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

“I think it is an interesting proposal to address math deficiencies and potentially very helpful to many students, but because these students would not be determined eligible under the IDEA in the manner required by federal law, schools could not receive federal IDEA money to help defray the costs of the proposal,” said Mitchell Yell, a professor in the Educational and Developmental Science College of Education at the University of South Carolina whose research often focuses on IEP development.

School districts could potentially be responsible for funding the new plan, which could cost districts significant amounts of money even as it helps the students targeted.

“This additional help will be costly to school districts, and because the method of identifying students as needing extra assistance does not adhere to the requirements of the federal law, schools would likely have to come up with these extra funds. If the state would provide funding for these additional services, that would certainly help the school districts financially,” Yell said.

Rather than giving each student who is identified as having a substantial math deficiency an IEP, Florida schools have other options to consider, Yell pointed out.

“They [Florida schools] could have small group math instruction with more individual help for students who are identified through the new system,” he said.

While the best way to help students who would be identified by this proposed plan has not yet been decided, extra math help for students who are struggling, especially after the pandemic, could prove to be valuable.

“I think the notion of giving students extra help through an IEP-type plan is laudable,” Yell said. “We know that students who have reading and math problems certainly have had these problems exacerbated by the pandemic. Giving the students the extra help they need is a pro.”


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