Teachers, Admins, (anybody) help!

I have an autistic child that started his freshmen year this year.

This year they tried to integrate him into regular classes. I’m OK with this because I think he’s ready. His only lacking skill is math.

When he left 8th grade, he was still trying to master multiplication, and division. Now in his freshmen year, they’ve got him enrolled in Algebra! And it’s not just simple algebra, they’ve got him trying to do problems like: -2*n/14 + 2/3= 19. Solve for n. (I’m not sure if that equation makes sense, I just made that up but you catch my drift.)

So I called the school’s counselor, and she basically tells me that ALL students are required to take algebra, no exceptions. I then asked her to please explain to me how (the fuck) is he supposed to do algebra if he can’t even do multiplication and division?

She said it’s a modified class, and he should be able to do it. WTF? Even if it is a modified class, I still don’t see how it’s possible. She then went on to tell me that I should talk to his teacher. I called and left a message and am waiting to hear back from her.

I have a bad gut feeling about all this. I’m pretty sure the teacher is going to feed me a bunch of bull shit.

Any tips or advice on how to handle this is greatly appreciated.l

In what sense do you mean that he “can’t even do multiplication and division”? If you’re talking about things like long division (dividing one multi-digit number by another using only paper and pencil), that’s not something that really comes up in algebra—although it might be safe to say that anyone who can’t learn how to do it is likely to find algebra a struggle as well.

Talk to the maths teacher calmly, explain your concerns and listen to what they say. If you have examples of your child’s schoolwork take that with you to help demonstrate your concerns. Ask the teacher to have examples of the child’s current work there for you to go through with them.

Ask to see some examples of the work he will be expected to do, ask if there are any resources that you could use to help him at home. Explain that you are extremely worried due to his inability to do basic operations, and ask if he will be receiving help with those skills, ask if they run intervention groups or provide tutoring to special needs children.

If you are not happy with their answers ask for a meeting with the teacher and the head teacher and whichever member of staff is responsible for students with learning disabilities (here in England it would be the inclusion manager or Special Educational Needs Coordinator).

If your child has a diagnosis, it might be worth taking an explanatory letter from the doctor who is treating/managing them, it is possible that the school is unaware of the severity of your child’s problems.

At this stage I would say that you should be all about communication and cooperation and making sure that the school is aware of the problems that your child has, and cannot at a later date use the excuse that they didn’t know about his problems. If, later in the year, your son is still struggling with basic arithmetic then it would be time to kick up a real stink.

If your son has already expressed frustration or is being affected by the jump in difficulty, you need to mention this as being over challenged is a barrier to learning that the school should deal with right now.

Just keep on them until you are happy with what is being done for your son.

Learning the basic operations is the foundation of maths, and it seems ridiculous to be teaching algebra to a child who cannot multiply or divide yet, and therefore cannot use fractions, decimals or percentages.

Algebra really needs a child to be confident in their ability to use the four operations and know the inverse operations.

You’ve recieved good advice on dealing with the school from Szlater. This is just a peripheral question. Will he be able to use a calculator? Because a calculator can do the multiplication and division, if he can set up the equation properly. Algebra is just juggling, with an equal sign.

Szlater is also right to say that they should still be working to teach him multiplication and division. It’s not right to leave him with that basic a gap.

(um. n = 128 1/3.)
((unless I made a mistake with the multiplication and division))

Since your child is being integrated into regular classes I assume he has an IEP. What kinds of modifications is he entitled to receive? If you haven’t done so already it might be a good time to meet your school’s ESE specialist (maybe even before seeing the math teacher).

If it’s a modified class, you need to find out in what way. Will it be paced more slowly? Will the work be modified? See if you can get your hands on a syllabus.

Trouble with that is he will still need to know how to approach the problems, and without a good grasp of the operations and what they do he won’t be able to logically work through the problem, even with a calculator.

We don’t introduce calculators until the kids are about 9 here, because they need to be able to do the operations confidently themselves first, especially since one incorrect button press can mean a ridiculous answer.

OP - what kind of solution are you looking for? It may be better to approach the problem starting with what you think should happen.

I agree with Johnny Bravo. Your child received Special Education services. He should have an “Individual Education Plan” or IEP that defines what your child’s educational deficiencies are as well as the expectations of what the school is to provide for him in terms of educational services.

Depending on the US State where you live, Special Education services for your school can vary.
IEP’s are usually updated yearly, but sometimes in shorter intervals depending on the needs of the student.

Does your child have an IEP? If so, and your child put in a class that your child is not capable of successfully passing, someone at the school made a mistake and you need to bring this to the attention of the School Principle, the Curriculum Coordinator for the school, and the Special Education Coordinator for the school or district.

I hope this helps.

(I hope this isn’t a hijack, but) I just wondered what was meant by “cannot mutiply or divide.” Because I can think of several different things it could mean, to say that someone can’t multiply or divide, such as

(1) Doesn’t have the multiplication tables memorized; can’t answer (from memory or figuring out) questions like “What is 8 times 3?” or “What is 35 divided by 5?”

(2) Doesn’t understand what multiplication and division are, or how they’re related to one another (for example, that “8 x 3 = 24” means essentially the same thing as “24 / 3 = 8”).

(3) Can’t multiply or divide large numbers, like “45,306 x 193” or “42,098 / 37” without a calculator.

(4) Doesn’t know the procedure for multiplying or dividing fractions. Or decimals. Or signed numbers.

Thanks for the replies guys. I’ll be sure and ask about his IEP. I’ve never heard of this before. I do meet with his teachers on a yearly (or bi yearly) basis and they tell me what he is doing and where they are going. But I don’t recall seeing an official IEP. I’ll have to ask about that.

As far as his skill level with his basics: If I asked my son what is 7 x 7, he could eventually come up with an answer. But he’d need a pen and paper to hammer it out. And I’ve never once seen him do a singe division problem.

So we’ve went from there to doing frig’n algebra problems with negative integers. Jeez!

Still haven’t heard back from his teacher.

I feel for you Shakes. Out daughter is going into grade four now but going into grade three she couldn’t add. I mean that she could handle 5+1 but 5+2 made no sense to her yet.

And yet, she was moved along in math from topic to topic and the fact that she still didn’t have basic addition down wasn’t addressed. They went through two-and-three digit addition (which she couldn’t do), two and three digit subtraction (which she couldn’t do), multiplication (which she didn’t understand since she couldn’t add) and division.

I was told REPEATEDLY that she was having trouble with basic math. I kept asking what to do about it. They suggested I get a tutor a few times a week. I suggested that I would do that but that she should be getting support for learning the basics at school, too. They said that they couldn’t do that unless she has a learning disability.

I would love it if I could say that this story has a happy ending. Maybe it will. I spend about four hours a week working with her on her math. She has learned in the last year to do addition (one, two and three digit including carrying), subtraction (one, two and three digit including borrowing) and one digit multiplication. She is still very far behind. She understands what we are doing at home and loves math when we are here but hates the work at school (because she has zero chance of understanding it).

My point is that I would push to make sure that he has an IEP and that it is being followed. There are good chances that it is not. If it is, you will have no other recourse than to try to catch him up yourself (or hire someone to do it).

I don’t think I can ask this without being mean, but how on earth did your son get to grade 9, with an autism diagnosis, without you even knowing whether or not he has an IEP? Seeing his teachers once or twice a year and expecting them to sort everything out isn’t the best thing for your son… sure, it’s their job to teach him, but it’s your job too. You should have been much more involved and not just waiting for a teacher to come along and fill in the gaps in your son’s knowledge.

Perhaps it’s just your writing style, but you kind of sound like you, yourself, don’t like algebra and think it’s a bit scary. Your equation in the OP - that you didn’t know if it made sense - kind of made it seem like you don’t even understand these things very well either. I’m sorry if I’m misreading this, but it’s the impression I’m getting.

If your son can muddle through 7*7=? then he can muddle through x/7=7, solve for x. So can you: work through it with him and build up to more complex equations with him. Talk to his teachers monthly, even weekly. Challenge your son and discover his limits, rather than assume he simply can’t do it because he hasn’t done it yet.

Find out what his IEP is. Teach him yourself, alongside his courses. Get a tutor if you have to. Follow up constantly to get what’s best for your son.

You are in TX, correct? This is why he has to take Algebra: to graduate in TX, students have to have four math credits–Algebra, Geometry, Algebra II, and the fourth math can be Pre-cal, Stats, or a practical math class called Math Models (which I believe is being phased out, but I am not sure about that. Kids can also take calc, of course, but they usually need to have started Algebra in 8th grade to get there). So if he doesn’t pass Algebra this year, he will have to double up next year, taking Geometry and Algebra at the same time. For kids with a weak math background, double math is considered less than optimal. This is what the teachers want to avoid, and why no “Basic math” class exists for him to take.

In terms of passing the class, there is a good chance he will have “modifications” that make it difficult to fail. However, that doesn’t mean he will really be learning much Algebra. You need to find out if he must pass the STAAR test (state graduation exam). They take the tests in math, science, English, and social studies their freshman, sophomore, and junior years, and they have to pass every test in every year to graduate (it’s more complex than that, but basically). They do get to retest infinitely. Some kids are exempt if there disabilities are severe enough, and some take a modified test. If he has to take that test, he really needs to learn algebra, and that has to be the focus, not his grades in the course. The test is hard, and if he’s taking it in May, they will be going fast and furious to get as many kids as possible there.

I believe there is a “basic” diploma still available for kids that only requires three math credits. If you think community college or tech school is his most likely path right after college (and from there, a four year school is still possible), then a “basic” diploma might be the way to go. It would give him a little more time to master basic math.

If you want to PM me and tell me where in TX you are, it’s possible I know someone or something that could help you.

In Illinois, each parent takes home what seems like pounds of paper after an IEP meeting. The parent signs that he has received a copy of his rights. He receives a copy of the signed IEP, each item of which was gone over in great detail during the meeting, the whole thing then being signed by everyone who was at the meeting. You probably have it somewhere.

If you’re not happy, call a new IEP meeting. Also, the Algebra teacher was probably just given your son’s name and was told to teach him Algebra. She may have 25 other kids in class, all of whom have parents who expect their children to master Algebra, so taking ten or fifteen minutes a day to work on multiplication will be difficult. That’s not to say your child doesn’t need instruction in those, it’s to say that the Algebra classroom at not be the best place for that instruction.

Algebra has a bad reputation but it really isn’t hard. He’ll need to memorize his times tables to make factoring go faster during tests, but otherwise it’s just something no one knows how to do until they take an algebra class.

9th grade is a good time to learn it because that sets them up for completing their math requirements by graduation, so while putting it off might seem like a relief now it can really cause problems later.

Also having an IEP can be great for setting up accommodations and making it easier for a student to learn the curriculum, but it doesn’t excuse them from having to learn it. IEP or not he’s going to have to pass his basic classes to graduate. It’s probably best to focus on how to help him learn algebra (and whatever else comes next) rather than trying to get him out of having to take it. Sort out your IEP, get a tutor, and bone up on your own math skills so you can help with homework as he needs it.

This is a difficult challenge but not an impossible one. Step up.

Thanks Manda, this post makes me feel a little bit better.

PM sent. (Still haven’t heard back from his teacher. Grrr!)

Lots of good information here already on how to approach the school…I have one tip (which you may have already tried; if so, never mind, please) about the multiplication:

3X4 means 3 groups of 4. It seems so bloody obvious when you already know that, but it was the ah-HA! moment I didn’t have until about 6th grade. When I said it that way to my daughter in first grade, she got a 5 year leap on that ah-HA!

Now whenever she sees a “X” sign, she puts her finger under it and says “groups of” instead. “3 groups of 4” makes more sense to her than “times” or “multiplied by”, and now it’s not nearly so daunting.
Contrariwise, 9/3 means 9 makes 3 groups (of how much, is what you’re looking for). “Makes groups” also makes remainders make more sense: 29/4=7R1 means 29 makes 4 groups of 7 with 1 left over.
Maybe it’s because I’m fundamentally a language arts person, but translating mathematical symbols into words helps me grok math much better. (It may also be why I suck at math once it moves past the concrete real world application stages…)

General Ed Math and Special Ed teacher here so I’ll act like I know what I’m talking about.

First of all, pull his IEP and see what his goal and benchmarks are for math. The accomodations should address the issues you are raising and if not, you can ask for a new IEP meeting to cover his math issues. They have 30 days to comply with your request.

Second, does he have an ITP? I suspect not. An ITP must be in place on his 16th birthday but any student with an IEP can also have an ITP. You should push for one that addresses his transition into mainstream classes, both in math and behaviorally. It is part of the IEP document so like above you can request an IEP meeting to add on the ITP. I will warn you however, most schools/districts do not have people that really know how to do a transition plan.* Usually it is checking off boxes or meeting the minimum requirements set by law. An ITP for someone under 16 to make a lateral transition would fry their brains and they may even tell you (erroneously) that it can’t be done.
*This was the area of specialization for my master’s in sped. If you push for an ITP, go ahead and PM me and I’ll let you know what should be on it.

Third, the fact that it is a “modified” class would worry me. If indeed it is modified then there is a possibility that your school district will not give him a diploma in 4 years since he did not meet the standards with an unmodified curriculum. I would get clarification in writing that taking that class will not affect his receiving a diploma assuming he passes his classes. Even better, get it in writing on the IEP - I would say as a note in the accomodations and modification section.

Now to the math. Sadly there are a lot of students that come to high school not able to multiply or divide. Part (I would say most) of the reasons is that students use calculators since primary grades. I confronted a teacher that was complaining that their students “refused” to learn how to multiply or divide. I asked him if he lets them use calculators and he said yes. I asked him what incentive was there for students to learn multiplication and division if they didn’t need to use those skills in the classroom? He had no reply.

The real problem with algebra is students can’t make the jump from the cozy concrete examples of elementary arithmetic to the abstract concepts needed in algebra. Some of the best research I’ve read on this is from Dr. Carolyn Kiernan. If you teach algebra, you owe it to yourself to read her work. So forget about the mechanics of multiplication and division for a second. If your son sees 3X - 7 = 3 or (-2/7)n + 1/3 = 3/5, does he know the steps needed to solve the problem even if he can’t do the calculation? Does he know WHY those are the steps?** If so then the calculation part is relatively minor and should be dealt with as part of the (no surprise) IEP. If he does not know what to do or why he should be doing it, then the question is: is it because of the instruction? does he just not get the concept? is it because of his disability? That question should be investigated by the school either the math teacher, his one-on-one, his caseholder, a sped teacher, etc. Basically whomever the school feels is best qualified to observe and evaluate what is happening in the classroom.
** Algebra is “undoing” an arithmetic problem and so the order of operations is performed backwards and you do the opposite operation. Think of a present. When wrapping a present the last step is tying the bow so when unwrapping a present, the FIRST step is to UNtie the bow. Simplistic I know but at least it get the students started in algebraic thought.

Saint Cad, NBCT (forgive me, I just had to throw those postnomials in :wink: )

Because a lot of schools hide the IEP process from the parents. There are times the attitude of the teachers is that the parents are idiots because they are not pedagogists so how the fuck can a parent know how to teach their kid? For these IEP committees, parents get in the way so their goal is to make the parent sit down and shut up and not question anything. They then talk AT the parent using terms like “need to” and “must”. Even better if you use authority figures or can use technical terms with no explanation or acronyms to really confuse the fuck out of the parent.

In these IEP meetings, the school thinks that the parent has only one useful role, consenting to the IEP. Schools will also send the mandated information and completed IEP home with the student so good luck if she’s even seen an IEP document.

Of course we are assuming he actually has an IEP. If he doesn’t because he is high-functioning and is in a “modified” algebra class then :eek: Of course that is with the caveat that he may be on a Section 504 which is a completely different beast. Given that he has trouble only in math, that may be the case but even then she should have a copy of the 504 Plan given that it is a legal document and the school (OK, technically the the district) is obliged to follow it.