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No help for the "math victims"?

How would a student with poor eyesight fare if their glasses were taken away? He could hardly follow the lessons anymore.

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No help for the "math victims"?

How would a student with poor eyesight fare if their glasses were taken away? He could hardly follow the lessons anymore. The tasks on the whiteboard would be unreadable. And soon he would get bad grades. Because that would of course be unfair, students are allowed to wear glasses. And as long as this is still missing, their handicap is compensated for in other ways, for example by reading aloud or more time to read. The same should also apply to students with dyscalculia, says Dieter Budke, chairman of the "Cologne working group LRS (reading and spelling weaknesses)

The latter refers to a pronounced weakness in arithmetic. "These students also have a perception problem and need tools such as calculators or to compensate for their weaknesses, for example more time in exams," says Budke. NRW School Minister Dorothee Feller (CDU) rejects this like no other in Germany. In doing so, it reflects a previously widespread skepticism about dyscalculia support: Why should students who are bad at math be favored, but not students who are good at math?

In 14 out of 16 federal states one sees it differently. There, dyscalculia students are already encouraged. Only Rhineland-Palatinate, along with NRW, has no funding requirements for the affected schoolchildren (up to 220,000 in NRW). This was recently complained about by numerous experts at a state parliament hearing. Because behind dyscalculia is not a lower intelligence quotient (IQ), but a diagnosable and treatable perception weakness, says Marcus Nöhrenbörger, math teacher at the University of Münster. Those affected simply could not grasp the patterns and structures underlying all mathematics.

Due to its inaction on this issue, the country is responsible for a lot of avoidable suffering - and for the fact that many students are far less educated than possible, the experts warned. According to Budke, “the life of affected children is often difficult if they are not encouraged at an early stage. Often they are depressed and struggle with strong inferiority complexes because they think they are the dumbest kid in the class." Sometimes they are also derided as "math victims". Dyscalculia is also "enormously stressful for the family, especially if it has not yet been recognized," says Tanja Blum from the Cologne working group, which acts as a lobby for students with arithmetic or dyslexia (LRS).

"Out of ignorance, parents then suspect their child of being lazy and not making an effort." The wrong therapy follows from such a misdiagnosis: The parents increased the pressure – and thereby only increased arguments and frustration. Udo Beckmann, Federal Chairman of the Education and Training Association (VBE), warns that school is associated with "painful defeats, humiliation and mental stress" for these children. But that could be changed.

Affected people who started learning therapy outside of school prove this. “If you start early, you can sometimes close all the gaps and get a B in math on your report card. In any case, he will deal with his deficit much better,” reports Budke from his many years of experience.

In fact, the Cologne working group also includes those affected with a university degree and doctorate. The experts are therefore calling on the state to raise the handling of dyscalculia to at least the (although heterogeneous, but definitely higher) level of other federal states: teachers must be trained to recognize and support those affected. Time and staff must then be made available for individual support. Because that is hardly possible in the short term, Blum suggests bringing extracurricular learning therapists to schools in the mornings.

Their offers are already open to students. But it is often not certain whether the several hundred euros per month will be paid by the city. The assumption of costs is also preceded by "a complex assessment procedure, which massively reflects on the child that it is different from the others," says Budke. According to all experts, students should also be granted compensation for disadvantages, i.e. more time for tests and exams, a different weighting in grading or the easier use of aids. Many of these already exist in NRW - but only for children with LRS. About 480,000 students are affected nationwide. However, NRW is also reluctant to provide aid here compared to other countries.

For the hearing, however, Minister Feller made it clear that LRS and dyscalculia should be treated differently. Because: In the case of arithmetic weaknesses, unlike with LRS, "it cannot be clearly clarified whether it is a diagnosable phenomenon or a reduced performance in a normal school performance distribution". Consequently, Feller would probably also reject Budke's comparison of dyscalculia pupils with those who wear glasses, because the latter have a sensory perceptual weakness, while the former have an intellectual one.

However, the experts truncate this objection. "The statement does not correspond to the current state of science," replies Isabelle Suarez, a doctor at the University Hospital in Cologne. Dyscalculia also occurs in children with normal or above-average intelligence. Tanja Blum recalls that doctors only diagnose dyscalculia "when the mathematical skills are well below the general IQ". On the other hand, if a child has an overall below-average IQ, it does not have dyscalculia. And the Duden Institute for Learning Therapy teaches Feller that both LRS and dyscalculia are recognized in the same way - namely when the "reading, writing or computing power falls below certain thresholds".

Now Feller could refer to the Conference of Ministers of Education (KMK) at one point: in their rejection of a milder rating for dyscalculia students. A decade and a half ago, the KMK claimed that the "consideration of arithmetic errors in the grading" threatened to violate the "principle of equal performance evaluation". But that was in 2007. In the meantime, many countries have long since adjusted the grading of dyscalculia. Research has also clarified how this can be done without putting other students at a disadvantage, the Duden Institute asserts: among other things, through catch-up periods or greater weighting of oral and other cooperation. It remains crucial, however, that the children are given early and thorough help to make up for their deficits, so later help is hardly necessary. But the minister did not want to break away from her point of view. The experts from all parliamentary groups took over for them – including those from Feller’s CDU and those from their green coalition partner.

At a panel discussion of the Cologne working group, they recently declared in unison that the way students with dyscalculia are dealt with urgently needs to be revised. Until this has happened as uniformly as possible nationwide, NRW must regulate disadvantage compensation at state level. One hears from the factions that Dorothee Feller has become lonely.

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