How important do you think it is for your students to be able to do mental math? I have a student in 3rd grade who is really, really low (identified with MR). I got her from another school last year. Her IEP goal for math is to get 50 digits correct in 2 minutes on an add/sub. test. The problems on the test are single digit. I tried touch math with her for about 8 weeks, and she just could not pick it up at all- she could do it with the touch math strip in front of her, but would totally forget it if she was just trying to do it without the aide on the test. So I've been teaching her to use her fingers, as this is the only way she can get the problems correct at all. Even this took a lot of direct instruction, because she'd get confused and put the wrong number of fingers out. Her new IEP is due at the end of January and she's now at a point where she can solve the 1 digit add/sub. problems with almost 100% accuracy, but she still uses her fingers. She's a lot quicker than she used to be, but due to the fact that she is still taking the time to use her fingers, she's consistently getting about 20-25 points on her 2 minute test. The only problems she can do mentally are +/- 0. She's been practicing this math every day for almost a year now- I guess I just kind of thought after seeing it that much she'd eventually start to remember at least some of the facts, but she hasn't. I'd really like to move on to things like multiple digit problems with carrying and things like that with her, because we've spent SO much time on this one skill and I know she could do the carrying/multiple digit problems if I still allowed her to use her fingers. So, do you think it's more important to move on to something else, or more important to somehow get her to using mental math? The thing is, I'm really supposed to be working on her IEP goals, and if she can't get at least some mental math down she won't pass her goal as it's just not possible to use fingers and get 50 correct in 2 minutes.

As usual, I'm in over my head here. Could you break the problems down into "easy" problems-- as in any number plus one, or plus two, and "harder" problems-- those for which she'll need to use her fingers? Could she learn to differentiate between the two and make up some time on the easy problems?

The mental math side is so important when students get to older grades. The students who know their math facts and can make groups of 10, 100, etc are much more prepared for decimals, fractions, etc. These same students are more able to use the facts quickly to go beyond computation. However, if this is a 3rd graders who is MR, I'm not sure that she will ever need to more advanced skills in life to warrant spending so much time on addition facts. She may need more with time, money, and other life skills.

Mental math is an important skill, but it may not be within reach of all students. It should be a skill for your student to practice, but not a goal to be enslaved by. Can't you just say the goal was not met and needs to be adjusted? You shouldn't feel stuck to a goal that's not appropriate. I have changed goals that have not been met because the student's needs have changed as their classes progress. For instance, I have students who cannot do multiplication in their head, but their goal is to solve linear equations. In my opinion, their need to pass algebra to graduate high school is more important than memorizing multiplication tables. Of course, I write into their IEP that they can use a calculator. And, I continue to work on mental math with them in our tutorial, but I don't dwell on it to the point of frustration.

Thank you for the advice. I guess what I'm thinking is that I really want to move on, as I don't think mental math is something that this student is able to accomplish right now. However, the way my program is set up, I'm only supposed to be working on IEP goals in my classroom- not other skills. That's something specific to my building that I've personally never seen anywhere else (in fact, a lot of times in my student teaching field experiences it seemed to me the students were always trying to catch up on grade level things and never working on IEP goals), but that's just the way we're set up. For this reason, I generally try to make my goals for students really broad so that I can work on a variety of things. For example, I usually choose the m-comp test as a goal for them to work towards because it has all kinds of problems on it, and therefore I can teach all of those skills in my class. The 2 minute tests are nice because they're quick for progress monitoring, but by writing a goal to them I'm basically saying I will only work on that one skill for the entire next year. Obviously, I didn't write this goal- but I'm still kind of stuck to being only allowed to teach toward the goal. I'm thinking maybe I can move on to other skills that still require her to add/subtract, and therefore I can say I'm still working on that goal, even though I'm still allowing her to count on her fingers. Alice, I've been trying what you said with the +1 problems- telling her that those are easy ones that she doesn't need to count and can simply write the next number down. However, once she learns a rule she tends to overuse it and bring her whole score down. So once she starts thinking about that, she'll just add 1 to the first number in the problem for every problem and then miss most of them. She did the same thing last year for +0 and it literally took me months to teach her how to use the 0 rule effectively (she would either forget it all together and try to add something, or she would just write the 1st number down for every single problem wihtout adding anything rather there was a 0 or not). Her classroom teacher is new to our building and pretty "old school" and she is on this big "mental math kick" with the entire class right now. She's been giving them the two minute test in class and having them circle the ones they can't do in their head, and then telling them they need to go home and memorize those. I've tried explaining that this may not be realistic for my student, but she makes me feel like I'm having low expectations for her. PS- Missant, to answer your question- for this program if I let her use the touch math strip on the test, it invalidates the test since there are no aides allowed. She also wouldn't be allowed to use it in class or on the state test. Even if she could use it on the test, I don't want to tie her down to only knowing how to do math with the touch math strip in front of her, as she wouln't have it in real life situations where she'd need to add or subtract.

It should be a blend of working on IEP goals while furthering the students knowledge of the curriculum (depending on the track they are on). Perhaps call for an IEP meeting to modify the mental math goal?