The next analysis which we carried out was on the mathematics test. To allay possible anxieties on the part of the children the organisers of the Cohort Study designated it 'The Friendly Maths Test'. It comprised 72 items and covered a wide range of mathematical topics, including number, time, length, area, volume, capacity, temperature, mass, money, shape, angles, co-ordinates and statistical tables and graphs. The format was multiple choice. Adjoining each item were five boxes, each with a possible answer, and the children were told to draw a line through the box outside which was the correct answer.

We divided the severe underachievers into the three categories described in the last Chapter - severe underachievers A being those with most indicators of dyslexia, severe underachievers B those with the next most and severe underachievers C those with the fewest. We also wished to compare the scores of the normal achievers. Table 20.5 shows for all four groups the combined score on the Similarities and Matrices tests and the mean scores, with standard deviations, on the Friendly Maths Test.

Group |
N |
Simil/Mat |
Mean score |
s.d. |

Normal achievers |
6338 |
106.51 |
49.02 |
9.56 |

Moderate underachievers |
1703 |
107.79 |
47.18 |
10.72 |

Severe underachievers C |
417 |
107.97 |
42.46 |
10.66 |

Severe underachievers B |
221 |
106.24 |
40.95 |
9.81 |

Severe underachievers A |
269 |
106.18 |
39.13 |
11.96 |

Adapted from Miles et al. (2001)

Adapted from Miles et al. (2001)

All four groups were at approximately the same level in respect of their combined scores on the Similarities and Matrices tests; this rules out intelligence level as a possible factor influencing the results. However, severe underachievers A (the dyslexics) obtained significantly lower scores than underachievers C, and even lower scores than either the moderate underachievers or the normal achievers (note 20.3). One must therefore conclude that there are some aspects of mathematics which present dyslexics with distinctive difficulty.

We also found that the dyslexics obtained a lower percentage pass rate on 71 of the 72 items (and in the item which was the exception all groups achieved a pass rate of over 90% correct). On some items, however, the difference in percentage pass rate between dyslexics and normal achievers was only small, whereas on other items this difference was much larger. It was therefore certain particular items which appeared to be presenting the dyslexics with distinctive difficulty, rather than mathematics in general.

As part of the research we asked six panels of judges to discuss among themselves the various items from the Friendly Maths Test and rate on a five-point scale how difficult they thought each item would be for a dyslexic 10-year-old; we found some interesting results. All the judges were experienced teachers of mathematics to dyslexic children, and they made their judgements blind, that is without any knowledge of the figures in our research. There were some items to which the judges unanimously gave a rating of 5 (= very hard for dyslexics) and there were some to which they unanimously gave a rating of 1 (= very easy). For example, two of the items which were adjudged 'very hard' were 432 - 36 and 138 X 7. Among those rated 'very easy' was an item involving counting up 11 stars and a sum involving taking three away from five.

In the great majority of cases the pass rate for underachievers C lay part way between that for the normal achievers and that for underachievers A. This result is compatible with the claim that there are certain things in mathematics which are difficult for dyslexics but not necessarily for severe underachievers who are not dyslexic.

In the light of my own experience and in view of the many insightful comments made by the panels of judges it is perhaps legitimate to speculate as to where their chief difficulties lie. It seems that dyslexics find it hard if they are asked to do calculations where they have to hold in mind a large amount of information at the same time, or if they have to remember complicated algorithms (rules of procedure) and carry out the successive steps in the correct order. In addition their uncertainties over 'left' and 'right' may present them with problems when they are calculating, since with division it is necessary to start on the left, whereas with multiplication, addition and subtraction it is necessary to start on the right. There is no doubt that some dyslexics can be very successful mathematicians (Miles, 2004a). This, I think, is because they can be strong at conceptual thinking, while, after they have reached a certain stage, tiresome problems of calculation can be done by computer.

I shall be considering in Chapter 22 whether there is a syndrome, dyscalculia, separate from the syndrome of dyslexia. What seems clear, both from personal experience and in the light of evidence from the British Births Cohort Study, is that a large number of the mathematical difficulties experienced by dyslexics are part and parcel of their dyslexia.

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