Beyond the basics: Understanding MLD in algebra
Katherine Lewis

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of Washington

Primary Discipline

Mathematics Education
Algebra is a gatekeeper. For the 6-8% of students with mathematical learning disabilities, an inability to pass algebra may significantly limit academic and career opportunities. Unfortunately, little is known about mathematical learning disabilities beyond basic arithmetic. Prior research on mathematical learning disabilities has predominantly focused on elementary-aged students’ deficits in speed and accuracy on written assessments of arithmetic calculation. This study aims to expand our understanding of mathematical learning disabilities by documenting differences – rather than deficits – and exploring the mathematical topic of algebra. In this study I will recruit students with mathematical learning disabilities and collect videotaped data of one-on-one algebraic problem-solving sessions with each student. Detailed case studies of these students will be conducted with the purpose of uncovering their atypical understanding of algebraic concepts. The operationally defined atypical understandings along with a comparison across cases will provide new insights into the nature of mathematical learning disabilities. These findings will inform the design of innovative diagnostic and remediation approaches and will make theoretical contributions by illustrating the utility of conceptualizing mathematical learning disabilities in terms of cognitive difference rather than cognitive deficit.
About Katherine Lewis
Katherine Lewis is an assistant professor at the University of Washington’s College of Education. Her research lies at the intersection of math education and special education and is concerned with understanding the nature of mathematical learning disabilities. Dr. Lewis’s work centers on an understanding of disability in terms of cognitive difference rather than deficit. This theoretical orientation – informed by a Vygotskian perspective of disability and Disability Studies – involves identifying differences in student’s understanding as they occur in authentic learning environments, evaluating the accessibility of instruction, and considering ways in which students may compensate. Dr. Lewis holds a Ph.D. in Mathematics Education from the University of California, Berkeley and completed post-doctoral work at Johns Hopkins and University of Minnesota.

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