A Systematic Review of Longitudinal Studies of Mathematics Difficulty


Some students may be diagnosed with a learning disability in mathematics or dyscalculia, whereas other students may demonstrate below-grade-level mathematics performance without a disability diagnosis. In the literature, researchers often identify students in both groups as experiencing math difficulty. To understand the performance of students with math difficulty, the authors examined 35 studies that reported longitudinal results of mathematics achievement (i.e., mathematics performance measured across at least a 12-month span). The primary goal was to conduct a systematic review of these studies and compare the growth of students with math difficulty to understand whether growth was comparable or stagnant compared to students without math difficulty. The authors also analyzed whether identification of math difficulty was predictive of mathematics achievement in later grades and whether a diagnosis of math difficulty was stable across grade levels. Results indicate that students with math difficulty demonstrate growth on mathematics measures but that this growth still leads to lower performance than students without math difficulty. Identification of math difficulty is strongly related to math performance in subsequent grades, and this diagnosis is often stable. Collectively, this literature indicates that students with math difficulty continue to struggle with mathematics in later grades.


Nelson, G., & Powell, S. R. (2018). A systematic review of longitudinal studies of mathematics difficulty. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 51, 523–539. doi:10.1177/0022219417714773