Equals Mathematics: A Math Program Designed for Students with Disabilities

Spero Mathematics

The only thing that’s true of all students with disabilities is that no two children learn the same way, at the same pace. Our mission at Spero Academy is to provide a differentiated educational program that helps students with autism and other disabilities achieve a standard of academic and personal excellence through individualized instruction tailored to each student’s level of development, unique challenges, and abilities. We meet students where they are, providing the stepping stones and opportunities they need to reach their potential.

Following our individualized philosophy, there is no one single math curriculum at Spero – we have four different curriculums we use with our students, all of which can be further personalized and tailored to individual students. One of our math curriculums is Equals developed by Ablenet, Inc, a program specially designed for special education students with autism and other disabilities.

The Equals Mathematics Curriculum

Equals is described as “real math instruction for students with significant disabilities and autism.” It is a multi-sensory curriculum with a problem-solving focus and adaptations to think, choose, move, talk, write, and much more than general education math curriculums. Equals aims to ensure that all math learners are active math learners. The program is adapted for special education students but aligns with Common Core state standards for math knowledge and skills.

The Equals program also helps students succeed by providing support for teachers to become confident and effective math educators through lesson plans, implementation guides, and ongoing advice for addressing unique student needs.

What Makes Equals Different

General education math curriculums revolve around worksheets and skill drills. But that’s not how most kids with autism or other disabilities learn. Equals uses “manipulatives” to teach mathematical concepts in hands-on activities. Manipulatives are concrete objects designed to help learners understand a mathematical concept by manipulating (or handling) them.

Common manipulatives are pattern blocks, interlocking cubes, and tiles. Hands-on activities like manipulatives help students on the spectrum and with other disabilities connect abstract mathematical concepts to the real world, making those concepts easier to engage with and understand.

Additionally, the Equals curriculum is not standardized across the classroom but is broken into three different levels corresponding with degrees of disability or development: Level 1 (severe), Level 2 (moderate), and Level 3 (mild). Students in Levels 1 and 2 typically struggle the most to engage with general education curriculum and thus fail to make significant progress in their mathematics knowledge. However, with Equals, those students have been found to make measurable progress in math skills.

Measurable Improvements in Math Skills

In many cases, it’s not that a student is incapable of learning certain math concepts, it’s that those concepts have never been presented in a way that makes the material accessible to them. A study that followed students participating in the Equals curriculum for four years found that students improved their math skills 161% over that time frame.

The study included students with a variety of cognitive, emotional, and physical impairments, but students with autism stood out for making significantly greater progress than other subgroups. Students on the spectrum improved their math skills by an impressive 183% over four years of participating in the Equals curriculum.

One teacher involved in the study said, “Equals Math has been a great addition to the curriculum…I have been able to teach my students concepts that I have never thought I could because of the way the lessons build on top of each other. More importantly, the students have been able to retain these concepts and build on their skills.”

Questions about Equals or other math programs we use at Spero? Email our curriculum director Susan Scheller at sscheller@spero.academy.