Across grade levels, early math performance predicts later math performance. For example, math performance in kindergarten predicts end-of-year math performance in grades 1, 3, 5, and 8. What does this mean for educators? Educators need to assess students early and regularly to identify students that may need additional math support. Educators also need to provide intervention support early and regularly. With early assessment and intervention, it is possible to change the math pathways for students.
Successful performance in mathematics (i.e., math) requires an understanding of numbers, the quantities represented by numbers, counting, and comparison of amounts. Math also requires an understanding of the concepts of addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division and algorithms for quickly solving such problems. Students must be able to apply their calculation and computation skills to math problems featuring fractions, decimals, percentages, measurement, and algebra. Additionally, students must be familiar with geometric shapes and concepts, as well as positive and negative numbers. Students begin learning math informally as babies and toddlers, and as students learn more about math as they age, these math skills set the stage for later success with math.
Math performance is directly related to employment opportunities in adulthood (Murnane, Willett, Braatz, & Duhaldeborde, 2001), and math outcomes are as important as reading outcomes for success in school. For these reasons, it is necessary to understand how early in a student’s school career educators can identify students who struggle with math in order to provide proper instruction and support. Without identification and support, students may continue to struggle with math throughout middle school and high school. Additionally, difficulty with math may influence college decisions and workforce placement.
Sarah Powell is an associate professor in the Department of Special Education. Read Powell’s full summary of Trajectories of Mathematics Performance: From Preschool to Postsecondary