Test puts math prep on par with language

June 20, 2014 by Paul Mayne, University of Western Ontario

(Medical Xpress)—For some kids, numbers simply don't add up. But now, thanks to a test developed by Western researchers, teachers and parents will have an early warning that extra help may be needed.

"Numeracy is one of the most important early development skills that learn," said Western Psychology professor Daniel Ansari. "Individual differences in children's early numeracy skills are critical predictors of their later educational achievement – as strongly as literacy skills. Yet, we do not have very many good tools for assessing how well children are doing, early in their development."

Numeracy is defined as the ability to apply simple numerical concepts – addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. So if you understand what's going on in the equation 3+2, then you possess basic numeric knowledge.

Ansari and former Western PhD student Nadia Nosworthy (now a professor at Michigan's Andrews University) created a two-minute Numeracy Screener to children's ability to judge which of two numbers is larger. Numbers are presented symbolically (Arabic numerals) and non-symbolically (dot arrays).

The pencil-and-paper test is designed to identify children who might be at risk of falling behind in arithmetic early on, allowing educators to intervene earlier.

"In numeracy, we start testing kids only in school when they are doing . We give them tests on arithmetic, but we don't look at what's underneath the arithmetic – what prepares them to become good math learners, to become good calculators," said Ansari, Canada Research Chair in Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience.

"It's a very quick tool that can be used to get a basic understanding of individual differences in one aspect of children's foundational numeracy skills."

The screener test can be printed for free at numeracyscreener.org.

In constructing the tool, Ansari consulted school psychologists, who had been looking something to test "the underlying competency with the things that drive their abilities," as well as the World Bank's Education for All initiative, which suggested a test that could be used in low-income countries, thus the paper version.

"Even though we all have computers now, educators, I think deep down, still prefer something they can print out and access online," Ansari said. "It's old school, sure, but most of the testing in schools today is still paper and pencil."

Entering those scores online, however, allows students and parents to compare an individual child to children in the same grade. Currently, the majority of the data available is from the Thames Valley District and Toronto school boards.

"It's very important to say that this test is not diagnostic, it's just an indicator really," he said. "You shouldn't overreact if there are low numbers. And when we talk about intervention, it doesn't need to be anything complex. It could just be training in matching numerals to sets, playing number line games. If there are consistently low performances, it should be a warning sign."

He continued, "By having educators and parents use this tool, they can think about how they can strengthen these abilities in children who might be falling behind. It's all about early identification and intervention and we are working hard to come up with those intervention tools."

Explore further: Neuroscience study reveals new link between basic math skills and PSAT math success

Related Stories

Neuroscience study reveals new link between basic math skills and PSAT math success

January 4, 2013
(Medical Xpress)—New research from Western University provides brain imaging evidence that students well-versed in very basic single digit arithmetic (5+2=7 or 7-3=4) are better equipped to score higher on the Preliminary ...

Low-income Latino children show benefits from Montessori pre-kindergartern programs study finds

May 19, 2014
Low-income Latino children who experienced one year of Montessori pre-K education at age 4 made dramatic improvements in early achievement and behavior even though they began the year at great risk for school failure, according ...

Poor motor performance linked to poor academic skills in the first school years

October 28, 2013
Children with poor motor performance at the school entry were found to have poorer reading and arithmetic skills than their better performing peers during the first three years of school. However, no relationship was found ...

Smarter kids can choke under pressure, according to study

June 6, 2014
(Medical Xpress)—Whether it's initiated by their parents, friends or themselves, students often feel pressure to perform well in tests.

Recommended for you

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

Babies' babbling betters brains, language

January 18, 2018
Babies are adept at getting what they need - including an education. New research shows that babies organize mothers' verbal responses, which promotes more effective language instruction, and infant babbling is the key.

College branding makes beer more salient to underage students

January 18, 2018
In recent years, major beer companies have tried to capitalize on the salience of students' university affiliations, unveiling marketing campaigns and products—such as "fan cans," store displays, and billboard ads—that ...

Inherited IQ can increase in early childhood

January 18, 2018
When it comes to intelligence, environment and education matter – more than we think.

Modulating molecules: Study shows oxytocin helps the brain to modulate social signals

January 17, 2018
Between sights, sounds, smells and other senses, the brain is flooded with stimuli on a moment-to-moment basis. How can it sort through the flood of information to decide what is important and what can be relegated to the ...

Baby brains help infants figure it out before they try it out

January 17, 2018
Babies often amaze their parents when they seemingly learn new skills overnight—how to walk, for example. But their brains were probably prepping for those tasks long before their first steps occurred, according to researchers.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.