A child’s ability to understand and manipulate sets of numbers in 1st grade predicts how well he or she will succeed in the math required both in secondary school and for day-to-day living, according to a study published in the current online edition of the journal PLOS One.
Researchers tracked 180 students in 12 elementary schools who were participating in a larger longitudinal study of kindergarten through 9th grade.
They found that students who could identify and work with sets of numbers in 1st grade performed significantly better years later in 7th grade on a test of functional numeracy, which assesses the mathematics skills needed for the workforce. By contrast, students’ ability at the start of school to perform arithmetic based on counting absolute values of numbers—the skill that math tests in the early grades most often focus on—had little bearing on their later math skills.
A version of this article appeared in the February 20, 2013 edition of Education Week as Math Skills