From Penn State University
By Amanda Mountz
February 26, 2015
Math difficulties can appear in some children from low socioeconomic status households as early as by age two. Early screening and intervention can help, say experts.
Previous studies have shown that young children who have difficulty with math will continue to have difficulty as they get older. But until now, little was known about which children were most at risk.
The new study, published in the Journal of Learning Disabilities, indicates that a family’s economic status is a significant factor in whether or not a child will continue to have trouble with math.
What can schools do?
“Schools can’t do much to change a family’s economic circumstances,” says Paul L. Morgan, associate professor of education at Penn State, “but schools can decide how they allocate extra resources and how early they intervene to help children who seem to be struggling academically.”
Early screening and intervention efforts should begin when a child starts school—and should be multi-faceted to target early mathematics, reading difficulties, and behavior problems.
Attending preschool or Head Start can lower the risk of persistent math difficulties, Morgan says.
“Before entering school, children may not have much informal exposure to mathematics. Conversations and activities that include talking about mathematics may help reduce children’s later struggles when they are being taught more formally in the elementary- and middle-school grades,” he says.
Waiting to Fail
For the current study, researchers analyzed two nationally representative, longitudinal data sets of US children maintained by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics. One sample of children was followed from birth to kindergarten; the other was followed from kindergarten to the end of eighth grade.
For preschool children, factors that increased the children’s risk for persistent math difficulties included low general cognitive functioning, vocabulary difficulties, and being from low socioeconomic status households.
For elementary- and middle-school students, reading difficulties, mathematics difficulties, and attention-related behavioral difficulties increased risk, as did being from lower socioeconomic households.
“Children who struggle in mathematics often do not ‘grow out of it,’ so a ‘wait and see’ approach might only have ‘wait to fail’ consequences for many children.” Morgan says.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences funded the study.