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Ability with fractions and division aged 10 predicts ability with algebra aged 16

Last week we reported that the UK Government have released a draft primary school Programme of Study for mathematics for consultation. A report from the Telegraph quoted in that article mentioned that “the use and multiplication of fractions” was “a vital precursor to studying algebra”. A piece of research published in the journal Psychological Science, ‘Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement‘, investigates this area. The findings indicate the importance of learning about fractions and division by showing that these “uniquely predict” students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement 5 or 6 years later.

To identify “the types of mathematics content knowledge that are most predictive of students’ long-term learning”, this research “examined long-term predictors of high school students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement”. Analysis was completed on “large, nationally representative, longitudinal data sets from the United States and the United Kingdom”. According to the press release,

The U.S. set included 599 children who were tested in 1997 as 10-12 year-olds and again in 2002 as 15-17-year-olds. The set from the U.K. included 3,677 children who were tested in 1980 as 10-year-olds and in 1986 as 16-year-olds.

Both sets apparently showed that

elementary school students’ knowledge of fractions and of division uniquely predicts those students’ knowledge of algebra and overall mathematics achievement in high school, 5 or 6 years later, even after statistically controlling for other types of mathematical knowledge, general intellectual ability, working memory, and family income and education.

With this sort of story it is of course necessary to consider the ever-present question of causation but if you’re interested the link to the original research paper is below.

Press release: Carnegie Mellon-Led Research Team Finds Knowledge Of Fractions and Long Division Predicts Long-Term Math Success: Results Demonstrate Immediate Need To Improve How Math Is Taught.

Paper:Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement (Siegler et al., Psychological Science; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612440101)

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