Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Preventing Early Mathematics Difficulties: The Feasibility of a Rigorous Kindergarten Mathematics Curriculum

Academic journal article Learning Disability Quarterly

Preventing Early Mathematics Difficulties: The Feasibility of a Rigorous Kindergarten Mathematics Curriculum

Article excerpt

Abstract. Concern about poor mathematics achievement in U.S. schools has increased in recent years. In part, poor achievement may be attributed to a lack of attention to early instruction and missed opportunities to build on young children's early understanding of mathematics. This study examined the development and feasibility testing of a kindergarten mathematics curriculum designed to focus on the development of early number sense, geometry, measurement, and mathematics vocabulary. A mixed-model analysis of covariance, using pretest score as a covariate, was used to determine the effect of the experimental curriculum on student achievement on a standardized measure of early mathematics. Achievement results as well as implementation fidelity and teacher satisfaction suggest that further empirical research on the efficacy of the curriculum is warranted.

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The advancement and perfection of mathematics are ultimately connected with the prosperity of the state.

--Napoleon Bonaparte

Mathematics achievement is clearly important to a productive society. This long-held belief, along with recent attention to accountability and high standards, has led to serious concern about the state of mathematics education in the United States. The relatively low levels of mathematics performance of American students compared to national standards as well as in students around the world (National Research Council [NRC], 2001) have stimulated calls for a significant overhaul of mathematics education (e.g., Klein et al., 2005). Persistent problems in mathematics achievement are particularly troubling, given that the achievement gap faced by students from low-income (SES) and minority backgrounds as well as students with disabilities is significant and represents a growing number of students in public school districts (National Assessment of Educational Progress [NAEP], 2005). On the eve of the release of the National Mathematics Panel report, concern about student achievement in mathematics and an increased recognition that mathematics skill will play a significant role in life opportunities and outcomes in our society highlight the need for "[A]ll young Americans ... to think mathematically, and ... think mathematically to learn" (NRC, 2001, p. 16).

The problem of flagging achievement in mathematics in the United States may be attributed to any number of key issues that have been thoroughly discussed in the literature, including poorly prepared teachers (Hill & Ball, 2004; Ma, 1999); low expectations and poorly conceived standards (Chard & Kame'enui, 1995; Romberg & Kaput, 1999); insufficient and traditional instruction (Battista, 1999; Geist, 2000; McKnight & Schmidt, 1989); and mathematics anxiety (Furner & Berman, 2003).

Another contributor to later mathematics difficulties may simply be a missed opportunity to develop young children's mathematical understanding early. Research in developmental psychology indicates that infants demonstrate early skills in subitizing, recognizing when the number of objects or sounds changes after being habituated to a first number (Wynn, 1990, 1992). Moreover, Xu and Spelke (2000) have demonstrated that infants can perceive quantity differences in large arrays. Instruction in mathematics such as that offered to students in pre-K and kindergarten classrooms should be designed to take advantage of these already emerging skills (Clements, 2004). However, there is little empirical evidence in the research literature on instructional programs designed to teach students early number sense and to develop it more formally into early arithmetic skills in the elementary grades.

One potential approach to improving math achievement is the delivery of effective core instruction to all students in the early primary grades to lay a sound foundation for mathematical understanding and prevent early difficulties in mathematics (Clarke, Baker, & Chard, 2007). …

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