Formula Written for Math Success Learning Fractions and Division Early Will Help America's Students as They Tackle Tougher Problems Ahead, a Research Study Finds

By Niederberger, Mary | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), June 19, 2012 | Go to article overview

Formula Written for Math Success Learning Fractions and Division Early Will Help America's Students as They Tackle Tougher Problems Ahead, a Research Study Finds


Niederberger, Mary, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Mastery of fractions and early division is a predictor of students' later success with algebra and other higher-level mathematics, based on a study done by a team of researchers led by a Carnegie Mellon University professor.

That means more effective teaching of the concepts is needed to improve math scores among U.S. high school students, which have remained stagnant for more than 30 years.

The study, called "Early Predictors of High School Mathematics Achievement," was published recently in Psychological Science, and the lead researcher was Robert Siegler, a professor of cognitive psychology at CMU whose work focuses on children's mathematical and scientific thinking.

"This has really important policy implications. Everyone is aware that overall U.S. math achievement isn't very good in relative terms or compared to other parts of the world. But there has been disagreement on what we need to focus on in math education," Mr. Siegler said. "This shows we really need to focus on whole number division and fractions and teaching them better than we are currently doing."

Mr. Siegler said the changes in math education need to take place at the universities that train teachers, in professional development programs for current math teachers and in the elementary classrooms where students are learning fractions and early division concepts.

The study, funded by the U.S. Department of Education and National Science Foundation, noted that math scores on national standardized tests among U.S. high school students have not improved in three decades and are significantly behind those in countries such as China, Japan, Finland, the Netherlands and Canada at a time when math proficiency is a requirement for many jobs.

It also noted that students who "start ahead in math generally stay ahead" and that those who "start behind generally stay behind" and it looked to find the reason.

Mr. Siegler's team of eight researchers hypothesized that 10- year-olds' knowledge of fractions would predict their algebra knowledge and overall mathematics achievement at age 16, even after statistically controlling for other factors such as general intellectual ability and family income and education. …

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