COLUMBIA, 11/30/11 (Beat Byte) -- A battery of tests given three times yearly to 177 students at twelve Columbia public schools may help predict which students are at risk for developing a mathematics learning disability, a Mizzou-National Institutes of Health study has concluded.
Elementary school students who have trouble with numerical quantities -- that the number 3, for example, represents three dots -- are likely to be diagnosed with a math learning disability by fifth grade. Math-disabled students are also less likely to catch up to their peers, the study -- conducted by University of Missouri, Columbia researchers Mary Hoard, Ph.D., Lara Nugent, Drew Bailey, and David Geary, Ph.D. -- found.
The testing covered kindergarten through fifth grade and measured math achievement; reading ability; paying attention in class; the ability to hold one idea or concept in mind while switching between tasks; and understanding numbers and simple addition problems.
In one kindergarten test, students looked at rectangles resembling dominoes. Some contained one to nine dots, and others a written numeral. Students were asked to circle dominos in which the number of dots and the numeral matched. The researchers found this test was linked to a gap in math scores between achieving and learning disabled groups. "Our findings suggest that children who generally struggle with math - the low achievers - may have a poor sense of numbers," said Geary.
In contrast to achievers, students with a math learning disability also have difficulty memorizing math facts, recalling answers to addition problems, and greater distractibility in class.
"The search for factors underlying difficulty learning mathematics is extremely important," said Kathy Mann Koepke, Ph.D., of NIH's Shriver Institute of Child Health and Human Development, which funded the study. "Once we identify such factors, the hope is that we can modify them through appropriate teaching methods."