What basic number processing measures in kindergarten explain unique variability in first-grade arithmetic proficiency?

J Exp Child Psychol. 2014 Jan;117:12-28. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.08.010. Epub 2013 Oct 12.


Relations between children's mathematics achievement and their basic number processing skills have been reported in both cross-sectional and longitudinal studies. Yet, some key questions are currently unresolved, including which kindergarten skills uniquely predict children's arithmetic fluency during the first year of formal schooling and the degree to which predictors are contingent on children's level of arithmetic proficiency. The current study assessed kindergarteners' non-symbolic and symbolic number processing efficiency. In addition, the contribution of children's underlying magnitude representations to differences in arithmetic achievement was assessed. Subsequently, in January of Grade 1, their arithmetic proficiency was assessed. Hierarchical regression analysis revealed that children's efficiency to compare digits, count, and estimate numerosities uniquely predicted arithmetic differences above and beyond the non-numerical factors included. Moreover, quantile regression analysis indicated that symbolic number processing efficiency was consistently a significant predictor of arithmetic achievement scores regardless of children's level of arithmetic proficiency, whereas their non-symbolic number processing efficiency was not. Finally, none of the task-specific effects indexing children's representational precision was significantly associated with arithmetic fluency. The implications of the results are 2-fold. First, the findings indicate that children's efficiency to process symbols is important for the development of their arithmetic fluency in Grade 1 above and beyond the influence of non-numerical factors. Second, the impact of children's non-symbolic number processing skills does not depend on their arithmetic achievement level given that they are selected from a nonclinical population.

Keywords: Arithmetic proficiency; Elementary school; Non-symbolic number processing skills; Symbolic number processing skills; Task-specific effects; Unique predictors.

MeSH terms

  • Achievement*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mathematics / education*
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Symbolism