Identification of children with low early mathematical performance

In real-world situations among day-care centres and kindergartens, screening tests can be used to identify children who are potentially at risk of developing mathematical learning difficulties. Screening is most often conducted for several children in order to identify those who will potentially develop learning problems and who would require extra educational support. After screening, a more thorough investigation into the skills and performance of at-risk children should be conducted to ascertain what the child can and cannot do and what kind of educational support might be required.

In Finland, for example, screening tools have been developed for educators in order to identify children with learning difficulties in mathematics in kindergarten and among first and second graders. These assessment batteries’ design and publication in the LukiMat web service were funded by the Finnish Ministry of Education (2006–2012). These evidence-based screening materials focus on core skill factors: symbolic- and non-symbolic number sense, understanding mathematical relations, counting skills and basic skills in arithmetic. There are three scales to be completed three times a year with children: at the beginning of the school year (August-September), in the middle of the school year (November-December) and at the end of the school year (April-May). A more thorough investigation can then be administered with the Early Numeracy Test (Van Luit, Van de Rijt, & Aunio, 2006) or the Banuca (Räsänen, 2005). In the United States, there are many possibilities to be used as screeners or for more thorough assessment batteries (Geary, Bailey, & Hoard 2009; Ginsburg & Baroody, 2003; Seethaler & Fuchs, 2011).

It is also possible to identify these children by observing their behaviour in everyday situations at home, in day-care centres or in kindergartens. For instance, in situations where children need to count objects, an educator or parent can observe how fluently the child can say the number word sequence and point out objects to be counted at the same time. An important issue is that the child understands that counting can be used to solve ‘problems’ such as those presented in games or in everyday situations. For instance, a child can be asked to join in the dinner preparation, a situation in which it is easy to observe whether the child can count how many forks and plates are needed for six people. It is also quite easy to observe whether the child understands if there are more potatoes on one plate than on another. It is important that adults pay attention to mathematical skills development in early years, play mathematical games with children and encourage them to use their numeracy skills and practice new, challenging skills.

  • Geary D. C., Bailey, D. H., & Hoard, M. K. (2009). Predicting mathematical achievement and mathematical learning disability with simple screening tool. The number sets test. Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 27(3) 265–279.
  • Ginsburg, H. & Baroody, A. (2003). Test of early mathematics ability (3rd ed.) Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.
  • Räsänen, P. (2005). BANUCA – Basic Numerical and Calculation Abilities Test. Niilo Mäki Institute, Jyväskylä, Finland.
  • Seethaler P. M. & Fuchs, L.S. (2011). Using curriculum-based measurement to monitor kindergarteners’ mathematics development. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 36, 219.
  • Van Luit, J. E. H., Van de Rijt, B. A. M., & Aunio, P. (2006). Lukukäsitetesti [Utrechtse Getalbegrip Toets, The Early Numeracy Test for Toddlers]. Finnish manual. Helsinki, Finland: Psykologien kustannus.