David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at University of Missouri, published research in the open access peer reviewed journal Public Library of Science on Jan. 30, 2013, that indicates the United States lack of math competency begins in early childhood.
One in five adults in the United States lacks the math competency expected of an eighth grader, according to the United States Center for Educational Statistics. This deficiency produces an inability to compete for jobs in the United States and puts the United States at a disadvantage versus competing countries.
The researchers point out that as early as age one and definitely observable in the first grade is the lack of a single math skill has real world importance in employability.
The particular math skill Geary identified, "number system knowledge," is the ability to conceptualize a numeral as a symbol for a quantity and understand systematic relationships between numbers.
"An early deficit in number system knowledge creates a weak foundation for later learning," said Geary. "That weak foundation can lead to a lifetime of problems, not limited to reduced employment opportunities. Poor understanding of mathematical concepts can make a person easy prey for predatory lenders. Numerical literacy, or numeracy, also helps with saving for big purchases and managing mortgages and credit card debt."
Students who started behind in counting ability were able to catch up, whereas students who were behind in number system knowledge stayed behind their peers. Geary's study involved 180 13-year-olds who had been assessed every year since kindergarten for intelligence, memory, mathematical cognition, attention span and achievement. All of these factors were controlled for in the analysis of scores on the employability tests administered in seventh grade. Demographic differences also were accounted for along with other factors.
The research was reviewed at the Eureka Alert website the date of publication.