The early development of children's numeracy skills

Year: 2012

Author: Daraganova, Galina, Ainley, John

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


This paper uses data from the K cohort  (four to five years old in 2004) of The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children (LSAC) to examine the development numeracy skills by children at different ages, and whether levels of numeracy skills vary for children from different socio-demographic backgrounds. The socio-demographic groups examined are: gender; socio-economic background and family type and size.

A number of studies have suggested that early numeracy is grounded in competences such as recognising the value of quantities and grasping the principles of counting as well as informal awareness of number and quantitative relationships. Studies that have followed the development of numeracy from preschool to the ?rst year of school have highlighted the diversity of preschool experiences of number and early numeracy achievement.

In LSAC information on the child's numeracy skills is obtained from teachers' ratings and NAPLAN results.  Teachers' ratings judged the proficiency of children's numeracy skills on a set of items in relation to other children of the same age. These ratings were obtained over three waves of data collection (2004, 2006, 2008). The NAPLAN numeracy test measured the achievement of students on an IRT scale that covers broad areas of numeracy.

In this paper we examine progress in the development of numeracy and the relationships between student background, teacher ratings and NAPLAN numeracy scores in Year 3. In terms of general progress we note that at four to five years of age most children were able to recognise numbers, count to 20, and classify and sort objects. At six to seven years of age, more than 70 per cent of children were able to continue a pattern, understand place value, manipulate whole numbers, use graphs, make estimates, and use different mathematical strategies. At eight to nine years of age most children were able to create and extend a pattern using multiple rules, manipulate different shapes, use measurement tools accurately, check their answers, and organise data into graphs.

In terms of relationships of numeracy with student background we report bivariate relationships as well as the results of multivariate (regression) analyses.  Our analyses show that girls have more developed numeracy skills than boys at age four but at age six and eight there are no significant differences. There are differences associated with family socioeconomic position at age four and subsequent ages. There are also differences associated with family structure but no differences associated with language background.