Kindergarteners' symbolic number abilities predict nonsymbolic number abilities and math achievement in grade 1
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Research has shown that two different, though related, ways of representing magnitude play foundational roles in the development of numerical and mathematical skills: a nonverbal approximate number system and an exact symbolic number system. While there have been numerous studies suggesting that the two systems are important predictors of math achievement, there has been substantial debate regarding whether and how these basic numerical competencies may be developmentally interrelated. Specifically, the causal direction of their relation has been the subject of debate: whether children's approximate number abilities predict later symbolic number abilities (the mapping account) or the other way around (the refinement account). Our sample included 622 kindergarten children (mean age = 62 months, SD = 3.5, 279 females, 75 born outside Canada), whose dot comparison, number comparison, and mixed comparison skills were assessed over three time-points and math achievement assessed over four time-points. We contrasted multiple theoretical predictions of the interrelations between the variables of interest posited by these two developmental accounts using longitudinal random intercept cross-lagged models. Results were most consistent with the refinement account, suggesting that earlier symbolic number ability is consistently the strongest predictor of approximate number ability, mixed-comparison ability, and arithmetic skills. Notably, our results demonstrated that, when individual models are examined in isolation, model fit was adequate or near adequate for all models tested. This highlights the need for future research to contrast competing accounts, as our results suggest the examination of any one account in isolation may not reveal the best fitting developmental model. (PsycInfo Database Record (c) 2021 APA, all rights reserved).