Developmental Science

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Volume 21 Issue 6 (November 2018), Pages

Cognitive predictors of children's development in mathematics achievement: A latent growth modeling approach

  • Author(s): Iro Xenidou‐Dervou, Johannes E.H. Van Luit, Evelyn H. Kroesbergen, Ilona Friso‐van den Bos, Lisa M. Jonkman, Menno Schoot, Ernest C.D.M. Lieshout
  • Published 24 Apr 2018
  • DOI: 10.1111/desc.12671


Research has identified various domain‐general and domain‐specific cognitive abilities as predictors of children's individual differences in mathematics achievement. However, research into the predictors of children's individual growth rates, namely between‐person differences in within‐person change in mathematics achievement is scarce. We assessed 334 children's domain‐general and mathematics‐specific early cognitive abilities and their general mathematics achievement longitudinally across four time‐points within the first and second grades of primary school. As expected, a constellation of multiple cognitive abilities contributed to the children's starting level of mathematical success. Specifically, latent growth modeling revealed that WM abilities, IQ, counting skills, nonsymbolic and symbolic approximate arithmetic and comparison skills explained individual differences in the children's initial status on a curriculum‐based general mathematics achievement test. Surprisingly, however, only one out of all the assessed cognitive abilities was a unique predictor of the children's individual growth rates in mathematics achievement: their performance in the symbolic approximate addition task. In this task, children were asked to estimate the sum of two large numbers and decide if this estimated sum was smaller or larger compared to a third number. Our findings demonstrate the importance of multiple domain‐general and mathematics‐specific cognitive skills for identifying children at risk of struggling with mathematics and highlight the significance of early approximate arithmetic skills for the development of one's mathematical success. We argue the need for more research focus on explaining children's individual growth rates in mathematics achievement.

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