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J Exp Child Psychol. 2013 Jun;115(2):371-87. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2013.01.005. Epub 2013 Apr 13.

Limited knowledge of fraction representations differentiates middle school students with mathematics learning disability (dyscalculia) versus low mathematics achievement.

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Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN 55455, USA.


Fractions pose significant challenges for many children, but for some children those challenges persist into high school. Here we administered a fractions magnitude comparison test to 122 children, from Grades 4 to 8, to test whether their knowledge of fractions typically learned early in the sequence of formal math instruction (e.g., fractions equivalent to one-half, fraction pairs with common denominators) differentiates those with mathematics learning disability (MLD) versus low achievement (LA) or typical achievement (TA) in mathematics and whether long-term learning trajectories of this knowledge also differentiate these groups. We confirmed that although fourth graders with TA (n=93) were more accurate in evaluating "one-half" fractions than in evaluating "non-half" fractions (until they reached ceiling performance levels on both types of fractions), children with MLD (n=11) did not show a one-half advantage until Grade 7 and did not reach ceiling performance even by Grade 8. Both the MLD and LA groups had early difficulties with fractions, but by Grade 5 the LA group approached performance levels of the TA group and deviated from the MLD group. All groups showed a visual model advantage over Arabic number representation of fractions, but this advantage was short-lived for the TA group (because ceiling level was achieved across formats), whereas it was slightly more persistent for the LA group and persisted through Grade 8 for children with MLD. Thus, difficulties with fractions persist through Grade 8 for many students, but the nature and trajectories of those difficulties vary across children with math difficulties (MLD or LA).

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