One in five adults in the U.S. can’t do basic arithmetic problems such as adding fractions, working with measurements and doing whole number arithmetic problems, according to a new study about how math skills develop. More precisely, 22 percent of adult Americans are functionally innumerate — a word that sums up the inability to do math problems in the same way the word illiterate describes the inability to read or write. The millions of Americans who fit in this category don’t have the basic math skills for most modern jobs, the study says, including jobs open to people without college degrees.
The study, by researchers at the University of Missouri, showed it is important for children to comprehend that written numerals represent quantities by the time they enter first grade. They also need to be able to solve simple arithmetic problems by grouping numbers, not just counting.
The long-term study followed 177 children from kindergarten through seventh grade. It found that children who don’t grasp the meaning and function of numerals before they enter first grade fall behind their peers in math achievement, and most of them don’t catch up. Those who start first grade behind their peers in math achievement remain at heightened risk for low scores on math problems through seventh grade.
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