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This article is part of the Research Topic

Individual Differences in Arithmetical Development

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Front. Educ. | doi: 10.3389/feduc.2018.00029

Individual Differences in Fourth-Grade Math Achievement in Chinese and English

 Nicola Mcclung1* and Diana Arya2
  • 1University of San Francisco, United States
  • 2Gevirtz Graduate School of Education, University of California, Santa Barbara, United States

Language has been widely acknowledged as a determining factor in mathematical achievement. Less understood, however, is the relationship between students’ language and their performance on tests of mathematics when taking into consideration the presence of mathematical difficulties. We investigated the effects of two different language systems, Chinese and English, on the mathematical performance of fourth-grade (or age equivalent) students (N=23, 220) with varying levels of demonstrated mathematical and reading ability. For this investigation, we used a subset of the 2011 Progress in International Reading and Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) from students who were tested in Chinese or English in nine countries.
Findings from hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) analyses revealed that the main effect of language on mathematical performance remained significant once variables for mathematical ability were added to the model. Further, significant language-by-mathematical ability interactions were observed when controlling for country, gender, maternal education, and age. Thus, the effect of language on mathematical performance may be especially salient in the presence of mathematical difficulties. Implications of these findings include the need for further investigations of language and its effects on mathematical performance for Chinese- and English-speaking students in order to clarify how this relationship may vary within specific language populations.

Keywords: language differences, Multilevel Models, mathematics education, cross-linguistic comparison, Chinese

Received: 20 Jan 2018; Accepted: 12 Apr 2018.

Edited by:

Bert De Smedt, KU Leuven, Belgium

Reviewed by:

Christine Schiltz, University of Luxembourg, Luxembourg
Bieke De Fraine, KU Leuven, Belgium  

Copyright: © 2018 Mcclung and Arya. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Nicola Mcclung, University of San Francisco, San Francisco, United States,