60-Second Mind

America Needs to Study Fractions

Recent research finds that a solid grade school knowledge of fractions and long-form division accurately predicts later success in high school math. Christie Nicholson reports

What part of math was most intimidating when you were in grade school? Maybe it was fractions. Or even worse, long-form division. Somehow splitting numbers really seemed complicated.

And the U.S. might be paying for kids’ inability to overcome those early challenges: a new study finds that Americans are falling significantly behind in math aptitude compared with China, Finland, the Netherlands and Canada. And the root cause is deficiencies in knowledge of fractions and division.

Nearly 600 children were tested once when they were 10 to 12 years old and again five years later. Researchers found that a fifth graders’ understanding of fractions and division accurately predicts their high school competency in general math achievement.

The researchers controlled for parents’ education and income as well as for the students’ gender, IQ and knowledge of addition, subtraction and multiplication. The study is in the journal Psychological Science.

The researchers note that it’s clear we need to improve instruction in fractions, ratios and proportions along with long division.

So let's get back to the fact that we know that 1/2 is equivalent to 3/6 is equivalent to 502/1004, which is equivalent to 9/18. And that is just a fraction of the hard work we need to do.

—Christie Nicholson

[The above text is an exact transcript of this podcast.]

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