Developmental Change in the Influence of Domain-General Abilities and Domain-Specific Knowledge on Mathematics Achievement: An Eight-Year Longitudinal Study

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Abstract

The contributions of domain-general abilities and domain-specific knowledge to subsequent mathematics achievement were longitudinally assessed (n = 167) through 8th grade. First grade intelligence and working memory and prior grade reading achievement indexed domain-general effects, and domain-specific effects were indexed by prior grade mathematics achievement and mathematical cognition measures of prior grade number knowledge, addition skills, and fraction knowledge. Use of functional data analysis enabled grade-by-grade estimation of overall domain-general and domain-specific effects on subsequent mathematics achievement, the relative importance of individual domain-general and domain-specific variables on this achievement, and linear and nonlinear across-grade estimates of these effects. The overall importance of domain-general abilities for subsequent achievement was stable across grades, with working memory emerging as the most important domain-general ability in later grades. The importance of prior mathematical competencies on subsequent mathematics achievement increased across grades, with number knowledge and arithmetic skills critical in all grades and fraction knowledge in later grades. Overall, domain-general abilities were more important than domain-specific knowledge for mathematics learning in early grades but general abilities and domain-specific knowledge were equally important in later grades.

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