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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Determining the contributions of executive functioning to mathematical skills Morton, Marley


The importance of executive functioning (EF) skills in general mathematical achievement has been well established. However, a deeper understanding about the degree to which distinct EF skills uniquely contribute to not just math as a whole, but to individual mathematical abilities is needed. The present study assessed the unique contributions of EF skills (working memory, inhibition, and shifting) to performance on math fluency, calculation, and problem solving tasks. A secondary goal of this study was to investigate whether performance based tests or parental ratings of EF better predict mathematical performance for each mathematical subskill. Participants were individually administered tests of EF and mathematics and parents completed an EF rating scale. A hierarchical multiple regression was conducted for each mathematic subskill, including lower level math skills in the first block and either performance-based or parent ratings of EF in the second block. Results show a strong relationship between verbal working memory and math fluency, calculation, and problem solving over and above lower level math skills. Math fluency had a significant relationship with calculation, but only calculation was related to problem solving. Performance based measures of EF were superior to parental ratings in terms of their relationship with calculation and problem solving. These findings have implications for our understanding of how EF skills may contribute to math achievement, which can inform early identification and provision of accommodations that will better support mathematical success and the remediation of math difficulties. Furthermore, the findings have implications for the validity of performance based and parental ratings of EF for identifying skills related to math. Lastly, the findings highlight the importance of lower level math skills in calculation and problem solving, which reiterates the importance of the mastery of prerequisite skills as well as areas of targeted intervention.

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