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Gena Nelson

Gena Nelson,  assistant professor in the Department of Early and Special Education, received the 2019 Marjorie Montague Dissertation Award for her work, “The effects of early numeracy interventions for students in preschool and early elementary: A meta-analysis.”

In addition, Nelson’s dissertation was accepted for publication in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Early numeracy refers to understanding whole numbers and their relations (e.g., 2 is more than 1 but less than 5). Early numeracy is a set of skills that many children learn prior to entering school – for example, learning to recite the counting sequence – and upon receiving formal math instruction. It is specific to whole numbers and does not include other math skills such as learning shapes or measurement. Early numeracy skills are typically learned and taught in the preschool through grade 2 years.

“I wanted to explore early numeracy interventions because research indicates that many early numeracy skills are required to master later mathematics concepts such as computation and problem solving,” Nelson said. “However, research also indicates that achievement gaps in math start as early as preschool, often the result of poor early numeracy skills. Thus, interventions in early numeracy skills are a critical aspect of closing the achievement gap in mathematics.”

The results of a meta-analysis on early numeracy interventions can provide clear direction for next steps in research and implications for designing numeracy interventions for young children.

Nelson’s research evaluated 34 preschool, kindergarten and first-grade interventions on early numeracy content, instructional features and methodological components that improved students’ math achievement. The average weighted effect size for numeracy interventions was moderate (g = 0.64), indicating that the interventions were effective at improving outcomes for students in the intervention groups. Results of the final meta-regression model predicted larger intervention effects for interventions that included counting skills and that were eight weeks or shorter in duration. The results of the meta-regression also showed that, on average, interventions were more effective for students with lower levels of academic risk compared to students with higher levels of risk (such as very low initial math performance).

The Marjorie Montague Dissertation Award is given out by the International Academy for Research in Learning Disabilities. It includes a stipend and the opportunity to present at the academy’s summer conference in Greece.