Capturing Children’s Mathematical Knowledge: An Assessment Framework

  • Yasmin Sitabkhan RTI International
  • Linda M. Platas San Francisco State University
  • Leanne R. Ketterlin Geller Southern Methodist University
Keywords: early grade mathematics, primary school, assessment


This paper explores an innovative assessment framework for measuring children’s formal and informal mathematical knowledge. Many existing standardized measures, such as the Early Grade Mathematics Assessment, measure children’s performance in early primary grade skills that have been identified by researchers and policy makers as foundational and predictive of later academic achievement (Platas, Ketterlin-Geller, & Sitabkhan, 2016; RTI International, 2014). However, these standardized assessments only provide information on children’s mathematical ability as it pertains to skills and concepts that are a focus of school instruction, referred to as formal mathematics. While valuable, they leave unmeasured the mathematics that children use and develop as part of their everyday life, such as the strategies they use to solve simple arithmetical problems that arise as they move through their day (Khan, 1999; Saxe, 1991; Taylor, 2009).  In this article, we draw from mixed methods studies which focus on capturing the informal mathematical skills that children develop outside of school in various contexts (Guberman, 1996; Nasir, 2000; Sitabkhan, 2009; Sitabkhan, 2015). We describe how the use of observations of children’s mathematical activities in natural settings and subsequent cognitive interviews using mathematical tasks derived from those observations can illuminate mathematical knowledge and skills that may otherwise remain hidden. We found that an assessment framework that focuses on both standardized measures of formal mathematical learning and contextualized measures of children’s everyday mathematics can provide a more complete and nuanced picture of children’s knowledge, and taken together can inform the development of curricular materials and teacher training focused on early learning.

Author Biographies

Yasmin Sitabkhan, RTI International

Yasmin Sitabkhan, PhD, is a Senior Early Childhood Education Researcher and Advisor in RTI’s International Education Division. In her current role at RTI, she provides technical support to projects in low- and middle-income  countries in early mathematics. Her research interests focus on children’s development of early mathematical concepts and instructional strategies to support learning in low- and middle-income contexts. Dr. Sitabkhan has a Ph.D. in Education from the University of California, Berkeley.


Linda M. Platas, San Francisco State University

Linda M. Platas, PhD, is the associate chair of the Child and Adolescent Development Department at SF State University. She has participated in the development of child assessment instruments including the Early Grades Math Assessment (EGMA) and the Measuring Early Learning Quality and Outcomes (MELQO) and served as an expert in mathematics and literacy development on many technical and policy groups. She is a member of
the Development and Research in Early Math Education (DREME) Network.

Leanne R. Ketterlin Geller, Southern Methodist University

Leanne Ketterlin Geller, PhD, is the Texas Instruments Endowed Chair in Education and professor in the Simmons School of Education and Human Development at Southern Methodist University. Her research focuses on supporting student achievement in mathematics through developing technically rigorous formative assessment procedures and effective classroom practices. Her work emphasizes valid decision-making systems for students with diverse needs.