The Math Skills Development Project (MSDP)

MSDP was Dr. Mazzocco’s first longitudinal study of math ability and disability and was carried out during 1997-2007 in the Baltimore County Public School District in Maryland. (This work was completed when Dr. Mazzocco was a Professor at the Johns Hopkins University.)

The broad, long-term objectives of this project were to contribute toward understanding early math ability, math learning disability (MLD), and MLD subtypes, at a time when very little research was being conducted on math difficulties. Findings from this research contributed to knowledge of the cognitive predictors of later successful mathematics achievement, early indicators of risk for poor math achievement, and individual differences in numerical skills that differentiate children with MLD from others who also struggle with mathematics.

Current studies capitalize on the detailed assessments conducted during this completed study.

Several components comprised the MSDP:

1) MSDP Baltimore County Public School Cohort I

Funded by a grant from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development

The largest MSDP longitudinal study began during the 1997-98 school year. A group of 249 kindergartners was enrolled and followed annually, over 160 of whom participated through eighth grade; of these, 81 students continued with a smaller study conducted in ninth grade, and nearly 100 students participated in our "High School Outcomes" project. The cohort has since graduated from high school. Additional secondary data analysis studies are underway in the Mazzocco lab, and also in collaboration with other cognitive development labs.

From their kindergarten through ninth grade years, the MSDP participants taught us much about mathematics ability and math difficulties. For instance:

2) High School Outcomes Project

We collected mathematics achievement data on high school outcomes from the first graduating cohort of the MSDP, including scores on the preliminary scholastic abilities test (PSAT) that many students take in 10th or 11th grades. We used these data in the following projects:

We collaborated with the Numerical Cognition Lab directed by Dr. Daniel Ansari at Western University, Canada), in a study using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). We found that individual differences in white matter predict performance of high school math outcomes (measured by the math PSAT) and not reading outcomes, suggesting a subject-specific association (Matejko, Price, Mazzocco, Ansari, 2012).

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that 12th graders’ brain responses to single digit calculation are correlated with their standard scores on the math subtest of the PSAT (Price, Mazzocco, & Ansari, 2013). Specifically, PSAT math scores were positively correlated with calculation activation in the left supramarginal gyrus and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (these are brain regions associated with arithmetic fact retrieval) and negatively correlated with calculation activation in the right intraparietal sulcus (IPS) (a region known to be involved in numerical quantity processing). These findings support the notion that mental arithmetic fluency has a fundamental role in higher-level mathematical competence.

3) Neural Correlates of High School Arithmetic

In collaboration with the Numerical Cognition Lab directed by Dr. Daniel Ansari at Western University, Canada), we used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), we found that individual differences in white matter predict performance of high school math outcomes (measured by the math PSAT) and not reading outcomes, suggesting a subject-specific association (Matejko, Price, Mazzocco, Ansari, 2012 in press).

Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), we found that 12th graders’ brain responses to single digit calculation are correlated with their standard scores on the math subtest of the PSAT (Price, Mazzocco, & Ansari, in press). Specifically, PSAT math scores were positively correlated with calculation activation in the left supramarginal gyrus and bilateral anterior cingulate cortex (these are brain regions associated with arithmetic fact retrieval) and negatively correlated with calculation activation in the right intraparietal sulcus (IPS) (a region known to be involved in numerical quantity processing). These findings support the notion that mental arithmetic fluency has a fundamental role in higher-level mathematical competence.