One in five adults in the United States is functionally innumerate; they do not possess the mathematical competencies needed for many modern jobs. We administered functional numeracy measures used in studies of young adults’ employability and wages to 180 thirteen-year-olds. The adolescents began the study in kindergarten and participated in multiple assessments of intelligence, working memory, mathematical cognition, achievement, and in-class attentive behavior. Their number system knowledge at the beginning of first grade was defined by measures that assessed knowledge of the systematic relations among Arabic numerals and skill at using this knowledge to solve arithmetic problems. Early number system knowledge predicted functional numeracy more than six years later (ß = 0.195, p = .0014) controlling for intelligence, working memory, in-class attentive behavior, mathematical achievement, demographic and other factors, but skill at using counting procedures to solve arithmetic problems did not. In all, we identified specific beginning of schooling numerical knowledge that contributes to individual differences in adolescents’ functional numeracy and demonstrated that performance on mathematical achievement tests underestimates the importance of this early knowledge.

JF - PLoS ONE JA - PLoS ONE VL - 8 IS - 1 UR - http://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0054651 SP - e54651 EP - PB - Public Library of Science M3 - doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0054651 ER -