Factors Associated With Children’s Understanding of Mathematical Equivalence: An Investigation Across Six Countries

Emine Simsek, Iro Xenidou-Dervou, Jodie Hunter, Margaret Gillon Dowens, Jeong Suk Pang, Yujin Lee, Nicole M. McNeil, Patrick K. Kirkland, Ian Jones

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


Many primary school students have difficulties understanding mathematical equivalence with considerably poorer performance in some countries than in others. However, students’ formal understanding of equivalence has significant and long-lasting effects, as it predicts arithmetic and algebra achievement throughout school years. Currently, little is known about the factors influencing students’ understanding of mathematical equivalence particularly across different countries. We have conducted the first largescale study to explore the factors associated with primary school students’ understanding of mathematical equivalence across six countries (China, England, New Zealand, South Korea, Turkiye, and the United States). Participants were 2,760 primary school students and their teachers (N = 108). Using multilevel structural equation modeling, we found that students’ knowledge of definitions of the equals sign relates to their equation-solving performance. We also found that while teachers’ knowledge of students’ relational strategies does relate to students’ understanding of equivalence, teachers’ knowledge of students’ operational strategies, and the format of arithmetic practice presented in the students’ current year textbooks do not. Using England as the reference country, we found that this pattern was similar across the samples from all the participating countries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1359-1379
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of Educational Psychology
Issue number6
Early online date23 May 2022
Publication statusPublished Online - 23 May 2022


  • Mathematical equivalence
  • Multilevel sem
  • Teacher knowledge
  • Textbooks
  • The equals sign

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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