How Reliable is the Give-a-Number task?

AbstractThe Give-a-Number task has become a gold standard of children’s number word comprehension and has been increasingly used to organize debate in developmental psychology. In this task, the experimenter asks children to give specific numbers of objects (e.g., 1 to 6), and based on their pattern of responses, children are classified into stages that can be readily related to other developmental milestones. The increasing popularity of Give-a-Number raises the question of how reliable it is, since the size of a correlation between two different tasks cannot reliably exceed the test-retest reliability of either measure taken individually. In Experiment 1, 2- to 4-year-old children were tested twice in a single session with Wynn’s (1992) version of the Give-a-Number task, which features a titrated design. In Experiment 2, we tested a second group of children with an alternative version that uses a larger number of trials in a non-titrated design. We found that in both cases the task was highly reliable in differentiating children who could accurately count from those who could not, but that reliability differed for specific numbers, and was more reliable for very small numbers (i.e., “one” and “two”) than for slightly larger ones (i.e., “three” and “four”). We discuss practical implications of these results for researchers studying numeracy and discuss further directions to assess the validity of the task.

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