Why is mathematics fluency so important?

May 16, 2018

The understanding and use of mathematics has implications for an individual on practical, civic, recreational, and professional levels. Mathematics knowledge issued daily to perform practical tasks such as developing a budget, calculating salary, and paying bills. As citizens, individuals apply mathematical concepts to interpret civic information related to public issues. At a recreational level, mathematics may be used when participating in games requiring strategy, and keeping score and/or solving puzzles. Finally, mathematics knowledge and skills are needed to obtain and maintain employment on most jobs.

In the United States today, mastering mathematics has become more important than ever. Students with a strong grasp of mathematics have an advantage in academics and in the job market. The 8th grade is a critical point in mathematics education. Achievement at that stage clears the way for students to take rigorous high school mathematics and science courses—keys to college entrance and success in the labor force.

Being fluent in mathematics is essential if students are to be successful in school. A student who demonstrates mathematics fluency makes high numbers of computation with few to no errors within a specified amount of time. In fact, basic math fact fluency is a significant predictor for future complex problem solving.

As the mathematical demands of the general education curriculum increase so do the assumptions that the student can perform already learned mathematics skills as a means to solve more complex problems. However, this assumption may negatively affect student performance in that students who cannot perform basic math skills fluently may have more difficulties performing more complex problems accurately and within an appropriate amount of time.

How do we work to keep our students able to participate and access the richness of mathematics? It starts with fluency in number combinations. Let me share some data with you.

Rocket Math Scores

I have picked a student that has made average gains in Rocket Math.

This student made gains as soon as the program started and has maintained a pattern of improvement. However, I understand that these are just numbers. Let me give you some details. This student struggled with accessing the math curriculum; which negatively affected self-efficacy. When the improvements in fluency began to transfer to mathematics class, this same student made these comments “Wow, Rocket Math helps me in math class,” and “I did not know I was good at math.” I often ask the student how did you solve this problem? And the answers are about the process and thinking and not about laboring over the combinations. We are able to talk about strategies and different ways to solve a problem. We are able to talk mathematics!

We spend time, every day, working on facts because it matters. The evidence that it improves access to mathematics is overwhelming. In addition, we spend time learning mathematics fact fluency because there is evidence that our students can in fact learn fluency.

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