Fluent in the Standards means “fast and accurate.” It might also help to think of fluency as meaning the same thing as when we say that somebody is fluent in a foreign language: when you’re fluent, you flow. Fluent isn’t halting, stumbling, or reversing oneself. Assessing fluency requires attending to issues of time (and even perhaps rhythm, which could be achieved with technology).
The Common Core State Standards for Mathematics build on the best of existing standards and reflect the skills and knowledge students will need to succeed in college, career, and life. Understanding how the standards differ from previous standards—and the necessary shifts they call for—is essential to implementing them.
The following are the key shifts called for by the Common Core:
1. Focus strongly where the Standards focus
2. Coherence: Think across grades and link to major topics within grades
3. Rigor: In major topics, pursue conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity
Fluency does not require using one particular method over another. Rather, students should be able to work confidently and efficiently.
In this article, "Fluency Without Fear", Jo Boaler discusses both the damage that is caused by the practices that often accompany the teaching of math facts – speed pressure, timed testing and blind memorization – and summarizes the research evidence of something very different – number sense. High achieving students use number sense and it is critical that lower achieving students, instead of working on drill and memorization, also learn to use numbers flexibly and conceptually. Memorization and timed testing stand in the way of number sense, giving students the impression that sense making is not important. One way to do this is via games and tasks in which students learn math facts at the same time as working on something they enjoy, rather than something they fear.
The word fluency was used judiciously in the Standards to mark the endpoints of progressions of learning that begin with solid underpinnings and then pass upward through stages of growing maturity.