Opinion
Ed-Tech Policy Letter to the Editor

Computers Can Boost Automaticity

August 20, 2012 1 min read

To the Editor:

In the Commentary “Timed Tests and the Development of Math Anxiety,” (edweek.org, July 3, 2012) Jo Boaler is right about the negative aspects of timed tests. Drill-and-kill tests have been around for decades. Unfortunately, it has traditionally been the only practical way for teachers to observe basic math automaticity or fluency. That is changing, however.

Computer-based measurement now offers an alternative. Here’s how: Automaticity means immediacy. To observe immediacy, teachers measure performance on batches of problems timed with a stopwatch. The average time per problem serves to indicate the degree of immediacy. In this situation, students must race from one problem to the next to get a good score. This creates anxiety and pressure.

The advantage offered by computers is that, unlike teachers, computers can easily measure the time a student spends on each individual problem. This removes the pressure of having to race through the test and even gives students time between problems to reflect. To this extent, the exercise not only pinpoints strengths and weaknesses, but also contributes to the learning process. Teachers are beginning to find that this method not only removes pressure, but that the immediate feedback students get from each problem also turns the exercise into a positive experience. It actually improves youngsters’ attitudes toward math.

The upshot is that it is now within our ability to virtually guarantee early basic-math fluency across the board. The implications could be profound.

Jack Fretwell

President

Starboard Training Systems

Reston, Va.

A version of this article appeared in the August 22, 2012 edition of Education Week as Computers Can Boost Automaticity

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