Does research show that student achievement increases from timed daily drill?

Students memorize math facts by practicing a limited set of problems with a partner who corrects all errors and hesitations.

A teacher writes:
Could you point me toward some research showing student achievement increases from timed daily drills. My superintendent is a hard sell and will ask me to prove the strategy works from independent research.

Dr. Don answers:
Your superintendent is right to be skeptical. Student achievement does NOT increase from timed daily “drills.” The typical “mad minutes” program is generally worthless in improving student knowledge of math facts.

Students memorize math facts by practicing a limited set of problems with a partner who corrects all errors and hesitations. In Rocket Math students practice with a partner and become fluent with only two facts and their reverses at a time. They take a one-minute test to see if they have learned those facts to the level of fluency. Only then, once they have learned those fluently, are two more facts added on the next sheet. [Here’s a 3-minute video that explains how practice works in more detail.]

Once students finish learning the facts in an operation you can measure that by giving them a test of all the facts in that operation and they will be able to answer far more facts in a timed test than students who have to figure out and count on their fingers to answer those facts.

General achievement in math is improved by ready knowledge of math facts to the extent that one measures students’ ability to do computation. Nonetheless the Common Core includes fact knowledge in these standards:

CCSS.Math.Content.2.OA.B.2 Fluently add and subtract within 20 using mental strategies. By end of Grade 2, know from memory all sums of two one-digit numbers.
CCSS.Math.Content.3.OA.C.7 Fluently multiply and divide within 100, using strategies such as the relationship between multiplication and division (e.g., knowing that 8 × 5 = 40, one knows 40 ÷ 5 = 8) or properties of operations. By the end of Grade 3, know from memory all products of two one-digit numbers.

I would recommend a test of Rocket Math within a few classrooms, compared to an equal number of classrooms that don’t use Rocket Math. Measure each class by means of the two-minute timings of all the facts in the operation and see if there is a large difference (over time) between the students who learn using Rocket Math and the students who continue to do whatever the district is doing now. Be sure that the same ten-minutes a day is used to study math facts in both groups.

Here is my offer from my “Studies and Results” page of my website:

NOTE TO TEACHERS, SCHOOLS, DISTRICTS: While I am waiting for others to conduct and publish research on Rocket Math, I make the following offer.

If you conduct research comparing Rocket Math to some other method of practicing math facts and share your results–I will refund half of the purchase price of the curriculum.
If you find some other method is more effective, I will refund 100% of your purchase price.

I am certain it is the best math facts practice curriculum available but I have to wait for more researchers independent of me to confirm that fact.

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