New Study Reveals Only 12% of Fifth-Graders Have Mastered Basic Multiplication Facts

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Big Brainz partnered with 500 districts nationwide to test the fact fluency of over 250,000 students. Average fluency scores, even by fifth grade, averaged just 59 percent. On the bright side, the 15,000 students who played through Big Brainz' multiplication games catapulted their fluency scores to 95 percent.

Big Brainz Multiplication Games Research Graphs

Big Brainz Multiplication Games Research Graphs

Educators are generally unaware of the scope of fluency failures because they don't have a tool that assesses it.

The Common Core Standards list multiplication fluency as “critical” for third-graders because students cannot move on to higher order math without it. However, an unprecedented new study involving over 250,000 students nationwide reveals that even by fifth grade, 88 percent of students fail to master at least 90 percent of their basic multiplication facts.

The study was organized by Big Brainz, an educational software company committed to developing the ultimate fact fluency supplement, and was administered independently by over 500 different districts during the 2010-2011 school year. Schools used the simple pre-test built into Big Brainz' multiplication game, Timez Attack, to ask more than 250,000 students each of the multiplication facts, 2-12, checking their response for speed and accuracy. The results show that on average, students master 30 percent of the facts in third grade, 50 percent in fourth grade, and 59 percent in fifth grade. View the expanded research results at http://www.bigbrainz.com.

The problem is two-fold. First, educators are generally unaware of the depth of fluency failures because they don't have a tool to assess it. Granted, teachers could grab a stopwatch and a deck of flash cards and manually ask every student every fact every week — recording, aggregating, and reporting the results. But in practice, the closest schools typically get to that is a timed worksheet, which does little to determine which facts the students can automatically recall and which ones they still have to calculate.

Second, teaching fact fluency using traditional methods is so time consuming that even when teachers detect shortcomings, they generally have to promote students before they have time to develop mastery. Then in following years, teachers are only given time to go back and remedy the initial fluency shortcomings if students are categorized as remedial. With so many students struggling today, 59 percent mastery isn't remedial — it's the average.

The ugly aspect of 59 percent mastery is that it essentially only covers the easy facts, leaving most students mathematically illiterate. Every time an illiterate student tries to tackle fractions or story problems, they have to stop and think about basic calculations while fluent students are free to focus on higher order problem solving. In the short term this disparity devastates student confidence and over time the damage is compounded as they are continually forced to fall further and further behind.

Fortunately, this same study also reveals a simple solution. A whopping 15,000 students played through Big Brainz’ multiplication game, Timez Attack. After finishing the game, which on average took just seven total hours over four months, these students delivered near-perfect results of 95 percent. That's 62 percent to 216 percent better than traditional instruction (depending on their grade), in 1/3 of the time. Even the bottom quartile raised their scores from a lowly 24 percent to a near-perfect 94 percent.

However, the constant flood of over-hyped, under-performing software over the years has left most educators justifiably cynical of all new products. "When evaluating new software, educators are typically at the mercy of brilliant marketing campaigns, district politics or 'good buzz' from trusted principals," says Ben Harrison, president of Big Brainz. "They're used to products sounding unbelievable on paper, then failing to perform in real life. The cure for that skepticism is quantifiable results. The mountain of data we already have is extremely intriguing for educators, but when they see average improvement among their own students hit triple digits, I think they're even more excited than the students."

Skeptical educators or parents can quickly and easily evaluate the program with their own students by downloading the school version or the home version and letting their students take the simple pre-test. The game will then strategically work with students on any shortcomings until they have achieved total mastery — whether they need eight minutes or eight hours.

George Hall Elementary in Mobile, Alabama, has been using Timez Attack since they were singled out in 2009 by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan as one of the top four schools in the country for delivering astonishing improvement of student academic performance. "First of all, the kids absolutely love it," says Principal Terri Tomlinson. "That makes a big difference. But more importantly, it strategically teaches each student complete mastery of all the facts. That removes an enormous burden from my teachers. I don't see how any school could afford NOT to use Timez Attack."

Big Brainz offers both a completely free Base Version and a Deluxe version of their multiplication games. Both versions include all the assessment, curriculum, and reports available, while the Deluxe upgrade offers more entertainment — more worlds, creatures, and characters to play with.

Educators and entrepreneurs alike are incredulous that Big Brainz offers such an incredible base version absolutely free. “We've developed a game so compelling and rigorous that children beg to play and then always walk away with total mastery," explains Mr. Harrison. "But many schools and homes simply have zero budget. So from the beginning we knew that to truly cure multiplication problems we had to find a way to provide a solid zero-cost option. If folks can afford to upgrade, they will. But if not, the kids still get total mastery. It's a win-win.”

So how do schools respond to a tool like this? “It’s a paradigm shift for most schools,” Harrison says. “Initially districts can be a bit apathetic for several reasons. Fact fluency is critical, but it's a relatively small part of the big picture for them. Sometimes they've lived with the problem for so long that they've just gotten used to it. Or more often, they simply assume that Timez Attack is going to be just as ineffective as everything else they've tried. But as long as they haven't given up on innovation completely, and they're willing to at least take a peek — they're hooked. One of the things we enjoy most is sitting down with a thoroughly cynical curriculum director and watching them gradually shift from wary defensiveness to sheer delight."

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Since 2003 Big Brainz has worked with millions of students and educators in over 200 countries to develop a new standard for educational software. In 2010-2011, Timez Attack was used in 18,000 elementary schools. For more information about Big Brainz or Timez Attack, please contact:

Kimmi Rea
Big Brainz
3550 N University Ave.
Provo, UT 84604
(801) 356-7040
kimmi(at)bigbrainz(dot)com

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