A Complicated Relationship: Examining the Relationship Between Flexible Strategy Use and Accuracy


  • Jeannette Garcia Coppersmith
  • Jon R. Star


This study explores student flexibility in mathematics by examining the relationship between accuracy and strategy use for solving arithmetic and algebra problems. Core to procedural flexibility is the ability to select and accurately execute the most appropriate strategy for a given problem. Yet the relationship between strategy selection and accurate execution is nuanced and poorly understood. In this paper, this relationship was examined in the context of an assessment where students were asked to complete the same problem twice using different approaches. In particular, we explored (a) the extent to which students were more accurate when selecting standard or better-than-standard strategies, (b) whether this accuracy-strategy use relationship differed depending on whether the student solved a problem for the first time or the second time, and (c) the extent to which students were more accurate when solving algebraic versus arithmetic problems. Our results indicate significant associations between accuracy and all of these aspects— we found differences in accuracy based on strategy, problem type, and a significant interaction effect between strategy and assessment part. These findings have important implications both for researchers investigating procedural flexibility as well as secondary mathematics educators who seek to promote this capacity among their students.