Numeracy, executing mathematics procedures fluently, precisely, and consistently with understanding is like reading fluently with comprehension. Reading comprehension is essential to access information from text. Numeracy and literacy are similar. Both processes engage us in seeking and making meaning. Mouthing words without comprehension is of little value. Similarly, recalling facts and executing a mathematics procedure, even fluently, without understanding the purpose and meaning of the procedure is of little value because it does not take us far in mathematics.
When reading, we need to know the contextual meaning of words and the objective of reading a passage. Similarly, in the context of mathematics, it is important that we know the answers to questions such as: Is the right procedure used here? What does this step in this procedure accomplish and why? Where does this step come from and what is its role in the procedure? Why does this procedure work in this problem? What do I expect as the answer? Am I right? Is this the most efficient way of doing this problem? Can I apply this method in different situations? Under what conditions does this procedure not work? Etc. The ability to answer these questions shows an understanding of mathematics concepts.
Answers to these questions and knowing the reasons behind procedures and the language and concepts associated with the procedures are essential for being a numerate person. Mastery of numeracy skills—fluency in the execution of the four arithmetic operations on whole numbers with precision, consistency and with understanding is like being able to read fluently with comprehension, being literate.
The statement learning to read by the third grade and then reading to learn defines the standards of competence in reading. Reading here means reading accurately, fluently, and with comprehension. To me, it has its counter part in mathematics: mastery of numeracy by the fourth grade and then using numeracy to learn mathematics. Numeracy means acquiring efficient and accurate strategies that lead to successful solutions of problems. Numeracy makes meaning of numbers and their relationships. Being numerate means (a) having the necessary mathematics concepts and skills to meet common quantitative and spatial demands, (b) having the confidence and intuition to apply quantitative principles in everyday life, and (c) being able to use these skills appropriately in diverse settings. In sum, being numerate requires the knowledge and disposition to think and act mathematically.