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Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Texas Calculator Debate

Over Spring Break in Texas, the Austin American Statesman published an article about Texas school districts being upset that they were going to have to spend $100 a calculator for eighth grade students taking the state math assessment, as required by the Texas Education Agency (TEA). The gist of several districts' concerns is that they would rather spend the $100 on a more versatile device for students' learning than a calculator that will one be used only for math. And many districts already have tablet 1:1 initiatives where both Apples' App store and Google's Play store have many free or low-cost graphing calculator apps. Why should these districts have to spend $100 more per device, especially given that the state issued the calculator mandate without any funding to support it? Fast forward to March 20 and the TEA's Commissioner of Education, Michael Williams, issued a press release allowing districts to pilot students using graphing calculator apps on tablets on a pilot basis. This was a welcome move for districts not wanting to spend money on calculators when they already have multifunction tablets that already can host a calculator app. Notably missing from the announcement was allowing other devices to be used for testing, such as laptops or Chromebooks, which also have graphing calculator apps. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to see a state agency trying to help districts use their funds for tools that best match students' needs.