Commissioner of Education Michael Williams has advised superintendents he will allow districts to satisfy a requirement to use graphing calculators for the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) grade 8 mathematics assessment with either a traditional handheld graphing calculator or a graphing calculator application available on an electronic tablet. The Commissioner’s decision marks the first time an electronic calculator application has been authorized for use by students in a Texas state assessment. Use of calculator apps on electronic tablets will be allowed on a pilot basis for the 2014-2015 administration of the 8th grade mathematics assessment only. For the pilot year, the Texas Education Agency will still prohibit the use of smart phones.
“After extensive feedback from superintendents across our state coupled with conversations with agency staff, I am allowing a broader array of technology to meet the 8th grade calculator requirement,” said Commissioner Williams. “While I recognize this revised policy will not address all concerns and may still require some districts to purchase additional technology, I am hopeful this policy will enable us to provide some flexibility.” Commissioner Williams originally wrote to Texas superintendents in February regarding the required use of graphing calculators for the STAAR grade 8 mathematics assessment. Beginning in the 2014–2015 school year, districts must ensure that each student has a graphing calculator to use when taking the STAAR grade 8 mathematics assessment. Calculators are now necessary for grade 8 mathematics because the State Board of Education significantly increased the algebra content in the grade 8 TEKS requiring the use of graphing calculators – not only in classroom instruction, but also on the state assessment.
In his letter to superintendents, the Commissioner continued to express concerns about ensuring test security and preventing cheating. For districts that choose to use technology other than a handheld graphing calculator, there will likely be additional test monitoring and security measures put in place to ensure that the integrity of the test is not compromised.
“Depending on the success of this pilot, especially as it relates to test security and any confirmed testing irregularities, I will make decisions about either continuing and possibly expanding the use of additional technologies or prohibiting their use moving forward,” said Commissioner Williams in his letter. “The future viability of technology like this during state assessments will largely depend on the success, vigilance, and integrity within your districts.”
Districts choosing to meet the calculator requirement for the grade 8 mathematics test using technology (other than a handheld graphing calculator) should note that all other major standardized tests – including the PSAT, SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement (AP) exams and Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Assessment – do not permit the use of calculator applications on tablets, smart phones, or other electronic devices. As a result, Commissioner Williams advised districts that they may want to keep in mind the policies their students will need to follow for these tests when deciding which technology to use for classroom instruction.
Some school districts may elect to have students use a graphing calculator application on a tablet or other mobile device during routine classroom instruction and homework, with an actual graphing calculator available for use during the assessment. In these instances, the calculator application should have the same functionality as the calculator to be used on the state assessment to ensure that students are familiar with the calculator. However, students are not required to use the exact same tool during routine class work or homework and the state assessment.T
o view the Commissioner’s letter sent to school districts and charters, visit http://www.tea.state.tx.us/taa_letters.aspx.