Common Core and calculator use

Aug 29, 2013 by

eraser and blackboardAlthough calculators have not figured prominently in discussions of the common-core math standards, it’s likely the complementary tests will result in far greater uniformity in their use on state exams across the nation.

Policies emerging from the two state consortia developing common-core assessments would prohibit most students from using calculators on the grades 3-5 tests, for example. At grades 6 and above, they call for calculator “on” and “off” sections and set restrictions on what functionality is allowed. (Both consortia will provide online calculators for the computer-based tests.)


Those rules, especially in today’s high-stakes-testing environment, are sure to influence regular classroom use of calculators, from the elementary ban to the ways increasingly sophisticated calculator use is assumed at the secondary level, many experts say.

State policies are all over the map for using calculators on large-scale assessments. At least a few states—including Arizona, California, and Nevada—prohibit most students from using calculators at all, even on high school exams. But that approach appears to be the exception. Meanwhile, some states, such as New York and Ohio, prohibit calculators only for elementary students.

There are other variations across states, too, including whether the exams have calculator-free sections (many do, including tests in Kentucky, Maryland, and Rhode Island), and the limits imposed on the type of device students may use at different grade levels, such as a basic four-function, scientific, or graphing calculator.

Last summer, the 20-state Partnership for Assessment of College and Career Readiness, or PARCC, issued a policy for its forthcoming assessments. The 25-state Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium has drafted a tentative policy that’s similar in many respects to the PARCC approach. Final adoption of the Smarter Balanced policy, which has not been made widely available, is expected later this year.

Reaction from math experts and educators to the PARCC policy since it was issued in July 2012 has been mixed. Although making the exams at grades 3-5 calculator-free has been welcomed in some quarters, others criticize the move.

“The old saw is, teach to the test, and that’s the reality,” said W. Gary Martin, a professor of math education at Auburn University in Auburn, Ala. “If [students] can’t use a calculator on the test, it’s effectively banished from the classroom.”

via Calculator use on exams to shift with Common Core | Hechinger Report.

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