State of Texas adds another technology tool for use during STAAR — for next year

For the first time, an electronic calculator application has been authorized for use by students during a Texas state assessment. Eighth-graders across the state can use either a graphing calculator or a graphing calculator application available on an electronic tablet on the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR) grade 8 mathematics test. Texas Education Agency (TEA) Commissioner of Education Michael Williams informed superintendents across the state recently that the new policy will go into effect on a pilot basis for the 2014-2015 school year. For the pilot year, the TEA 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.”

Beginning in the 2014–2015 school year, each student taking the STAAR grade 8 mathematics assessment must have a graphing calculator, because the State Board of Education significantly increased the algebra content in the grade 8 TEKS. Requiring the use of graphing calculators applies not only to classroom instruction but also on the state test.

Williams continued to express concerns about test security and 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 … 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 a letter to superintendents. “The future viability of technology like this during state assessments will largely depend on the success, vigilance, and integrity within your districts.”

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. 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 choose 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 so that students are familiar with the calculator. Students are not required, however, to use the exact same tool during routine class work or homework and the state assessment.