Local: Education

Calculator ban proposed for Virginia tests

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Local,Education,Lisa Gartner

Students would be banned from using their calculators on the seventh- and eighth-grade Standards of Learning math exams under a bill introduced by a state lawmaker from Fairfax County.

The House legislation also would keep students who couldn't pass the eighth-grade standardized tests from signing up for Algebra 1 or a more advanced math course in the ninth grade.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Springfield, said he was encouraged to introduce the bill by a ninth-grade math teacher who said his students couldn't multiply or divide fractions on a pretest he gave his Algebra 1 students.

"It's making sure teachers are teaching basic math skills without calculators, like we used to do in the '70s before we had calculators," Albo said.

The bill would include end-of-course math exams, which currently require graphing calculators. Other grade-level SOL tests prohibit calculators on certain sections.

John Torre, a spokesman for Fairfax County Public Schools, said the school system had not analyzed the bill or its potential impact. Sixty-eight percent of FCPS students complete Algebra 1 before the ninth grade.

In September, Fairfax County Superintendent Jack Dale said he wanted to examine math instruction and curriculum across the school system in light of issues at its top high school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology. The Washington Examiner first reported that one-third of TJ freshmen were struggling in math, science or both last year and had been recommended for extra help sessions with their teachers and peers.

"It's not just TJ -- we've got to deal with that across the system," Dale told the school board at a work session on the magnet school's admissions process.

Albo mentioned the problems at TJ as an example of why he perceived that students across the state were entering rigorous math courses unprepared to succeed.

Math scores on the SOL dropped significantly this year -- an expected decline as the Virginia Department of Education made the exams more difficult to ensure students were college-ready -- and Fairfax was not immune. Seventy-six percent of eighth-grade students passed the SOL math exam in the spring, down from 90 percent in 2011. The statewide decline was more dramatic, falling from 82 percent of students passing the eighth-grade test to 60 percent.

Once assigned to a committee, the bill would need to pass a committee hearing before reaching the statehouse floor.

lgartner@washingtonexaminer.com

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Lisa Gartner

Examiner Staff Writer - education
The Washington Examiner