Virginia Buys Calculators for All 9th, 10th Graders

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In a precedent-setting purchase of school technology, Virginia has bought 200,000 graphing calculators for every 9th and 10th grader and 40 percent of the 8th graders in the state's public schools.

Nearly $17 million worth of graphing calculators--sophisticated devices that can perform many of the same calculations as computers--were to be shipped to all 135 districts in the state this week.

The state's new academic standards, which some students will be tested on next spring, specifically require students to use such calculators in Algebra 2, geometry, and higher-level math courses. The state's new science standards in earth science and biology also involve their use.

Margaret Roberts, a spokeswoman for the Virginia education department, said the legislature approved the expenditure last year because state leaders were loath to impose an unfunded mandate on districts.

Classroom Support?

National education technology experts say Virginia's expenditure is unparalleled.

In 1986, Connecticut bought about 35,000 basic calculators, one for each 8th grader in public school. But Virginia is the first state to make an investment on this scale, according to Gail Burrill, the president of the Reston, Va.-based National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

"I don't know of any state that has made a purchase of this magnitude for students," Ms. Burrill said last week.

Classroom use of calculators has been controversial in the past decade, with some educators and members of the public arguing that the tools would impede students' ability to do basic calculations themselves. Ms. Burrill, who supports calculator use in the classroom, said Virginia's move might strengthen support for the devices.

Tom Nuttall, the math coordinator for the Fairfax County, Va., schools, said he was looking forward to getting a shipment of 25,414 graphing calculators. Though half of the high school students in the generally well-to-do, 150,000-student district already have them, Mr. Nuttall said the extra $2 million in equipment would outfit every 8th through 12th grader and help prepare students to meet the state standards. "This is just wonderful that the state put their money where their mouth is," he said.

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Web Resources
  • The National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' standards for math instruction call for using more technology in schools, including graphing calculators.
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