It's elementary: Calculators OK'd for use during tests

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Elementary Education Supervisor Vylatte Gooch explains the use of calculators in elementary schools to the school board. Lori Beardsley, background, a sixth-grade math teacher at Marshall Elementary School, contributed to the presentation.

Marshall County elementary school students will soon be using calculators in the classroom and during state tests, the county school board was told this month.

Calculators are already being used in surrounding counties' classrooms, elementary instruction supervisor Vylatte Gooch told board members during their Dec. 16 meeting.

This was confirmed by Betty Jones, the instructional facilitator for Westhills Elementary. Jones recently attended an education conference in Gatlinburg and said she did not find one school district that was not using calculators at the elementary level.

"It's something we need to look at," Jones said. "It seems to be helping test scores."

The state is in agreement with the use of calculators during TCAP (Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program), tests for grades 3-8, Gooch explained.

"Calculators will be used as a tool" to help students focus on higher-level reasoning and problem solving, Gooch said. "Our goal is to provide the best possible learning environment for our students."

Lori Beardsley, who teaches 6th grade math at Marshall Elementary School, told board members how her classes use calculators: checking their homework and supplementing math instruction with calculator activities and practice tests. She said they did not use them for the core curriculum. On their math homework, her students must show how they worked out a problem, demonstrating they understand how to go through the steps to the answer, not just getting it from their calculator.

"The kids love the calculator," Beardsley said. "The right approach will benefit our students."

Board member Kristen Gold asked how soon they will introduce calculators, and Beardsley said other school systems were using them on TCAP from the beginning.

"We're going to introduce them from 3rd grade," Gooch clarified.

"Are you suggesting we buy a calculator for every 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th grader in our system?" asked chairman Mike Keny.

"Yes," Gooch replied.

"We need one for each child if they're going to use them on TCAP," Beardsley added.

She said that all 6th graders were already using calculators, and they were hoping to start the younger grades next year.

"Where's the money coming from?" asked Barbara Kennedy.

"I didn't feel like it was my business" to go into that, Gooch replied. She said calculators could be funded from the Title money, and schools that did not have Title funds left were taking care of it from their materials and supplies budget, or calculators were being purchased by parent clubs.

"I'm concerned," Gold said. "It's great if it's coming through Title, but we might not have planned what we needed to plan for in the budget process."

Forrest principal Dr. Larry Miller was in the audience, and told the board how he had chosen to spend his school's funds on dissection specimens for high school biology, rather than a calculator for every student.

"I had enough (calculators) to rotate," Miller said.