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Students to take SOL tests, minus calculators


RICHMOND—Can you multiply 2.8 times 3.6 without a calculator? Figure out -145 minus 132? Divide 300 by 25?

Tim Herrity said most of the students in his Henrico County high school algebra classes can’t.

Herrity and Del. Dave Albo, R–Fairfax, say schools are pushing students to learn increasingly higher levels of math faster, rendering them utterly dependent upon calculators and unable to do relatively simple math without the machines.

Albo has a bill before the General Assembly that requires the state to gradually add more non-calculator questions into its Standards of Learning tests and reduce the number of questions that require calculators.

As the tests are now, he told the Senate Education and Health committee on Thursday, a student in some grades could fail every SOL math question that didn’t require calculator use, and still pass the SOL test.

“A student need not know math in his head to pass the SOLs,” Albo said.

More non-calculator questions, Albo said, would help teachers figure out which students are not actually learning how to do math, but simply learning how to operate a calculator.

Herrity agreed. He teaches math at Tucker High School in Henrico County. He said he has given his classes a basic skills math test, no calculators allowed, and they almost all failed. Some 80 percent of the Algebra I students failed last year, and this year it was 97 percent. More than half failed a test on multiplication tables.

Herrity said last fall, Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond had to offer 47 sections of remedial math, and that more than 60 percent of students in community colleges have to take remedial math.

“There is a problem,” Herrity told the Senate committee. “Our basic skills are weaker than they’ve been in the past. We’re setting kids up for failure.”

Albo said that, originally, he sought to remove calculators from SOL tests almost entirely and almost immediately. But education experts convinced him there are reasons for students to learn to use calculators, and that it would be too costly to revamp the math SOLs all at once.

So now his bill calls for fewer calculator questions next time the SOL questions are revised.

Albo’s bill was met with commiseration from senators on the committee.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D–Fairfax, told of going to McDonald’s, handing the cashier a few bills and getting a blank look instead of change.

“I totally overloaded his circuits,” Saslaw said.

The restaurant manager, Saslaw added, told him that most of the kids he had working there would have been equally unable to do the math.

“There’s definitely a problem there,” Saslaw said. “Whether this bill solves it or not, it’s worth a shot.”

The committee advanced Albo’s bill unanimously, and it will go the full Senate.

Chelyen Davis: 540/368-5028