The Perils of Calculator Permission

As the College Board gears up to launch the revised SAT in March of 2016, one of the changes coming is a seemingly minor revision of the rules for the Math sections. This revision will change the 20 year old policy that has allowed the indiscriminate the use of calculators on math sections and may have a huge impact on test-takers. The current SAT has 3 scored math sections and in each section test-takers are allowed to use a calculator, or not, as they see fit. The current test makes no distinction (either implicit or explicit) among the math sections about the necessity or appropriateness of calculator usage. Well Interestingly, when the revised SAT launches it will have 2 scored math sections and in one of the two sections calculator use will be forbidden. While the College Board seems to be soft-selling this as if it will be no major change, I’m not certain at all that the impact of this change in procedure won’t have a deleterious impact. Having worked with teens in test preparation for more than 20 years, this distinction has me worried about unintended consequences. What immediately pops to mind are the following questions:

  • Will the inclusion of a “calculator permitted” section translate to this calculator dependent generation as “calculator necessary”?
  • Will the mention of calculator permitted cause additional stress for students who do not have a calculator or cannot afford a “good” calculator?
  • Is the college board assuming that students will all be made aware of the fine distinction between permitted and necessary prior to taking the exam?
  • Will this seemingly small change to the SAT hurt scores of the most vulnerable populations?

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