- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 11, 2014

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - School district officials across Texas say efforts to equip students with new technology are being impeded by a state directive that they must purchase costly calculators for eighth-graders.

Districts are eager to invest in iPads and other mobile devices for students. Administrators could then download a $15 application with features virtually identical to the calculators.

But the Austin American-Statesman reports (http://bit.ly/1nhnMWc ) the state still requires graphing calculators that cost $100 a piece.

The state for now won’t allow schools to use the app in lieu of the calculator because of test-security concerns.

“What it means for us is we won’t be able to purchase some technology that we desperately need for our kids to become proficient in 21st-century skills,” said Frances McArthur, superintendent of the Lexington school district, about 50 miles northeast of Austin.

Educators are focusing on making technology available in order to personalize instruction and better engage students.

The Houston school district, for example, has equipped about 18,000 students at a quarter of its high schools with laptops and aims to cover all high school students by 2016, according to the Houston Chronicle.

The state’s requirement that each student have a calculator on test day could slow efforts by districts to get technology as they have to redirect dollars to supply the graphing calculators, which are required for next year’s State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.

The Texas Education Agency is exploring the app as an alternative to the calculators but the sticking point is test security, said Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, an agency spokeswoman. Current policy prohibits calculation devices that provide access to the Internet or have a camera.

“It’s the camera on the device that creates the security risk. … This is an issue that we will be re-examining for future years,” Ratcliffe said.

Jennifer Bergland, director of governmental relations for the Texas Computer Education Association, said she understands the security concerns. However, “if that could be worked out, it’s silly for school districts to use their resources to pay for something they already have on the device,” she said.

There were 367,000 eighth-graders in Texas public schools last year. It is not clear how calculators will be needed because some students will buy their own and districts may already have some for their algebra students.

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Information from: Austin American-Statesman, http://www.statesman.com