- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

RICHMOND — Texas Instruments is replacing 160,000 school calculators in Virginia after an observant sixth-grader discovered a function that would have given students an unfair advantage on standardized tests.

The state’s education department asked Texas Instruments two years ago to disable the function that converts decimals to fractions because students are required to know how to do that with paper and pencil on statewide tests.

But in January, Dakota Brown, 12, a student at Carver Middle School in Chesterfield County, figured out that by pressing two other keys on his approved TI-30 Xa SE VA, he could change decimals into fractions anyway.

Michael Bolling, instructional specialist for math in Chesterfield — which had more than 11,000 of the calculators recalled — said Dakota likely put a standard version of the calculator next to the school version ?and used his problem-solving skills” to figure out the fraction function on the school-issued model.

The fraction label had been removed, but the programming apparently hadn’t.

“His fellow students were so proud of him and congratulatory,” Mr. Bolling said. “They thought it was really, really cool. They didn’t call him a nerd or anything.”

Texas Instruments voluntarily recalled the calculators and is replacing them with models with fraction keys that truly are disabled.

Lois Williams, the state’s middle-school math specialist, said officials don’t have the total number of calculators recalled because it was up to each of Virginia’s more than 130 school divisions whether to purchase the TI-30 or three other approved models.

Despite becoming a hero of sorts to local math enthusiasts, Dakota isn’t saying much about it. Chesterfield school officials held a low-key ceremony, for which Texas Instruments sent him a graphing calculator, “which he loved,” Miss Williams said.


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