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How Desmos Is Shaking Up the Calculator Industry With a Free Tool for Kids, Now Embedded Into Tests

By Naomi Nix | May 8, 2017

When students across the country sit down at their computers to take the Smarter Balanced math exam this spring, they will have a new tool at their disposal: advanced digital graphing calculators embedded in the test.
The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium will make available to all 15 member states, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Bureau of Indian Education a free, sophisticated Desmos graphing calculator in all its math tests, it was announced Monday.
The calculators will also have features that make them accessible to deaf and blind students.
“Equity is really important in the testing environment,” Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium Executive Director Tony Alpert told The 74. “It really is about making available a resource for all students so they can demonstrate what they know.”
Smarter Balanced already had a less sophisticated calculator that was not handicap-accessible embedded in its exams.
The new initiative is helping to propel the calculator industry into the digital age. Until just a few years ago, middle and high school students needing to demonstrate a wide range of mathematical skills, from analyzing data to solving complicated algebraic equations, often had to buy Texas Instruments’ TI-83 or TI-84 calculators, which can cost $90 to $115.
“They have a monopoly where they are able to charge these monopoly-ish prices,” said Eli Luberoff, CEO of Desmos. “It’s a huge source of inequity because that could be a prohibitive expense for a lot of students.”
Luberoff first noticed how few calculator options there were when he was a student at Yale University, tutoring local high schoolers in math. “My students were using the same 10-pound calculator that I used when I was in high school,” he said. “To my shock, students are still using those calculators today.”
In 2011, he founded Desmos, which created an online graphing calculator that was available to anyone through the company’s website or through a free mobile application. Since then, the company has established partnerships with education publishers Pearson and College Preparatory Mathematics to embed the Desmos technology into their online publications. The company’s partnership with Smarter Balanced is its first deal with a major testing provider.
“Desmos is an innovation we want to take advantage of,” Alpert said.


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