Student uncovers flaw in calculator

Wednesday, June 8, 2005

The Associated Press Writer

RICHMOND, Va. -- Texas Instruments is replacing thousands of calculators issued to students in Virginia after a sixth-grader discovered that pressing a certain two keys converts decimals into fractions.

That would have given students an unfair advantage on Virginia's standardized tests, which require youngsters to know how to make such conversions with pencil and paper.

At the request of the state education department two years ago, Texas Instruments had disabled the decimal-to-fraction key and left it blank on calculators intended for middle school students.

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

"His fellow students were so proud of him and congratulatory. They thought it was really, really cool. They didn't call him a nerd or anything," said Michael Bolling, a school official in Chesterfield County. The county had more than 11,000 of the calculators recalled.

Texas Instruments recalled the calculators and is replacing them. TI had no immediate comment Tuesday.

Initial estimates the company provided the state indicated 160,000 calculators were to be replaced, but the exact number is unclear, education department officials said,

Calls to the boy's school and his parents to arrange an interview with the youngster were not immediately returned. But Chesterfield County school officials held a low-key ceremony to honor him, and Texas Instruments sent him a graphing calculator, "which he loved," said Lois Williams, the state administrator in charge of middle-school math.

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