By David Carroll
CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) - Hamilton County Schools Supt. Dr. Jim Scales has responded to District 1 Board Member Rhonda Thurman concerning her complaints about mathematical aids in county classrooms.  He included a graph showing a complete list of schools, and their use of calculators and multiplication tables.
To see the school listing, click on the link shown to the left of this story.
Here is the letter from Dr. Scales to Mrs. Thurman:

In response to Ms. Rhonda Thurman's request for additional information regarding allowable accommodations for testing, please see the attached table by school showing usage of calculators and/or multiplication grids.

The focus of the grades K-5 curriculum is the development of basic arithmetic skills involving computational skills in addition to building a strong conceptual foundation and problem solving.  We know that students must be proficient in basic skills, and there are specific grade level objectives that address these skills.  For example, one of the third grade standards is "recall basic multiplication facts through 10 times 10 and the related division facts."  Our teachers are working very hard to make sure their students are fluent with basic facts. 

Hamilton County aligns with the state of Tennessee and the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics' philosophy for the use of calculators.  They should be used at appropriate times as a tool to further the understanding of students' mathematical knowledge.  Thus, calculators are intended to be used as a tool not as a crutch.  Good instruction will utilize a variety of research-based resources to push the students to deeper understanding.  Technology, multiplication grids and calculators are just a few of those resources.


Dr. Jim Scales



CHATTANOOGA (WRCB)-- Hamilton County School Board member Rhonda Thurman, who represents District 1, has issued a stinging letter to state legislators, criticizing the use of "cheat sheets" in standardized math tests.  Here is the text of her letter:
A few weeks ago, I was made aware of a situation that took place in a Hamilton County classroom during TCAP testing in 2009. Eighth grade students were not only allowed to use their calculators during testing, they were also given a sheet of paper with the multiplication tables on it. Concerned teachers notified me fearing they were being asked to do something illegal. In years past, all educational material had to be removed from bulletin boards and the only things allowed were two #2 pencils. Not knowing who to contact at the state level, I contacted Rep. Floyd. He got me in touch with the comptroller's office.  
After talking to representatives from the state comptrollers office, they investigated the incident. After their investigation they supplied me with 2008-2009 Allowable Accommodations Chart from the Tennessee Department of Education.  The chart shows that not only are calculators allowed, but, the multiplication "cheat sheets" are as well!
I am absolutely appalled that we are doing such a poor job of teaching math in Tennessee and in Hamilton County in particular. While the education system continues to tell us our curriculum is full of "rigor and relevance" (new education buzz words), they continue to dumb down our students. The taxpayers of Tennessee should demand that Tennessee standards do not allow any students, especially eighth graders, to use a multiplication "cheat sheets" on standardized tests.
I have asked Dr. Scales for a list of schools in Hamilton County who have been using the "cheat sheets". I also asked how long they have been using them and who approved their use. I will provide the list to you when I receive it. I have called teachers in different parts of Hamilton County to inquire if they have ever used the "cheat sheets". Most of the teachers I talked to thought it was a joke and could not believe some schools were allowed this accommodation. They really laughed when I told them that some schools were providing students pencils with multiplication tables on them to take tests.
I would also like to know how we can compare achievement scores between schools in Hamilton County when we are not comparing apples to apples. How can we compare counties in Tennessee when we don't know what counties are using accommodations and  which ones are not.  What about comparing states? Are other states allowing accommodations?  If not, are we actually doing worse than taxpayers are told?
There is no excuse for students not learning how to read or knowing something as basic as multiplication tables. What is going on in some of our schools is educational fraud.
Race to the Top?  I don't think so.  The way I see it we are spiraling to the bottom. Money will not fix this problem.  Common sense at the state level by not allowing outrageous accommodations would be a good start. Doing so, would force those at the county level to step up to the plate and teach math basics to students.
I, for one, am tired of number crunchers, number massagers and those who have a PhD in edubabble. I think the the taxpayers in Tennessee deserve the truth.
Rhonda Thurman
District 1
Hamilton County School Board