Kentucky Students Taking ACT Compass Test Can No Longer Use Calculators with Zoom Math

May 1, 2014

Students taking the ACT Compass test in Kentucky will no longer have the use of Zoom Math.

Kentucky high school students worried about the math portion of a statewide assessment test have another reason to be stressed.

The Kentucky Department of Education this week announced it will no longer allow students to use calculators that have the algebra software package Zoom Math while taking the ACT Compass test. That test is taken by high school seniors who haven’t met college-readiness benchmarks on the ACT test taken during their junior year.

Northern Kentucky University Math Professor Steve Newman helped lead the charge against Zoom Math, and says students who knew little algebra were able to use the software to get passing grades on the test.

“And that doesn’t mean they know anything about mathematics, know how to solve equations, or do all the kinds of things that colleges require them to know.” Newman told WKU Public Radio.

Newman says he helped lead several experiments at NKU that looked into the impact of Zoom Math on a test-taker’s ability to get the right answer on the ACT Compass test. The Kentucky Department of Education also conducted similar studies.

“We simply typed in (on the calculator) the expressionary equation we saw, and then looked at one of the five multiple choice answers, and it was all automatic. When we came to a question that couldn’t be done this way, we simply guessed an answer.

By using this technique, Prof. Newman and his NKU colleagues were able to get well above the minimum required score on the Compass test  each of the ten times they took the exam.

One high school teacher told the Lexington Herald-Leader that students use Zoom Math on both the Compass and the regular ACT tests.

A senior policy advisor for the Kentucky Council on Postsecondary Education says higher-education officials in the state will now consider whether they should allow students to use calculators equipped with Zoom Math. The Kentucky Community and Technical College System and some universities use the Compass test to place students in math courses.