Silicon Valley startup Desmos Inc. is pursuing the market of one of the oldest names in technology, Texas Instruments Inc.’s handheld calculators. Calculators such as the TI-84 are a staple for most college-bound students in the U.S. They retail for about $100, with fancier models going for more than twice that. According to Desmos, they’re made with old, underpowered technology that’s no match for the capabilities of even a mid-range smartphone or low-end laptop.
Founded in 2011, Desmos created a free graphing calculator program that runs on smartphones and computers, eliminating the need for a separate device. The downloadable app has won users and the endorsement of testing organizations and textbook publishers which have previously used Texas Instruments.
Just this week, a group called the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) gave Desmos the go ahead. The organization oversees some standardized testing for middle- and high-school students in 15 states.
“We think students shouldn’t have to purchase this old technology that predates the internet,” said Eli Luberoff, the company founder. “This market is shifting. A monopoly is crumbling.”
On the other hand, Peter Balyta, president of education technology at Texas Instruments, responded, “Our products include only the features that students need in the classroom, without the many distractions or test security concerns that come with smartphones, tablets and internet access.” He elaborated, while online apps can be free, they require a connection and devices to access them, he said. That’s an expense that can add up for schools or individuals.
Desmos counters that, as tests move online themselves, its calculator can be integrated into the exam. Such software locks down computers not allowing anything other than the test. Because its software is free to students, it also removes the financial costs.
Importantly, Desmos has the backing of Pearson, the world’s largest education company. Pearson uses the technological tools as a partner for its high-school math program, enVision. The College Board has also endorsed the use of Desmos for its SpringBoard platform, which provides study drills, practice exams and curriculum assessments for students and teachers.
Keep your eye out for more developments on the standardized testing tool market!