Kid hacks TI-30; TI recalls 100,000+ calcs

Va. Student Discovers Flaw That Prompts Texas Instruments to Recall Thousands of Calculators

RICHMOND, Va. Jun 7, 2005 — 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," Williams said.

Edited: 7 June 2005, 6:45 p.m.


Phantom keys strike again!

Anyone remember the penny trick (CHS, 7, and 8)?


Hmmm ... this is happening in back yard!!!!


Makes you wonder....what on earth does a middle school student need a calculator for in an exam, anyway!!!

Do they teach maths, or merely button pushing in Virginia?


One can just imagine the headlines in the future - "Student pushes a combination of buttons and gets the right answer"!



I've never understood the US school/college system. Could somebody please explain what a "middle school" is? And while we're at it, this "junior high" and "college" thing?

In the British/Australian system there are just three levels of education:

Primary schools (ages 5 - 11)

Secondary schools (ages 12 - 17 or 18)

Universities, technical colleges and other tertiary (ages 18 and up)

so I've always been confused by mention of things like "college degrees" - in the UK system (at least, when I was a lad) only universities awarded degrees and colleges awarded diplomas and certificates. Anyone care to enlighten this poor confused alien?


--- Les



In the US:

"Elementary" or "Primary" School: ~ ages 5 to 10/11. Typically Kindergarten plus Grades 1 to 5, or K plus Grades 1 to 6.

"Junior High" or "Middle" School: ~ ages 11/12 to 13/14.
Typically Grades 6 to 8, or Grades 7 to 9.

"Senior High" or "High" School: ~ ages 14/15 to 18.
Typically Grades 9 to 12, or Grades 10 to 12.

"Secondary schools" = Junior High (Middle) and Senior High Schools


There is no strict distinction between the terms "College" and "University"; they both represent tertiary level education.

Typically a "college" is a smaller institution that focuses primarily or exclusively on undergraduate education (associate's or bachelor's degrees). Schools that only offer associate's degrees are commonly known as "junior colleges".

Typically a "university" is a larger institution that offers undergraduate degrees, plus graduate degrees (master's, doctorate), plus professional degrees (e.g. medical or law degrees, which in the US typically come after an undergraduate degree). In some cases, divisions of universities are called "colleges".

The rules are often bent. For example, "Dartmouth College" offers graduate and professional degrees, and is commonly classed with "universities". On the other hand, "Wesleyan University" has only a handful of grad students, and is commonly regarded as a liberal arts "college".


A "public school" is an institution that is funded by government and open to the tax-paying public (obviously this differs from UK usage). Public primary and secondary schools are typically operated by local governments, while public colleges and universities are typically operated by state governments. The Federal government does not run schools, except for military academies.

A "private school" is a school that is funded privately and which has selective admissions. Many are operated by churches, particularly the Roman Catholic church ("parochial schools").

Edited: 8 June 2005, 11:35 p.m.


Norris's explanation is pretty comprehensive. I would augment one of his terms:

"Schools that only offer associate's degrees are commonly known as "junior colleges"."

Nowadays, most such schools are "community colleges," usually with a fair amount of public (i.e. taxpayer) funding, and they generally offer the first two years of college courses, as well as technical programs which produce truck drivers, dental hygiene assistants, air conditioner repairmen, Novell network technicians, etc. Depending on state, they may or may not be closely aligned with higher level institutions.

In Nevada, by decree of the Board of Regents, all courses in state higher education are "articulated," i.e. similar courses all have the same course number and they are regarded as having the same content regardless of type of institution. For instance, I have taught AST 103 (astronomy of the solar system) at both UNLV (University of Nevada, Las Vegas campus) where I am an adjunct professor, and CCSN (the Community College of Southern Nevada) where I am (for the next three weeks - I am retiring!) a tenured "Community College Professor" (unlike my wife, who is a "Professor" of physics (she's another astronomer) at UNLV). So, there is subtle discrimination in titles, depending on where you teach. In any case, I used exactly the same lecture notes and lecture style at both institutions, and the students did on average just as well, too, independent of their choice of college.


Thank'ee, Norris. I got it (and printed it off, for future reference). Looks like, at the secondary level, you guys just split schools into two stages. Are these generally two stages at the same institution, or are they more often really physically separate schools?

I think the trend towards more institutions awarding degrees has been present in the UK and Australia, too - but the difference is that in those countries, institutions such as "polytechnics" and colleges were promoted in status to universities and renamed accordingly.

However, we don't have "associate's degrees". How does that compare with a bachelor's? In the UK - again, in my youth - a B.Sc. (Hons) would take three years. In Australia, the tendency was to do the B.Sc. in three years and perhaps add an "Honours year". How do the US associate's and bachelor's compare?


--- Les



Nowadays, most such schools are "community colleges," usually with a fair amount of public (i.e. taxpayer) funding, and they generally offer the first two years of college courses, as well as technical programs which produce truck drivers, dental hygiene assistants, air conditioner repairmen, Novell network technicians, etc. Depending on state, they may or may not be closely aligned with higher level institutions.

Over here, those are run by our state governments and generally known as TAFE (from Dept. of Technical and Further Education). They used to be called Technical Colleges and offer a similar range of vocational training. Back in the early eighties, I was a part-time lecturer at one - it was great fun teaching evening classes to adults who really want to learn.

Thanks, Dave, and Norris, too - I'd always wondered about those terms.


--- Les



In California, "junior high" or "middle" schools are typically separate, smaller institutions than "high" schools. My community, for example, has one large high school, which is "fed" by two smaller junior high schools, each of which in turn is "fed" by two or three smaller elementary schools.


The US bachelor's degree is traditionally a 4-year program. The associate's degree is granted by "junior" or "community" colleges after 2 years.

In practice, the length of time to a degree varies. For example, students (particularly at state schools) often study part-time, or have trouble getting into the required courses, so they often need more than 4 years for the bachelor's degree. On the other hand, sometimes bright students can test out of introductory classes and accelerate the process.


In California, there are three state university systems, which are increasingly selective and prestigious:

- The California Community College system (associate's degrees), about 100 campuses;

- The California State University system (bachelor's and master's degrees), about 30 campuses;

- The University of California system (bachelor's, master's, doctoral, and professional degrees), about 10 campuses.

The three systems are designed to feed into each other, and to facilitate the "promotion" of good students. It would be quite normal for an ambitious student to begin study at a local community college, and to then transfer to a CSU campus for the bachelor's degree, and to then get an advanced degree from a UC campus.




I think that typically, junior high (or these days "middle
school") is a separate building, although locally, they happen to
be in connected buildings, and share the swimming pool and
gymnasium. Our school district happens to have two high schools,
and I think that for the other city, the high school and junior
high are separate campuses. We also have several grade schools.
The school district's auditorium ("performing arts center") shares
a campus with the district administrative offices and bus garage,
and maybe there's still a grade school there; I'm not really sure.

I think that traditionally, junior high is grades 7 and 8, but it
varies depending on changing demographics.

Before high school is considered "primary school", and high school
is considered "secondary school". Historically, primary school was
often considered to be sufficient for ordinary people. These days,
the state law requires attendence up until age 17, unless waived
for some disability.

In Michigan, kindergarten through grade 12 is funded through a
combination of local real property tax and state "revenue
sharing" (giving back some of what it's taken from us).

"Community colleges" typically receive considerable county
funding, I think some state funding, and of course students'
tuition. Out-of-county students pay higher tuition, and
out-of-state students even higher. Locally, some students commute
from Ontario, but I've heard that "homeland security" delays at
the bridges have made that a bit difficult.

Kindergarten is typically only half days, with separate morming
and afternoon classes. Sometimes kindergarten is skipped, with the
youngster beginning in the first grade. Sometimes, if the
youngster doesn't seem mature enough, he starts a year later than
he would based strictly on his birth date.

Often toddlers attend privately funded "pre-school" or "nursery
school" before kindergarten. Like kindergarten, it seems to be
intended mostly for learning to get along with other children and
clean up after oneself, but I notice that these days, the school
district rather expects the youngsters to know such basics as the
alphabet, numerals, counting up to a hundred, and writing their
own names when starting kindergarten.

Often each grade is divided into different classes in the same

Often, cute little "diplomas" are issued to pre-school and
kindergarten "graduates". I remember that my grandniece was
thrilled that she'd never have to go to school again; life is just
full of disappointments.

A high school graduate gets a diploma, although if he doesn't pass
enough courses, he may not actually graduate but get a
"certificate of attendance" instead.

But a dropout may still earn a a "certificate of general
educational development" (GED) by passing the required tests, and
it may be used for obtaining a "certificate of high school
equivalency" from the state.

An "associate's degree" is from a two-year junior college (or
these days, "community college"). For a more restricted specialty
course, a "certificate" in the specialty may be had instead. A
"bachelor's degree" is from a four-year college, received on
completion of undergraduate courses. Of course, how many years are
actually spent earning that piece of paper varies greatly
depending on the course load; often "working adults" are part-time
instead of full-time students, especially at community colleges.
Of course these adults paying for their own education tend to be
more serious students than youngsters attending full-time on their
parents' money.

Typically, credit hours earned for a certificate also count toward
an associates degree, and credits hours earned for an associate's
degree may well also count toward a bachelor's degree. But which
credits are accepted between schools varies greatly, so this needs
to be looked at carefully when planning.

Sometimes you can "test through" some credits. For example, I
received several credit hours based on "life experience" because
of a "College Level Examination Program" administered through the
"United States Armed Forces Institute" that I'd taken several
years before while I was in the Navy.

Realistically, some people are amazingly ignorant no matter what
piece of paper they've "earned". Sometimes I think that they
should all be called "certificates of attendance", except when
they're based on a strict standardized examination program. Maybe
the instructors "pass" the students due to parent pressure or just
so they don't have to deal with them again.



I said, [NT]!


That is insane. Eventually these students will have to learn how to convert decimals to fractions, and low and behold, most higher-up calcs already do that!

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