The Algebra portion of this assessment was longer than ever with more emphasis on higher-order thinking skills and application of various properties in novel situations. In short: it was harder.
A stalwart in education since 1990, the graphing calculator has been able to maintain its ubiquitous presence in the math classroom ever since. But, more interestingly, the cost has not changed significantly, and perhaps for a reason the companies are happy about.
What often goes unmentioned in this debate is what happens to students who do not have the resources to get one of these, even a used one? This limit of access is one more reason for an increasing equity gap between the haves and have-nots in the United States.
Put simply: those who learn to use graphing calculators and have access to them at school and at home are better prepared to achieve at high levels in school and beyond. Without the calculator teachers are forced to recommend sharing, a process that inevitably creates a situation where one student is calculating and another is doing little to nothing. Even with the best teachers this will still be the case. With enough calculators in the classroom to borrow (a cost that Districts are less inclined to incur these days with massive budget cuts) there is the issue of home use.
Similarly, one can read in a 2010 report on uninsured Americans, "because the uninsured are less likely than the insured to have regular outpatient care, they are more likely to be hospitalized for avoidable health problems and experience declines in their overall health" (p. 11). A lack of health insurance causes more problems which can often snowball for the economically disadvantaged. Having health insurance gives individuals a leg up in their general life outlook.
Simply put: this is not fair.
While I am woefully unqualified to suggest policy shift when it comes to the health crises, I do think of myself as a person with a moderate amount of knowledge in the sphere of education. With the current budget crisis in Philadelphia and the economic recession we are still digging ourselves out of, we need more resources to ensure this generation of student is not left behind. We need to think carefully about how to distribute those resources, of course, and track them better to make sure they are not wasted.
But, at the moment, we are treading water and are about to sink. Help us and advocate for more funding for public schools.