A young man with a white T-shirt and open black leather jacket, facing the viewer. Behind him is a red brick wall covered with algebraic symbols and equations drawn in white chalk.

Joshua was a first year student enrolled in a business program. As part of his program, he was to take a first year college mathematics course. During class, he was able to execute the math problems with little difficulty although his classmates would often point out small errors in calculations. He also made use of a math tutor provided by the Disability Services Office (DSO).

The instructor was surprised to see that on the first test, Joshua scored well below the class average, despite having done well on assignments and during labs.

Since lab assistants had marked the tests, the instructor reviewed Joshua’s test and found that when he analyzed the errors, most would be considered mistakes of inattentiveness. He confused common math symbols (e.g., +, -, x, /) and made errors in simple addition and multiplication. It was clear that he could perform the necessary steps but made errors in the calculations.

A meeting between Joshua and his instructor revealed that during high school math courses Joshua was permitted to use a calculator. Joshua had not asked for this in the current class as the course syllabus clearly indicated that calculators were not permitted. The professor was reluctant to allow calculators in his class as many of these performed various functions that could give the student the answer without knowing how to work out the problem.

Working with the DSO, the instructor and Joshua agreed that he could use either a basic, four-function calculator, or addition and multiplication tables on his tests. In the end, the instructor allowed a basic calculator for all students.