Thinking through my grades

My final grades for the quarter and for the semester are due … well, actually, I don’t have any idea when they’re due, but they’re going to be finished on Friday before noon. I’ve talked before about how much it rubs me wrong to fail any of my kids this quarter, and I’m currently thinking about what I want to do about my grades right now. Represented above are the actual current grades for my first hour students. The Q1 grade is what they actually received (you can see a couple, like Marge Simpson and Riri Williams, whose grades I nudged up a bit already) and the Q2 grade is their current grade with my current policies on grading– ie, nothing turned in and genuinely attempted receives less than a 50%, but work that is not turned in at all receives a 0.

(There are one or two kids whose grades go down slightly; this is an artifact of me doing this quick and sloppy and a couple of extra credit assignments causing weirdness. Ignore those.)

Ignore the third column of numbers, as it’s just their total number of points. The fourth column is their grade in the 2nd quarter if I change every zero to a 50%. The ones highlighted in yellow are the kids who would still fail the quarter under that arrangement. Highlighted in green are the kids whose grades would have been Fs for the 2nd quarter but move into passing range if I bring up zeroes to 50s. Homey DeClown should also be green; I missed him.

A couple of things stand out. First, note Bruce Wayne, who had a D+ during the first quarter and is pulling a hundred percent during the second quarter. Bruce has not suddenly become a good math student, and interestingly, Bruce’s sister’s grade also shot up. I am attributing this to issues at home during the first quarter. Notice also the grade of Montgomery Burns, who was a stellar student first quarter and who fell apart during second– also not, I presume, because all of his math ability suddenly leaked out of his ear.

I have no reason to believe that this class is any different from the rest of mine. We have been given the option of giving an N grade to kids who simply haven’t shown up; N effectively means No Grade. There is talk about high school students having to retake any grade they got an N on and it will not change a GPA. I am fully expecting them to back off on that requirement and I don’t actually know whether it applies to middle school.

At any rate, of the six kids who would still be failing: Flash Gordon has been in touch all year, and I am absolutely certain that the reason he’s not been in school is that he’s been raising his siblings. He’s passing. I should have passed him first quarter, honestly. Peter Parker, as far as I know (and I’m cognizant of the fact that there’s a lot I don’t know) is the kid you’re thinking of when you talk about the kids who don’t deserve the bump they’d get from me fiddling with their grades, because they made their beds and they should sleep in them. Last year he was a smart kid who chose to fail and frankly e-learning hasn’t noticeably changed his grades. The rest of them have more or less been no-shows and would be good candidates for the N grade.

Also, I’m not averaging semester grades. The semester grade is going to be the higher of the two quarter grades, period. I’m doing that even if I don’t end up bumping the zeroes to 50s. The office can fight me on it if they want to; I don’t think they will and frankly it’s a fight that I think I’m well-positioned to win.

In which I give up

Wednesday remains Trainings and Meetings day around here, and as such I did not have any interaction with my students beyond responding to emails. What I did have was a very depressing Math team meeting where we looked at some data, reflected on the fact that the mid-year test had been (rightfully, mind you) cancelled and so we therefore weren’t going to get any updates on that data anytime soon, reflected further upon the fact that this particular assessment tool demonstrates that our students, by and large, appear to know nothing at all, and had a brief discussion wherein we were all forced to admit that none of us had the slightest idea what we might be able to do under the current circumstances to fix the problem.

(Nor can we be sure that the data captures the issue accurately, since the test was administered while the students were home, and we have no way of ensuring that it was taken seriously.)

One of the more entertaining fights in comments that I have had over the life of this blog was a post where I was complaining about my students performing poorly on a test about slope. Well, it is now several years later and I can confidently report that despite attempting to teach slope in a variety of different ways and with a variety of different strategies since then, my 8th graders still do not really appear to understand slope, and attempting to teach it virtually during a pandemic is … suboptimal.

Allow me, if I may, to further elucidate.

I have not yet actually introduced the formula for slope, which is complicated enough that I can’t reproduce it in WordPress’ text editor and would have to copy and paste an image. Instead, I’ve started beginning the unit with simply counting. Count the rise, or the vertical distance between points A and B, remembering (hopefully) that if you go down from A to B your “rise” is negative (this is confusing, because no one naturally thinks of something called “rise” as negative, and I wish the word was different) and then count the “run,” which is the horizontal distance between A and B and is always positive.

You will note on the above image that the slope of that line is -4, because you count down 4 squares to go from A to B and one square for the run, and -4/1 is equal to -4. I’m breaking this down in such a granular fashion that today was the first day we actually talked about negative slopes. Also, the reason there are no numbers anywhere on that image is that I discovered that some of my kids were simply writing down the number nearest to one of the points as (chosen randomly) the rise or the run, with no actual counting taking place. So I removed them on today’s assignment.

I have discovered that many of my students genuinely believe that there are five squares between A and B, because rather than starting from 0 they are counting the line A is actually on as 1 and going from there.

I have discovered– this is not surprising, but remains depressing– that a number of them do not include “left” and “right” among the concepts that are salient to them, and thus I must frequently remember to say “from A to B” rather than “from left to right.”

And I had a genuinely bewildering conversation with one of my kids, a kid who generally does well in class and has one of the highest scores in his grade on the test we were discussing earlier, absolutely cannot wrap his head around the words “uphill” and “downhill,” a set of terms I was using to distinguish positive slope (uphill, from left to right) and negative slope (downhill, from left to right) while I was talking. He consistently reported that any line was both going uphill and downhill at the same time, even when I made it clear which direction I was moving in. I eventually ended up creating this diagram:

He is color-blind, by the way, a disability that I have somehow never had to worry about in 17 years of teaching, so I have to make sure that color is never salient information in any diagram I do for an assignment, which is why one of the lines here is dotted. This can occasionally be trickier than it ought to be.

Anyway, I pulled this diagram together, still trying to work on this uphill/downhill thing, and asked him, gesturing with my mouse while talking, which of the two lines was going uphill when I moved from left to right. I even said “We’re moving from A to B on the dotted line, and C to D on the solid line. Which is going uphill?”

“Both,” he replied. And I swear to you, he wasn’t fucking with me. I tried a stairs metaphor. Which of these lines looks like you’re standing at the bottom of a flight of stairs, looking up to the top? Both. You’re sure you understand the “left to right” thing we’re doing here? You’re telling me C to D and A to B both look like walking upstairs?

Yes. Yes, he was.

This kid’s not stupid. Not at all. And he wasn’t fucking with me; I could hear the frustration in his voice. He was trying to get this, as opposed to the dozens of my students for whom no set of directions can be short or clear enough that they can be expected to read or follow them. But I don’t have the slightest Goddamned idea where the hell the disconnect was happening.

Today was not a good day.

In which I’ve been thinking

At this point I am fairly certain that my students will not be returning to school during the second semester. It is possible that they will– the district has given no hints that I’m aware of of how long this current round of e-learning is expected to last– but the notion that we’d send them home at the end of November and bring them back before January seems unreasonable even by my current district’s standards.

So I’ve ben thinking a lot about semester grades. In the past week, the following have all happened:

  • One student’s mother had a baby and she promptly stopped coming to school or showing up virtually. I am a hundred percent certain she has been taking care of her five other siblings.
  • One student emailed me to let me know that her mother has tested positive for covid and that she and her twin sister have not been tested but have been sick and are both assuming they have it.
  • One student, who was a straight-A kid until we went to e-learning in March, at which point he disappeared, has remained disappeared all year up until this week, where he resurfaced, emailed me to find out what work he could still do, did five weeks worth of work in two days, and assured me that he would be around regularly from now on. He did the work after I told him that I’d be happy to exempt him from it depending on why he’d been gone. He said he didn’t want to talk about it and then did all the work, which … raises some questions.

I have had at least one suicide attempt this school year, one student (more than one? Christ, I don’t remember) had a sibling murdered, and at least two have done stints in mental hospitals. And that’s just the stuff I know about. Then there’s the less emotionally taxing stuff like internet outages or internet not-existings.

I think I’m passing everyone this semester. Everyone. No matter what. The minimum grade anyone could get in my class at semester would be a D.

I refuse to fuck up anybody’s lives any further by tossing shitty grades onto all of the bullshit they’re already having to endure right now. So, theoretically– hell, not theoretically, I know it’s going to happen– there will be some kids with no particular life traumas, full internet access, and happy, middle-class two-parent homes who have done no work at all this semester because they’re shitheads who don’t care and know they can get away with it.

That kid got a D and didn’t “deserve” the grade he got. He didn’t try, and he should have failed. Chose to, in fact.

My rebuttal, and you best believe I’m being completely honest right now: What the fuck do I care?

It’s not like it’s a good grade. Getting a D in my math class isn’t going to amass any privileges for him or anything. But not failing for a kid whose life has gone to shit recently in any of a number of ways could at least theoretically provide a moment of good news in a year that for many of us has had very little of it. And frankly, right now, that’s enough for me to justify it, I think.

I haven’t completely decided, and I did email my boss to see if he wanted any input on the matter, so I may end up overruled anyway. But I think there’s a good chance of me putting a D in as the floor on my grades this semester.

What say you, internet?

Well, this sucks

I gotta say, I know a lot of places have been harder-hit than us, and I know good and well we’re far from the first area to have to do this, but … Christ, is that a jarring fucking headline to see on your hometown newspaper’s website.

My district just announced that we’re going back to all virtual instruction starting after school next Tuesday. Which is good; we shouldn’t have been back in the first place. We started off the year with the district telling us “data, not dates,” and keeping us out until a week before the end of the first quarter, which … maybe some attention to dates might have been good, as there’s no real reason to come back right before a quarter ends. It was made clear to us that we’d be following the county’s recommendations for our metrics and for when we’d be closing.

Then shit got a lot worse, and they brought us back, which makes perfect sense, ignoring the county-level data in favor of quietly moving to state metrics. I can tell you everything you need to know about our state numbers by pointing out that nothing has changed on our alert level since school restarted despite the fact that we have something like ten times as many daily infections now than we did then. If that can happen without your alert level changing, your metrics are (deliberately) garbage.

All of our neighboring districts have announced in the last few days that they were going virtual. The word from our district– this is a direct quote– was that school closings would be “reactive, not preventative”– in other words, we’d be closing if we got lots of cases or lots of absences due to quarantines in schools, but only individual schools affected by those cases or absences. We would only close because of people being sick, not to prevent people becoming sick. Then they announced two schools would close. Neither of the two schools appeared to be worse than any others on their covid dashboard; indeed, one of them wasn’t even on there.

(The reliability of our district Covid dashboard is, to put it mildly, in dispute.)

Meanwhile, my school has averaged 10 teachers out a day in the last couple of weeks. I don’t know what they think is going on if a quarter of the teachers being out isn’t enough. My kids have been doubled and tripled up in classrooms, which eliminates any benefit of cutting the number of kids in the building.

And today, they abandoned that policy– granted, it was dumb, but still– and sent us all home. In the hour and a half since announcing we were going back to virtual they have already announced that the day we were going back was wrong and changed it– I had to rewrite a paragraph of this because we got new information. Right now they’re still in school Monday and Tuesday and then out indefinitely after that; Wednesday was going to be the first day of Thanksgiving break anyway.

I suspect I will see virtually none of my kids on Monday and Tuesday. I am seriously considering not bothering to assign anything.

God, I’m glad it’s Friday.

In which hybrid is homogeneous

My students have very clearly figured out that having to wear a mask for eight hours while attending classes in rooms that do not contain their teachers– because we are either at home because we put in paperwork to be or because we are currently in quarantine– is not actually any better than just being at home. I never had big numbers of kids in any given class since we made the switch to hybrid– subtracting out about a third from any given group for kids that are staying at home then divide them again by their last names means that about 10 was as big as any group was going to get, and the vagaries of statistics meant that I had a couple groups as small as three or four. A few weeks later, my biggest group today was four kids, both my partner teacher and my co-teacher are out because they’re close contacts for COVID– one of them has been sick, and is being tested today– and I had two classes with zero in-person students.

Turns out I can probably stop hassling the school board to shut down the schools, because my 8th graders are making that decision all by themselves. I have 142 8th grade students. Twelve showed up to physical school today.

We are spending too much money on buses, class coverage (I keep writing “subs” and having to delete it; there are no subs. Subs make $100 a day. If a teacher has to cover a class, that’s $35 an hour, and teachers are covering every single class) and just fucking keeping the lights on and the buildings heated for an entire grade’s worth of in-person learning to be twelve kids. I bet it will be fewer tomorrow, too; one or two of this group is going to go home and tell Mom that they only had one class with more than one other person in it and that’s gonna be it for them.

But hey, it’s not like my tax dollars pay for this or anything.