In which I am proud and disgusted

I mentioned yesterday– or at least I think I did, play along if I’m wrong– that after work I had to go to a parent-teacher conference for my son. This was a regularly-scheduled event and not one of those “your kid is a shithead, you need to come in now” sorts of things, and I wasn’t expecting any particular surprises from it– my kid does well academically but is, I think, a moderate behavioral challenge when the mood strikes him, and most of his teachers have tossed a “he could get better at paying attention” type of line at us from time to time. And they’re not wrong; he could. And this is a thing that we work on; he’s not perfect. So I wasn’t expecting all candy and roses but I wasn’t expecting an unpleasant conversation either.

I have spent a decent chunk of the last couple of weeks administering a standardized math test to my students that we take three times a year. 90% of my students are done within two class periods and the rest of the time is catching kids who were absent or the occasional one who needs more time. This test is given nationwide and the norms are referenced nationally, so a kid’s percentile score, for example, is against all kids who took that across the country and not just the ones at my school or in my district.

And as it turns out, the kids at Hogwarts took the same test this year, for the first time. The teacher introduced it somewhat hesitantly, admitting that she wasn’t completely familiar with the data she was given, and … well, I don’t have that problem, both by training and by inclination, since I’m a huge data nerd and I love this shit. So, yeah, I know exactly how to read this report that you’re handing me.

And I was simultaneously thrilled and disgusted by the results. A bit more background: the way this score is tested is that all grades are scored on a continuum, so there isn’t really a maximum or minimum score but they expect an average 8th grader to have a score of around 230 or so and an average 2nd grader to be in, I dunno, the 180s or so. But it is possible for an 8th grader to score below that second grade level and it is possible for a 2nd grader to score above the 8th grade level.

And my kid outscored about 80% of my fucking 8th graders, in both reading and math. He was in the 99th percentile in achievement in both reading and math, and he was in the 98th percentile in growth for math and 80th percentile in growth for reading. So he killed this fucking test. My reaction was not quite “You’ve gotta be fucking kidding me,” but it was close. I knew the boy was bright, but … shit. And the fact that his teacher showed me these results and then immediately began apologizing because she doesn’t think she’s challenging him enough … lady, if the boy showed up at the 98th percentile in growth, it means he’s hoovered up every single fact you’ve thrown at him all year long. I would kill for results like this from my students. And she’s acting like she’s embarrassed by it.

If my kid isn’t showing growth, then maybe the teacher has at least a justification for an apology, although as the teacher of a number of kids who are failing to show growth (and, to be fair, a larger number who are; my overall numbers weren’t bad at all relative to the other teachers in my building) I’m not about to be making a bunch of phone calls. But if the kid is improving by leaps and bounds like mine apparently is then it is a hundred percent fair for the teacher to crow about the job she’s doing with him a bit.

And it’s weird, because as a dad I’m proud of him, but as a teacher I kind of want to break things, because now I have to swallow the sentence “My second grader took this test and beat your score by thirty points” with a lot of my kids, and … gaaaah.

I just wish everybody could get the education he’s getting at Hogwarts, and I wish enough of my kids gave a shit that they had a chance of getting that type of growth from me. I had one kid in the nineties in growth, but she barely spoke English when she took the first one, so it’s not exactly a surprise. It’s a whole damn different world over there.

In which white people are still the absolute worst, plus some light whining

Pictured: an entitlement of wypipo

I’m doing the thing where I’m trying to make something I said on Twitter a bit less ephemeral by putting it here: I want a change in the rules. If white people are going to keep calling the police on black people for fucking existing in public, well, you go on ahead with your white self and keep doing that. But once the cops have investigated, when it turns out the black person was walking his dog, or taking his damn kids to the park, or buying groceries, or having a barbecue, or whatever goddamned normal-ass thing that black people are allowed to do unless white people are nearby, once the cops have investigated and determined that, yeah, that check for $1000 from this dude’s employer is really his check, and maybe y’all shoulda figured out that your average check cashing fraudster isn’t likely to volunteer two forms of ID and his fingerprint and just cashed the damn thing?

Once the cops figure that out, that accused black person gets five minutes in which he or she cannot be arrested or prosecuted for anything they do, up to and including stealing and detonating a nuclear weapon, if there happens to be one close enough. And the white people don’t get to run away. They gotta stay there while the five-minute rampage happens and if that five-minute rampage involves a white ass getting beat then maybe you shoulda thought of that before you called the cops, you dumb racist cracker motherfucker.


A story of what may actually be the last time I tried to cash a check: I am a high school student, and I have helped out an old lady down the street from me by mowing her lawn for her. A very old lady, who has rewarded me by writing me a check for, supposedly, $25. The only problem is that $25 check is so illegible that I’m the person she handed it to and I can’t decipher my own name, nor can I really honestly figure out how the scrawl in the little box says $25.00, and there is no way any human could possibly look at the part that counts, where you write out the amount in prose, and see “twenty-five dollars and 00/100.” She’s very old and palsied and this check looks like a toddler scribbled on it. There are no recognizable words. I need y’all to realize that I’m not exaggerating here.

I briefly think about not taking the check anywhere at all and just not worrying about it, and then take it to her bank, because there’s no way in hell my bank is touching the thing. And the teller not only agrees to cash it, but she asks me what the amount is supposed to be, and then prepares to withdraw that amount, based on nothing more than my say-so.

Now, okay, this was 24 years ago at minimum, and shit’s supposed to be more secure now. But there wasn’t even the vaguest suggestion of suspicion on her part. Because: white boy.

And then it turned out the check was NSF, and I told her just to throw it away, because … nah. The whole thing was skeevy and even in high school $25 wasn’t enough money that I was gonna go to too much trouble to get it. It’s possible my dad ended up covering it; I don’t remember, but I didn’t end up ever cashing the check.


I have been doing make-up standardized tests all week, and by all week I mean basically every minute of my day other than lunch or advisory. On the one hand, this has been kind of wonderful, because it pins me in my room and people can’t pull me out of my office to make me do stuff, and it exempts me from things like hallway duty, which can be obnoxious. On the other hand, I have literally spent 24 solid hours out of the last three days in a damn near silent room with somewhere between eight and thirteen sixth graders all taking a test as I “monitor” them, and I am so bored I might die.

I mean, given my job’s definition of “exciting,” don’t take me whining about this too seriously, because there is a big difference between boring and stressful and given the choice I will leap joyfully into boring’s arms every time. But …. man. I gotta do this again tomorrow? Really? I’m playing music or summat during the test, because I can’t take the quiet any longer. It’s fuckin’ unnatural.

Credit where it’s due

LearningTestingThe ISTEP went off more or less completely without a hitch today; the closest thing to a complaint that I have is that I probably should have swapped late-afternoon groups with the other teacher who was administering tests today, because somehow I ended up with mostly her kids and she ended up with mostly my kids.  The technical issues that destroyed several days of last year’s testing were close to nonexistent today and when they did show up were easily dealt with.   I don’t have much of a sense of how they did, but they didn’t seem terribly upset by the test; I decided this year that I was going to do my best to pay no attention to their answers.  I can’t affect it anyway at this point; their scores are what they are.  I haven’t tested my 8th graders yet– they’re tomorrow– but we got through the first day so I can’t imagine that subsequent days are likely to get worse.

The disadvantage: I didn’t think losing my prep period was going to be that terrible of a problem, but I think I need to bring snacks or something with me to work tomorrow, because I ended the day exhausted and have been eating like a fiend since I got home.  I’m literally pausing between sentences right now to rub queso dip all over my face like some sort of animal; I wish my tongue were longer because that would make eating it easier.  I’ve got the exact same schedule tomorrow except worse, since I’m staying after school to do my Algebra tutoring group, so I won’t be home until six or so.  Gotta bring some granola or something.

More fiction tonight, I hope– I ended up getting 4500 words written yesterday, which is *awesome*.  I won’t equal that tonight but if I can get another thousand down it’ll be a good day.  Maybe another blog post, too, once my brain wakes up.  Whee!

Story problem time!

image028Have a math problem:

A boat travels 60 kilometers upstream against the current in 5 hours.  The boat travels the same distance downstream in 3 hours.  What is the rate of the boat in still water?  What is the rate of the current?

If you are a reasonably educated person, you should be able to make headway with this fairly quickly:  the boat travels 12 km/h upstream (60/5) and 20 km/h downstream (60/3), which means that the boat’s speed in still water is the average of the upstream/downstream speeds, (20 + 12)/2 km/h, or 16 kilometers per hour, and the current is 4 km/h, which is the difference between either of the measured speeds and the average.

I spent about half an hour last night texting back and forth with a former student trying to work her through this problem and becoming more and more bewildered about what it was she didn’t get about it as the conversation went on.  She got the math– the math isn’t really that complicated, right?  Just division and an average.

What she didn’t get?  Rivers.  As it turns out, “downstream” and “upstream” are not terribly salient terms to kids who have lived in cities all their lives– and while, granted, the town I currently live in is actually called South Bend because the river bends south while wending through it, the terms “downstream” and “upstream” hadn’t managed to really ensconce themselves in her vocabulary as of yet.

This young lady is generally one of my brightest kids, mind you.  I’m not mocking her at all here, although maybe she deserves it a little bit– but the entire conversation got me thinking about how incredibly easy it is to write standardized test questions that you think are questions about math but turn out to hinge on some other kind of non-mathematical knowledge.  She could not wrap her head around the idea that the boat wasn’t going at its full speed “downstream” and that the current wasn’t slowing it down by (20-12) 8 km/h going upstream.  Which, of course, was one of the answers, because whenever anyone with half an ounce of sense writes a multiple choice test, one of the horrible tricks you do is thinking “Now, how might the students screw this up?” and then writing answers that match what they might have gotten if they did something predictable wrong.

The math?  She’s got it.  The geography lesson that the writer of the question no doubt didn’t realize was embedded into being able to get the question right?  Not so much.

I’ll talk more about this later; just wanted to get the thought down before it fell out of my head.  This is part of the longer series of posts I alluded to the other day before hell fell on my face and knocked me out for a couple of days, I think; I’ll get back to it soon.

In which I slowly go blind

imagesI’m spending the entire day crunching ISTEP scores and growth numbers and all sorts of other stuff, and alternately cursing myself, the Indiana State Board of Education, my boss, Microsoft Excel, human biology and math itself for the various frauds and iniquities being perpetrated on myself/my school/the state of education in general as I try and track down enough information to make what I’m doing useful to anybody.

I have discovered that the Windows version of Excel does not actually allow you to open two Excel documents in multiple windows.  For system software that is actually called Windows this seems like somewhat of a curious oversight.  Flipping back and forth is vastly annoying and I don’t like it one bit.  I’d prefer to not have to wait until I get home to do this on my Mac– there’s a reason I’m doing it at OtherJob– but it looks as if I might have to, because it’ll take a third of the time if I can just have everything open at once on my wonderful home setup, which features two monitors, one of which is a 27-incher, and not this teensy laptop screen.

Further aggravating me is the fact that the state appears to have made slightly different decisions about who counts and who doesn’t than I did when I put my initial numbers for my own students together back when I actually got the ISTEP data in the first place.  The low-growth kid who came in halfway through the year?  For some reason, counts.  The high-growth kid who I had for all but the first six days of the school year?  Didn’t.  Which shifts my overall numbers in a way I don’t like.

This don’ make no sense, and I’m wondering how exactly they decided who counts and who doesn’t, because length of enrollment doesn’t seem to be it.  Which is a whole ‘nother column I need to worry about if I’m going to keep track of it– and right now I don’t want to.

On the plus side, most of my grading is done.  I’m gonna take a break and read for at least an hour or so to let my eyes recover (from backlit tiny type to tiny type on paper, which… well, hopefully that’s a meaningful difference) and then I’ll see what else I can get done today.

What do people who don’t work two jobs on Saturday do on Saturday?