Grading update

Quick post tonight, because my eyes are bugging me and my head is full of The Mandalorian but I don’t want to talk about it yet– I did, in the end, refuse to fail any of my students, at least for the semester. I decided any missing work would go in at 40% rather than a 0– 40% because it puts a little bit of a buffer between that and the 50% floor grade I’ve always used for work that was attempted but done poorly. After that, any student between 51 and 59% got bumped up to a D-, and then I did give the higher of the two quarter grades as a semester grade rather than an average. For most of my students that didn’t end up being much of a change; a B+ sliding up to an A- or maybe a D+ going to a C, but there were a few where it was a pretty staggering jump, and I don’t care. If you were an A student one grading period and an F student another grading period, it’s because something happened, not because you suddenly forgot how to add. That actually did happen with two students, and I gave both of them the A.

There were maybe twenty kids who still failed both quarters even with those changes, and those kids got an N, which is effectively a “no grade.” Basically every kid who did something over the course of the semester passed. I don’t know that I’m willing to go to quite these lengths to keep kids from failing in a non-pandemic sort of situation, but that’s the situation we’re in right now, so I’m going to adapt to it.

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 the autogaslighting continues

This is not my district, but it’s nearby, and I’m looking at this and reading it and genuinely doubting my own sanity, because I cannot for the life of me imagine why the fuck anyone would ever think any of this is a good idea.

Yesterday was the first day that Indiana had over 5000 new coronavirus cases. There were 5038. Today– and “today,” to make sure everyone understands, is a word that means “one day after yesterday,”– there were over 6500. School districts across northern Indiana and southern Michigan are going back to full-time virtual or dialing back on the plans they had in place, and this is what Mishawaka thinks is a good idea once 2nd semester starts? Not only are they dumping all of their grade-cohort kids into the building at the same time, thus doubling the number of students in every single class they’re in, thus fucking up any actual chance at social distancing in hallways, classrooms, or at lunch, but by shifting to grade-only cohorts they’re guaranteeing that lots and lots of families with more than one child are sending those kids to school on different days.

Like fucking hell the Board of Health okayed that. I don’t believe that for a second. And they actually talk about how they already don’t have the staff to keep the buildings open! Do you think this shit is going to get better come January? You want people to be more vigilant, but you’re making the situation in your buildings worse on purpose???

And they don’t get into this in the letter, but if you were to click through and look at some of their individual school plans, you’d find out that they’re tying whether you can be 100% virtual to grades and attendance. In other words, they think that if your grades are poor they can require you to come to school part time.

Utter fucking madness. It’s either them or me. Someone is completely crazy. I just wish I could be certain who it was, because more and more I find myself living in a world where I have to conclude that huge numbers of the people around me are out of their Goddamned minds, and eventually it’s going to get to the point where it has to be me and not them.

Fuck.