Thursday, May 31, 2007

Afghan Progress

Well, here’s where the sock yarn afghan stands so far. The kids think it’s great. Most of the time I like it, too, but other times I wonder if I’ve lost my mind. Then I get to wondering about how I wound up with all these sock yarn leftovers!

Oddball Word of the Day

culch (KULch): n. the mass of material, as stones, shells, etc., forming an oyster bed

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An E-Mail I Did Send

Dear Mr. H***:

I am concerned about mixed messages sent to the students of **HS by some recent decisions made by the administration. In particular, I find the reward offered to students who took a recommended $75 four-session ACT cram course questionable. It is my understanding that in return for paying the fee and attending the sessions, juniors were exempted from their fourth quarter finals.

While the merits and efficacy of any cram course are debatable, that is not my main concern. My concern is that the choice to reward course takers with exemptions not offered to other students may appear to be the equivalent of “buying” their way out of the final exams. To the best of my knowledge, no academic conditions which might support earning an exemption from the finals applied, such as already having an A or high B in all class work prior to the final or even scoring above a certain level on the ACTs. Instead, it looks like “pay $75, escape finals”.

I have spoken with a number of people locally and received some disturbing feedback which supports my concern. One mother stated flat out that she paid for the course, not because she thought her child needed the cram course, but because she didn’t want her child to have to take a final in a difficult course and possibly get a “smudge” on her transcript. I’m sure **HS does not support grade grubbing or subverting class rigor, and I am disturbed that your actions may have resulted in that perception.

I also spoke with two graduates from **HS, one recent and one not-so-recent, both of whom received very fine scores of 31 on their ACTs, and they were aghast and offended that this option had been offered to current juniors. Both of them took rigorous courses, and in both cases they experienced exam results during their junior years which dropped their final class grades. They both stated that while it sounds nice to be able to “buy a better transcript”, they understood that studying for the finals and learning to accept a lower grade was a meaningful aspect of their education.

Additionally, I have discussed the matter with current teachers from other districts, retired teachers, and parents and students from other districts, and all of them have concerns about the ethical nature and educational goals of this choice. It seems to me that while you may have thought offering a cram course was a positive option, the incentive was contradictory to best practices in education, whether such was your intention or not.

I think it was a mistake to choose a reward which could be so easily misconstrued and misused. It's also possible that students may misunderstand the purpose of the cram course and believe it to be a suitable substitute for diligent, conscientious application to their daily studies for the three years they attend **HS prior to the ACT test. I am sure that you agree with me, and with the ACT service, that the best method for preparing for the ACT is consistent study in rigorous, demanding classes, not a short ZAP course. I hope that in the future you will consider offering rewards that support long-term, good academic habits and that you will avoid creating questionable incentives for things such as cram courses.

Calmer BoS

Oddball Word of the Day

dunnage (DUN-ij): n. 1. personal baggage, 2. poor material stowed round a ship's or railroad's cargo to protect it from injury

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Letter I Didn't Send to the Editor

Dear Editor:

This year, **HS has sold the equivalent of medieval indulgences – a practice whereby the Catholic Church sold a “pass into heaven” to wealthy donors who wanted to make sure they didn’t get stuck in Purgatory. They gave up the practice over the years, but apparently **HS thinks it’s a great idea.

Rather than a pass forgiving your sins, **HS has let every junior who paid for a recommended cram course for the ACT/PSAE tests, skip their finals. That’s a pretty cheesy and unethical way to try to improve the school’s unimpressive test score average, and it’s certainly morally questionable. It’s not a bright move for the kids either, since those classes rarely result in noticeably higher scores – maybe a point or two for low-end students, but not enough to really help individual students. Maybe they’ll help **HS’s average, though, which was clearly the point.

Meanwhile, my daughter, who has sensible parents with high standards, has done what both character and common sense recommend. She has, every year, taken a roster of courses with challenging and relevant content, as opposed to lofty titles backed by bad teachers or second-rate content. She has paid attention, done her homework, asked questions, and gotten support, encouragement, and enrichment at home. She has aced her classes and, based on the ACT scores which arrived in the mail, done her part to significantly raise the school test average.

The school is rewarding her for her excellent character, dedication, diligence, and performance by making sure she is one of the few juniors who will be taking finals. We’re not worried; she’ll do fine. She’s done fine all year and has the highest possible average in each of her classes going in to the finals. She would have EARNED her way out of finals if such a thing were possible. Unfortunately, our standards were too high, or we could have BOUGHT her way out.

Nice going, **HS. What’s next? A “straight A” slacker track for jocks? Oh, wait, maybe that’s not sarcasm; maybe it’s just déjà vu. I though we were past this nonsense, Mr. H*** and school board members – I thought we were going to get some honest improvements in rigor and academic integrity at **HS. I guess I’m a sucker… Need any more copy paper?


Oddball Word of the Day

paladin (PAL-uh-din): n. a knight errant; a chivalrous champion

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Monday, May 14, 2007

A Written Excuse

Dear Nagging Feelings of Guild and Aggravation:

I didn’t post last week because I had stomach flu and for four days I was either lying on the couch trying to sleep, trying to choke down a saltine cracker, or lunging for the bathroom. Then, once I felt marginally human again, I decided to follow my very hopeful program of taking real care of myself, and I took it comparatively easy….

Also, my sister sent me 30 lbs. of organic raspberry granola, and I stared at it like a deer in the headlights for statistically significant parts of five days thinking:

a) 30 lbs of granola?
b) I do like raspberries
c) 30 lbs of granola?
d) How am I going to store all of that?
e) If this is what didn’t fit in her pantry, how the heck much granola did she buy?
f) Maybe I should haul my cramping self over the computer and look up granola recipes.
g) 30 lbs of granola?…

Then there was the excessive mothering part of my week. The Doodler is in honors Algebra and will be having a placement test for high school math at the end of this week. His math teacher, otherwise a very sensible person, has gone completely insane, and assigned a 2-foot high stack of review packets on everything they’ve been learning for the last year. They are expected to work through several inches of it every night, and the Doodle was getting frustrated and behind and starting to want to avoid math.

Enter Math Mommy, who picked up a new battery-operated pencil sharpener on a trip to the store for Kaopectate and sat down every night to work through the math worksheets with him. Relearning multiple uses of the quadratic formula and revisiting a childhood nightmare in which I was unable to factor equations because I missed that week in school, was really hard on my ego, as well as on my dramatic skills, i.e. faking being utterly delighted and calm over math things I haven’t visited for a period of time measured in decades. Not only did my mouth feel chalky, but my brain felt pretty well calcified, too.

And that was just the after-dark mothering component. During the day, I got to deal with masculine and feminine versions of teenage moodiness, which I think is now called “being emo”, and Spawn having a temper surge so excessive that I’ve made an appointment for him to go talk to a third party about anger management. It took some mighty snappy maternal footwork to de-escalate that situation and show the kids how grownups deal with situations that are worrisome without stressing anyone out.

I had a good Mother’s Day, though. Got some nice, modest plunder, hubs cooked and herded the kids around, everyone was either nice to me or not making much noise, and I only spent 4 hours with Doodle doing math worksheets. Just enough to warm up the brain cells! I also watched a marathon of “Deadliest Catch” in spells with hubs. Reality shows like that one remind me that life could be worse, and wetter, and involve a lot of things that pinch and smell funny.

I feel fine now, and I’m ready to get back to it. Oh, by the way, do you have any recipes involving granola?


Oddball Word of the Day

auscultate (OSS-kuhl-tayt) v. to examine internal organs by listening to them through a stethoscope

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Oddball Word of the Day

psychataxia (sy-kuh-TAK-see-ah) n. inability to concentrate

(from the guide to MMMW edited by Laurence Urdang)