Monday, July 30, 2012

The Make-or-Break Teachers

I'm getting ready to start a new school year. As always, there's a thought that lingers over all my preparations.

I hope I don't screw up any of the kids too much.

To be fair, I'm pretty sure I haven't screwed up any kids yet. There have been a few I wish I could've done more for, but I think my track record's pretty solid. There's a little extra anxiety this year since I'm starting at a new school—or rather, my old school after several years away.

It's an interesting situation, because it's the school I went to as a teenager, along with being where I launched my teaching career. My family and I are rooted in this area, so a lot of the neighbors know I'm returning to teach there. Several of them are hoping to transfer their child into my class if at all possible.

No pressure, ha-ha.

Seriously, though, one thing I've heard from parents in the last several weeks (and indeed the past several years) is how important they feel it is that their child gets the right math teacher. A good math teacher can take a student from hating math to at least tolerating it, if not better. A bad math teacher can bring a skilled student's progress to a grinding halt. Often that damage is never recovered.

Is it the same in other disciplines? Probably, to a degree, anyway. But it seems like the near-irreparability is more severe in math. I had English classes that I hated, but they couldn't kill my love for reading and writing (obviously). Then again, if I'd been a struggling reader in elementary school, and a bad teacher only reinforced and exacerbated my struggles, that could've set me back for the rest of my life.

Once past the learning-to-read stage, moving on to reading-to-learn, it seems the make-or-break power of teachers lessens somewhat. (I hope so, considering teens I've known with English teachers of ... questionable quality.) Math works a little differently, always with a new skill, a new principle to learn.

That makes my job potentially dangerous.

Maybe a different approach is in order. Maybe if I keep the focus on helping kids develop their ability to think, to reason, to problem-solve—and I don't mean "A Train leaves Station A at 6:45 am" kind of problems, I mean real "Here's a situation and we need a solution" problems—maybe that means I won't have to worry so much about breaking anyone.

Because you know what? There's something else underlying this whole line of thought. To have the power to break, I have to keep a monopoly on the power to build.

The students need to be allowed to build themselves. Maybe they'll suffer minor breakages along the way, too, but maybe that's what I'm really there for ...

... to provide the super-glue when they need to mend their own breaks.

Have you had experiences with teachers (math or otherwise) who had that make-or-break position in your life? What made the good ones good, and the bad ones terrors?

Friday, July 27, 2012

Being Simple Doesn't Mean It's Easy

Someone recently asked what it was that made my agent pluck me out of the slush and offer to represent me (beyond the obvious awesomeness—his words, not mine). I ventured that it was my high-concept hook that grabbed her attention, and then having a manuscript that lived up to the promise of the query. All it takes is an awesome, agent-baiting query and a manuscript that backs it up.

My agent happened to be present (thus the question), and while she agreed, she also laughed and said, "OH IS THAT ALL?"

Yes, if only it were as easily done as said. I certainly went through plenty of "Nope, not quite the right formulation" with prior novels.

But then I thought about it. Getting an agent obviously isn't easy. But it is simple.

Do you see the distinction?

It's like the game Operation. The directions aren't complicated. Get the tweezers in the opening, grab the little plastic piece, and pull it out without touching the edge of the hole. It's simple.

Does that make it easy? Not if you have unsteady hands like I do. It takes deftness and just the right touch. It's hard—some pieces harder than others, and some people struggle with it more than their friends.

Some may develop the skills quickly. Others may never be able to grab some of the pieces. The difficulty varies, but the simplicity of the process is the same for all.

I think sometimes we get frustrated in the query trenches by trying to unravel a magic formula, some secret complexity that only agented writers know about. Start with the title, genre and word count. No, those go at the end. Never use this phrase. Always close with that one.

Certain "rules" are handy for not giving agents headaches, but really, we don't need to expend energy worrying about that kind of stuff. It's simpler than that. Get the agent's attention so they're dying to read more. Once they start reading, make them fall in love.

It's also really hard. It takes work and research and even some luck.

If something's worth doing, it's worth working for.

What else in life have you found is simple, but not easy? How do you keep yourself motivated when the "hard" makes you feel like it's more complicated than it is?

ETA: It seems some felt this post was condescending, with me talking from my high post of now being agented and deigning to tell you all "how it's done."

I am truly sorry if it came across that way. It was not my intention. Those of you who are regulars on AQC know that I get asked for advice on querying all the time. Even before I was agented, but especially now. I am NOT AN EXPERT. Never have been. Yet I get asked. So I do my best to come up with advice that's universal enough, that's encouraging while still being realistic about how FREAKING HARD it is.

My only point in this post was to say, don't focus on the wrong stuff. Don't freak out over the minutiae. Remember the goal—the simple, but not easy goal—of getting the agent to read more, and then having the super-shiniest manuscript you're capable of to hand over.

Will the best you're capable always be enough? No. That's realistic. My best didn't get it done for years. I learned, I grew, I kept at it, I got lucky with some timing, and it happened. It can for you, too. I can't say it WILL happen for all of you. I won't lie.

But it certainly won't if you quit trying.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Confessions of a Goody Two-Shoes

I admit it. I'm a rule-follower.

In school, when the teacher said, "Do this," and "Don't do that," I stayed in line. Even when I could've gotten away with something. As a teenager, I didn't party. Never even would've occurred to me as a possibility. I didn't push the envelope with the dress code, I didn't use language worse than "crap," I didn't do anything that people seem to think all teenagers did (yes, even in my time, old crone that I am ... note sarcasm).

Sounds like I'd have made a really boring character for a YA novel. But that's beside the point.

This has extended into adult life. I show up to school earlier than required and stay at least until the end of my contract time. I still don't party.

I don't illegally download music or movies.

(Ah, now we're getting closer to my point.)

A couple of issues have sprung up this past week that got me thinking about what a goody two-shoes I am, and with particular significance to writers.

Issue #1: The Ubiquitous Piracy of eBooks

This isn't a new thing. It took a while, but the file-sharing phenomenon that's plagued music and film for years is really catching on in the eBook world.

There are those who say piracy increases sales. A cause-effect relationship there is dubious at best, and I have all kinds of problems with the way the statistics are interpreted by proponents of file-sharing.

Goody Two-Shoes Says: I. Don't. Care. I don't care if something that's wrong both legally and (in my opinion) morally helps my sales. (No, I don't mean that the illegality of something automatically makes it morally wrong. And yes, I had to add that it's my opinion because there are those who think file-sharing is morally right.) I'd rather have poor sales than benefit that way.

What's the right/best way to try to keep piracy under control? That's the tougher question. If you have thoughts, would love to hear them.

Issue #2: The Posting/Pinning of Pics You Don't Own

This one's a hot issue right now. An author was sued for posting a picture on her blog that she didn't have the rights to.

Nope, you can't just find an image through a search engine and post it on your website or blog or pin it on Pinterest. Some images are fair game, free for the taking. Others are flexible, allowing certain uses as long as you meet certain conditions, link back, etc. And others are strictly controlled by the artist, and if you want to use them, you'd better ask and be ready to live with their answer (possibly including payment).

Some of us knew this. Some didn't, which is fine. A lot of us grew up in the internet age, but that doesn't mean we were sufficiently educated in how to properly handle all this intellectual property that's now so easy to access. Now we all know, and I see everyone taking steps to make sure they're only using images properly.

But even as they clean up their blogs, I see some saying, "This is stupid. This makes my life harder."

Goody Two-Shoes Says: So what if it's inconvenient? I mean, really? Visual artists and photographers shouldn't get the same respect we want as authors under Issue #1?

How about instead of grumbling, we direct our energy to educating about artists' rights? Maybe we should talk to the kids in our lives about how the ease of 'copy-paste' doesn't make it right.

Or am I just outdated in this whole idea of following the rules?

Monday, July 23, 2012

Talking Basically About Bases

You may or may not know that we operate in a base-10 number system, which is a beautiful thing. It spares us from the agony of Roman numerals, where years looked something like this:


Instead of like this:


Remember all that talk about place value in elementary school? Ones, tens, hundreds, thousands, and so on? That's the base-10 idea. Multiply 10 by itself successively, and you get the next place value.

Ten isn't the only number to base a system on, though. Convenient with our ten-fingered anatomy, but it's not even the only base we use on a regular basis. Time notoriously operates on non-ten bases. (Makes figuring elapsed time tricky for some students.) And since this particular country refuses to go metric, most of our measurements avoid the ease of base-10.

There are plenty of practical applications for other bases, but when I first learned about them in school, I remember just thinking it was cool to write a number that meant something other than what it looked like. Sort of a mathematical code.

For example, take base-8. We have to reassign all the place values. The ones place is still the ones place. The next place to the left is now the eights place. And the next is the eight-squareds (or sixty-fours) place, followed by the eight-cubeds (or five-hundred-twelves) place. So earlier I mentioned the year 1988. In base-8, that'd be

3 five-hundred-twelves
7 sixty-fours
0 eights
4 ones

So the year 1988 converts to 3704.

If someone gave me a worksheet of numbers to convert to different bases right now, I'd probably be a happy camper working through it.

And that concludes our Yes-I-Am-A-Geek moment for this week.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Gratuitous Kitten Cuteness

If you follow me on Twitter, you probably caught that we've recently added to the family with two new kittens. We've known for a while that we wanted to and finally got out to some shelters over the past couple of weeks.

My mom and sister had already decided one thing they wanted: A black cat that we'd name Loki. (Remember my sister's Tom Hiddleston fixation? Yeah.) You'd think deciding something like that in advance would doom us to a really bad fit, but that wasn't the case.

We went to the shelter closest to us, and there she was. A 3-4 month old black kitten, climbing the gate of her cage and screaming at us (literally) to take her home. Having had her for a couple of weeks now, she can definitely be a little imp sometimes (so the name fits), but she's also a cuddly sweetheart. In fact, as I type this, she's perched half on my shoulder, half on the pillows I'm sitting against with her purr right in my ear.

Next up, we drove to another shelter much farther. There we found a younger brown tabby that we've named Pika. While Loki has lungs enough to bring the vet's office cat running with worry (yes, that actually happened), Pika has the tiniest meow ever, when it comes out at all. Half the time, her mouth moves but no sound comes out.

Now for the gratuitous part. An entirely-too-long-for-what-it-is bit of video of the two new buddies. This is pretty much what happens to me every day while everyone else is at work and I'm trying to write. Enjoy!

(If you're wondering about the colored claws, they're plastic caps to keep them from shredding myself and everything else on the planet. And yes, Pika totally starts it, apparently forgetting that Loki's bigger.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Choose Your 'Tude

Anyone who knows me could tell you that I'm a mix of realist and recuperating perfectionist. I hope for the best without getting my hopes up. I acknowledge when I do well without getting out-of-control big-headed ... well, I try, anyway.

Like anyone else, I have those moments when I get down on myself. I've had aspects of stories that I wondered if I'd ever get right. I've been afraid I'd never come up with a good story idea again. (That one still comes along now and then.) I've had manuscripts get several requests, only to get rejections that left me saying, "Mindy, what am I doing wrong? How on earth do you get an agent to 'fall in love' with a book?" (Yes, Mindy has been the recipient of any and all negativity rants.)

That last bit has been key for me—having someone to vent to when I'm feeling insecure and uncertain. Someone who doesn't just blast sunshine back at me. ("No, RC, you're the awesomest, they don't even know, you rock everything!") Someone who acknowledges my feelings, counteracts with factual evidence, and admits when she doesn't have the answers, either.

So despite my ability to criticize myself to death, I've managed to keep an attitude of "If I keep trying, I'll keep getting better, and eventually I'll get there."

There's a different approach that can certainly be tempting, but I feel certain is less effective. The frequent, public declarations of, "I suck. I'll never succeed at this. I'm screwed."

Well, yeah. I believe that's called a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I'm not a sunshine-and-rainbows, super-jam-packed-with-positivity type person. But I do know one of the few things we can control in this industry (and life in general) is our attitude.

If we're overconfident, we annoy others with our arrogance. And we look foolish when we inevitably can't deliver.

If we constantly declare ourselves full of supreme suckitude, what are we looking for? Baiting others into a pity party? Fishing for compliments, which we'll then refuse to accept (because, y'know, we're so convinced of our suckiness)?

Hard truth: I am not here to convince anyone of their greatness, particularly anyone who doesn't want to believe it. I'm busy maintaining my own ego's balance.

You don't have to believe you're great. You just have to be passionate enough about writing (or whatever you're doing) to keep working at it, and believe that if you do, you'll improve.

And you are the only one with the power to do that.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Just the Facts, Ma'am

One of the fun little debates in math education is over the importance of "knowing your math facts." By this, people generally mean having your times tables memorized, that kind of thing.

How important is this? I admit, it's a little frustrating when I'm trying to get a student to understand a complex higher-math problem (algebra, maybe), and they get slowed down trying to remember what nine-times-six equals.

On the other hand, I find it more worrisome when a student has their multiplication facts down pat, but can't problem-solve enough to figure out that multiplying is what they're supposed to do in the first place.

Then there's my favorite situation: Students who know their multiplication facts, but have to count it out to add or subtract.

Instead of memorizing math facts, I'm more a fan of developing math fluency. When I was in elementary school, I had most of my times tables down, but struggled with the twelves. It didn't matter, though, because I knew I could just multiply by eleven then add the number I wanted to multiply by twelve. I could do it quickly enough that my teachers never knew I hadn't memorized those facts.

And it didn't matter.

That's math fluency. It requires having some math facts under your belt, but more importantly, a fundamental understanding of operations and how they work.

What do you think? What are the benefits of memorizing math facts? How did you handle learning those facts in school? Would you do it differently if you could go back?

Friday, July 13, 2012

Twitter Tips: The #FF Faux Pas

On Wednesday, I talked about some Facebook pet peeves. Today it's time for another little talk about Twitter.

If you're on Twitter, you're probably familiar with the #FF (Follow Friday) trend. The idea is that you use the hashtag to give a shout-out to someone you think other people should follow. Here's what a lot of the #FF tweets in my feed look like:

#FF @ThatOneGuy @TheOtherDude @ACoolChick @MyBFF @SuperAwesomeLady @BoyITweetedOnce

Um ... I have to confess. I've never once followed anyone who showed up in a list like that.

A slight improvement might look like this:

#FF some cool writers @WritesALot @WritesAndReads @AnotherAuthor @FictionaholicsAnonymous

At least I know they're writers, but ... I already follow a lot of cool writers. I get random writers following me because they found "writer" in my profile, and I already have to decide whether to follow them back. I'm not in the camp of trying to follow every writer on Twitter.

What would an effective #FF look like (in my opinion)? It'd take a little more effort and require spreading a little less love, but that love would be more apparently sincere. For example:

#FF @SaraMegibow for her #10queriesin10tweets every Thurs. Great stuff!

Or ...

#FF @bigblackcat97 for no-nonsense YA, rural-life hilarity, and general randomosity.

Like I said the last time I talked about Twitter, tweet like you mean it.

As a corollary, the "reply all" style thank-yous for #FF mentions. Here's my thinking. If I'm already mentioned in the #FF, I saw it. Why do I need to see that someone else in the list thanked the initial tweeter?

Of course, that leads to a bigger question: Is our goal in thanking someone to show gratitude, or to be seen to show gratitude?

And have I been guilty of all of the above at one time or another? Absolutely. But I'm going to try to do better.

What are your thoughts on #FF? Do you find them effective? How so? Please share your tips and tricks.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Dilemma of Authors on Facebook

It's a question that comes up all the time on AgentQuery Connect. How (if at all) should authors use Facebook?

After being heavily involved in a couple of online writers' communities, I ended up with a lot of writer-friends on Facebook. Some are aspiring, some are self-published, some work with (or have founded their own) small presses, some are agented, and some are traditionally published.

I admit, I've been cutting back on my Facebook use because it's gotten overwhelming. Book release parties, announcements for signings, groups for these authors, groups for those authors ... and that's in addition to the invites, groups, and requests to play some game or another that I get from non-writing friends.

Slightly overwhelming, especially when I want to keep my Facebook check-in time brief.

I tried just ignoring things, focusing on what I prioritized, but darn if Facebook doesn't make notifications obnoxious. If I get added to a group, I get a notification every time someone (or a friend, at least) posts in that group. If I get invited to an event, I get a notification when a friend posts in that event, even before I've gone in to say Join, Maybe, or Decline.

So, I say no. Not to everything, but to a lot of things.

Turns out for some of these things (Events, at least), the person in charge gets notified when I decline. Enter the guilt.

Cluttering feeds doesn't sell books. Neither do guilt trips (at least not for me). How, then, does one effectively use Facebook as an author?

I'll throw a few ideas out there, all of them theoretical from my perspective, and all of them just my opinion. I'm sure others will disagree.

Use a separate page. Either an Author Page or a Book Page for a specific book/series. Whatever you like. Let us know the page is there (and link to it conveniently on your blog/website), and then use that page for posting promotional information.

Don't double-dip. This might just be me. If so, no problem. I'll chalk it up to another of my picky quirks. But once you have that separate page, don't simul-post the same information to both it and your personal account. Sure, some people will only see one or the other, but those of your friends who also Liked your page? Shows up twice back-to-back.

Be judicious in your use of Events and Groups. I'm fine with the occasional event invitation. When Events are created for every little thing, though, it crosses into the land of annoyance. I've never set up an Event, but I assume it's possible to not invite ALL your Facebook friends. Choose invitees mindfully. Groups are especially tricky since Facebook allows you to add friends to groups without really asking them.
Think before you add—Does this person really fit the parameters of this group?

Don't take it personally. If a friend declines an invitation or leaves a group you added them to, don't assume it means they hate you, or are jerky poo-heads. Everyone has their own way of using Facebook, and maybe your event or group doesn't fit in their model. And remember that it's much more likely to reflect an annoyance with Facebook and its settings than you personally.

Do you have any tips or tricks for making Facebook use easier? Pet peeves of your own that you've seen done by writers? What ways do you see Facebook working for authors?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Time May Be Relative, But You Can Control It

Are you guys familiar with Einstein's big idea about time being relative? It's one of my favorite topics in physics, but I know some people aren't as crazy about it. (In my mom's words, it makes her mind go "blinky.")

Here's the basic idea, and it has to do with the speed of light in a vacuum being constant no matter the speed of the source. Suppose one person stays on Earth while another flies away on a spaceship going a significant fraction of the speed of light. Also suppose that they magically have a way of keeping an eye on each other instantaneously as the one travels.

To the guy on Earth, a day passes, but his monitor of the spaceship shows only a handful of minutes has passed there.

To the guy on the spaceship, a day passes, but his monitor of Earth shows years have passed there.

(The exact ratios depend on what fraction of the speed of light the spaceship is going, but you get the idea, I hope.)

Does that seem really bizarre and out there? It shouldn't. We run across the same thing all the time in our writing efforts.

(Yes, I just segued from Einstein to writing fiction.)

Sometimes you read a scene that's supposed to happen in a matter of seconds, but you feel like it takes hours. Or significant time is supposed to pass, but it feels like the blink of an eye.

Time passage mismatch = PROBLEM

The most obvious solution may be a matter of real estate on the page. Something that's supposed to happen quickly takes only a line or two. The passage of more time gets several paragraphs.

That might work in certain situations, but what if the details of that super-quick scene are significant? What if nothing of note happened in the passage of three months?

In the first situation, how do you get those details in there without getting that feeling of sluggishly trudging along? I've had some success with shorter, snappier sentences, particularly in fight scenes and the like.

In the second situation, how do you get across that passage of time without just a blink-and-you'll-miss-it statement of "Three months later..."? I think that's a matter of transitions. Those three words may be too little. Several paragraphs about a lot of irrelevant nothing happening during those months is too much. But a few carefully worded sentences in the transition can give that weight, get the reader in that feeling of time passing.

Those are the first solutions that came to my mind, but I'm sure there are more. What tips do you have for controlling your readers' perception of time?

And for those of you interested, here's one of my favorite clips explaining that whole time dilation concept.

Friday, July 6, 2012

What's a Waste?

Waste. To misuse, squander, flush down the toilet. Seems easy enough to define, right?

But what really constitutes wasting something?

This summer marks a big change for me. I left an excellent job teaching at a school for the deaf so I could move back closer to my family. This fall I'll start a new (likely excellent) job in a regular public school, teaching math to hearing kids.

It's where I started my teaching career, three years of regular ed. Then I flew away to western New York for two years of grad school, followed by the last six years teaching deaf kids. Now I've come full-circle, heading back to a classroom where my fluency in ASL will be a quirk, not a job requirement.

The notion has been raised more than once that it's sort of a shame, because I'm 'wasting' the master's degree I earned.

Am I? Have the past eight years been a waste?

First off, I intend to find a way to get involved with the Deaf community here. I don't know what shape that will take, but I'll look for the right opportunity. Plus, certain former students know they can drop me a line if they need some math-help-by-webcam.

Even without that, though, I don't think anything about the past eight years has been a waste. My years in the world of deaf education helped me figure out what it took to be independent, taught this hopeless introvert how to fake it when I have to, and brought people into my life that I can't imagine missing out on.

That's the most important part—the people. Through the people I've interacted with, I learned more about my own strengths and weaknesses, and I've explored new avenues. Without the environment I was in, and the people surrounding me, would I have ever thought to attempt writing a novel?

I kind of doubt it.

And if I had, I suspect my stories and characters would have been very different, probably not in a good way.

My journey through grad school and a school for the deaf may look like an erroneous detour that I've now pressed the reset button on, but it's not. I've continued moving forward, even though that's brought me back to where I started. I'm not the same as when I started, so this next stage in my journey isn't what it would've been if I'd stayed here to begin with.

Anything that enriches your life can't be a waste. That's how I see it, anyway.

Does anyone else know the feeling? Have you done something that looked on the surface like wasting something—your time, your skills, your potential? What inner value do you hold onto, keeping it out of the waste bucket?

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

We're, Like, Y'know, in the FUTURE!

Today's post is kind of an extension of last week's Putting the Sci in Sci-Fi. But first, some lead-in.

Those of you who are on Twitter may know that @AngelaJames (executive editor at Carina Press) occasionally does an #EditReport session where she shares quotes from her editors on why manuscripts were rejected, then concludes with quotes on acceptances. In a recent session, the following tweet popped up:

I've noticed the same problem occasionally in science fiction, most particularly in YA. The characters are a little too much like teenagers of today plunked down in some futuristic setting. When that happens, it doesn't matter how much awesome world-building you've done. Your characters reveal it all to be cardboard backdrops on a junior high stage.

Would characters in your story still wear jeans? I mean, jeans have been around a while, so maybe, especially if it's near-future. But maybe not. Would they still say "cool" or "awesome" or "creeper" or "legit"?

It's a dilemma, though. Especially that bit about the language. Any type of current slang in a definitely-not-current setting will knock me right out of the story. On the other hand, I know invented slang is tricky, often making readers feel like these out-of-the-blue words are being shoved down their throats.

Remember the bit in Mean Girls where poor Gretchen tries to force her own slang upon the world?

(where I got this)
Sometimes when reading, I feel like giving the characters and/or author the same response Queen-Bee Regina finally gave:

"Gretchen, stop trying to make 'fetch' happen. It's not going to happen."

With my own efforts at invented slang, I've tried to make it as organic as possible. Often what I do is take something current and twist it a bit. So far, it's gotten good reactions from people who are ordinarily pretty picky about such things.

We don't know what the future will be like. We don't know what teenagers then will be like. That's part of the fun of writing science fiction. At the same time, we want these characters to have a core that our modern-day readers can relate to. So it's yet another balancing act for us to manage.

Do you have any tricks for making futuristic teens futuristic enough without losing their common thread with teen readers? Any pet peeves about too-contemporary elements showing up in a far-removed time period?

Monday, July 2, 2012

Math Rant: Screwy Stats

I have to say, I love me some statistics. Have I collected student scores and done a little analysis? Why, yes, I have. Have I collected and graphed data related to my writing? Oh, wait, you already know I have.

The thing is, I also know the limitations of statistics—what it takes for them to be meaningful, how far you can or can't take the results. That data I analyze from my students? I use it to give me some direction as a teacher, figuring whether things are improving, whether a particular concept fell through the cracks, etc. Not much more than that.

As we all know, of course, statistics on education can get used for a lot more. I get the need for assessment (in some form) and accountability (in some form), but often when I see articles reporting school success/failure, I wonder if the people involved have the first clue about statistics.

Case in point: I recently saw an online report about the 50 best and 50 worst schools in the state, in reference to percentage of students achieving proficiency on the state's high-stake testing. It reported results for Language Arts, Science, and Math.

The first thing that struck me was that whether looking at the 50 best or 50 worst, the percent passing math was WAY lower than the other two the majority of the time. That made me scratch my head, so I glanced down at the comments.

Several people noted that AP students didn't take the state test.

I haven't had a chance to dig into it yet, but if true, it makes those reported percentages almost meaningless. "We want to see how your school measures up ... but we're not going to count the top students."

This is why when I see statistics reported, I have next-to-no reaction. Not until I know more about where the numbers are coming from. In broader situations, I ask myself questions like, who was included in the sample? How was the sample selected? How were questions worded?

Be careful when reporting statistics as part of an argument. They may or may not back you up as much as you think. Dig a little deeper to find the whole story.

ETA: Did my own digging-a-little-deeper, and it's actually worse than I thought. The last math courses to participate in the state test are Algebra I and Geometry. The website was reporting on the results of high schools, many of which around here are only grades 10-12. By that time, even the "average" students are past those levels. So the published results only showed the proficiency of the lowest group. No wonder the math percentages were so much worse than the other subjects (which I believe test higher numbers of students in high school).

Have you run into questionable statistics? Any pet peeves on how you see them reported? Do you find yourself completely confuzzled when facing the numbers?