The real criminal is the P-S-D

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thoreau
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The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 16 Aug 2013, 14:15

Public School District, that is.

This article just makes me sad:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me ... .htmlstory
The biggest of his burdens was schoolwork. At Jefferson, a long essay took a page and perfect grades came after an hour of study a night.
This kid was at the top of his class, but nobody challenged him by assigning an essay longer than a page. Nobody challenged him with classes that require more than an hour of studying (in total) per night. I realize that his high school served a woefully under-prepared student body, but there were a few bright spots, and they couldn't even offer an honors section to challenge the bright spots.

Should he be at Berkeley? I don't really care. A few under-prepared and under-privileged kids in an elite institution doesn't shock my sensibilities, even if I suspect that there are more than enough kids out there who could be more successful if admitted. The social and equity issues and politics are what they are. What upsets me much more is that even the best kid in the high school was not assigned more than an absolute minimum of writing. Hell, bloggers and frequent grylliade posters (*cough*) probably write more than his teachers assigned him to write.

Also, while my veal farm doesn't get many kids from South LA (most of our students come from other neighborhoods), and while we rarely get salutatorians, we probably got kids who performed at a level comparable to his classmates in similarly lousy schools. It would explain why, when grading lab reports, I see a lot of the same things that his writing instructor at Berkeley saw:
"It took awhile for him to understand there was a problem," Delp said. "He could not believe that he needed more skills. He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn't have command of."
This is a very common problem in the papers that I grade.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Aresen » 16 Aug 2013, 14:34

thoreau wrote: He would revise his papers and each time he would turn his work back in having complicated it. The paper would be full of words he thought were academic, writing the way he thought a college student should write, using big words he didn't have command of."
This is a very common problem in the papers that I grade.[/quote]

Each time he complicated his paper, he transistored it to his indoctrinator, who would calibrate it and dissipate the augmentation.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 16 Aug 2013, 15:05

I just checked the Sacramento Bee's state salary database. The heroic writing instructor who did a lot of one-on-one with this kid made a whopping $16,780.75.

Her supervisor makes $96,539.50.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Stevo Darkly » 16 Aug 2013, 15:07

Y'all suddenly reminded me of this half-forgotten bit from "In Living Color."

Thoreau, you may not want to watch this at work or on a work-owned machine, as it may be culturally contentious within certain mileus.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 16 Aug 2013, 15:09

That is exactly what I was thinking about. At the time I thought it was a joke, but now I see it as a sad commentary on the ways in which people of certain socioeconomic backgrounds try to compensate for limited education.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Timothy » 16 Aug 2013, 15:10

thoreau wrote:I just checked the Sacramento Bee's state salary database. The heroic writing instructor who did a lot of one-on-one with this kid made a whopping $16,780.75.

Her supervisor makes $96,539.50.
TA & advisor?
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 16 Aug 2013, 15:15

Lecturer (already has a PhD) and writing center director.
Last edited by thoreau on 16 Aug 2013, 15:15, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Andrew » 16 Aug 2013, 15:15

In retrospect, I didn't enjoy the judges using "Res smart talk" as much as I should have.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 17 Aug 2013, 13:36

Jadagul would appreciate my conversation with a few math professors. I showed them this article and said that I blame the high school that never assigned long papers. Their response was that we have to look at it in the context of the culture of the local high school. In their cultural context, maybe they think that if they can get one good page out of the students that's as much as they can hope for. So, from their perspective, the high school did a good job. It's all, like, arbitrary, man.

My response is that this is educational malpractice. I don't care about their local culture, their perspective, etc. These teachers don't come from some island with no written language. They attended western colleges and universities. Well, some of them attended California public universities, but still. They know damn well that long writing assignments are necessary preparation for college.

Or maybe it's all, like, arbitrary, man. (I just blew my mind.)
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Number 6 » 17 Aug 2013, 13:51

You think preparing the students for college is forefront in the minds of those teachers?
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Jennifer » 17 Aug 2013, 13:52

I agree that kids need to write more, but I can think of one very good reason the teachers didn't assign more than they did: lack of time to actually read, correct and grade them all.

I remember interviewing for a teaching position in a magnet school; IIRC, the minimum student requirements were something like two long essays per week, in addition to all other regular English homework assignments. I'd have had something like 150 students -- six classes per day, 25 students per class. Two essays per week times 150 students equals 300 essays per week I must read, correct and grade, in addition to the tasks of "teaching six classes per day" and "making lesson plans for same" and "grading all the other daily homework assignments" and etc.

Even if I did a half-ass (quarter-ass) job of grading, and spent only five minutes on each essay -- that would be 25 hours a week spent just on grading the essays.

I withdrew my name from consideration for that job.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by lunchstealer » 17 Aug 2013, 14:26

Number 6 wrote:You think preparing the students for college is forefront in the minds of those teachers?
You seem to be implying that CCPOA members don't put educating young minds first, second, and third! For shame, sir, for shame.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Jennifer » 17 Aug 2013, 14:36

[Eyeroll] The only reason Communism failed is because of all those selfish, greedy capitalists who stubbornly kept refusing to sacrifice themselves for the greater good.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by D.A. Ridgely » 17 Aug 2013, 15:11

thoreau wrote:Jadagul would appreciate my conversation with a few math professors. I showed them this article and said that I blame the high school that never assigned long papers. Their response was that we have to look at it in the context of the culture of the local high school. In their cultural context, maybe they think that if they can get one good page out of the students that's as much as they can hope for. So, from their perspective, the high school did a good job. It's all, like, arbitrary, man.

My response is that this is educational malpractice. I don't care about their local culture, their perspective, etc. These teachers don't come from some island with no written language. They attended western colleges and universities. Well, some of them attended California public universities, but still. They know damn well that long writing assignments are necessary preparation for college.

Or maybe it's all, like, arbitrary, man. (I just blew my mind.)
Well, you know, if they can't write grammatical, properly spelled and cogent sentences, they probably can't write decent paragraphs. If they can't write decent paragraphs or can't grasp the notion of expository writing having an introduction, body and conclusion, they probably can't produce a basic three paragraph essay.

But if they can produce a three paragraph essay and if they can learn the rudiments of citation, footnoting and bibliographies, they should in principle be able to write anything up to and including a college senior thesis or even a master's thesis in many cases and, in fact, find employment in any number of jobs that require writing skills.

Sadly, however, few people with college degrees, let alone without, can do any of those things. On the other hand, that does result in a sort of happy employment security for those who can, so maybe it's not such a bad thing after all.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Number 6 » 17 Aug 2013, 15:39

lunchstealer wrote:
Number 6 wrote:You think preparing the students for college is forefront in the minds of those teachers?
You seem to be implying that CCPOA members don't put educating young minds first, second, and third! For shame, sir, for shame.
I think the object is to get the students through the pipeline, and to graduation. I doubt many of the students from that school go on to universities, and suspect that the teachers teach accordingly. I actually don't have that much of a problem with that, as long as there is a path for the academically gifted.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 17 Aug 2013, 17:15

Number 6 wrote:
lunchstealer wrote:
Number 6 wrote:You think preparing the students for college is forefront in the minds of those teachers?
You seem to be implying that CCPOA members don't put educating young minds first, second, and third! For shame, sir, for shame.
I think the object is to get the students through the pipeline, and to graduation. I doubt many of the students from that school go on to universities, and suspect that the teachers teach accordingly. I actually don't have that much of a problem with that, as long as there is a path for the academically gifted.
I've bolded the key part. I don't care if the teachers embrace the reality that most of their students won't go to college. We've had enough discussions here about how a 4 year degree is often over-rated.

But this is the kid that they identified as special (in the good way). This is the one that they said they would send to college. Surely there must be a handful of smart kids at the top of the class, enough kids that you can create one honors section. Maybe it wouldn't be "honors" by the standards of other districts, but by definition there must be 20 kids who are doing better than anybody else in their year. Put them in one class, and do something better than you do for the rest of the school. It might not be feasible to assign long papers 2x weekly and give detailed feedback, but do....do something better than you'd do for the rest. I realize that if this kid is having trouble with good sentences and paragraphs then he is not yet ready for five paragraph essays. However, the fact that he was at the top of his class tells me that if somebody had worked with him on this sooner he would have eventually improved. I believe that, with the right signals and feedback in high school, he could have improved. Anybody who graduates at the top of their class must be the sort who pays attention to academic feedback.

I have tremendous sympathy for this kid. For 12 years he did every single thing that was asked of him. He got good grades on the assignments that he was given. He graduated at the top of the class. He stayed out of trouble in a rough environment. In that regard, he totally belongs at Berkeley. He must have something special in him to do what he did. On some level I don't give a fuck about diversity, and I'm rather cynical about the UC system's thinly-veiled efforts to circumvent Prop 209, but I have zero objection to Berkeley admitting a salutatorian who came out of a rough environment. He must have something special in him.

But despite his talent and his hard work, the system played a cruel joke on him. He did what they asked and responded to the feedback he was given, but it was all inadequate. His teachers never asked enough, never critiqued him enough. So here he is, in a school full of people of similar drive and ability, but woefully under-prepared. He shows up to every single office hour to get feedback on essays, so it isn't his work ethic that's lacking. What's lacking is preparation. And, honestly, he isn't just under-prepared for Berkeley. He's probably under-prepared for my school as well. Based on the descriptions of his writing, I'd probably be marking an F on his lab report if he tried his hand at physics.

Part of me thinks that his teachers and principals committed malpractice. If he sued them, well, I don't know what the law says about liability for shitty education, but I'd be the most sympathetic juror on the face of the earth. If a judge let that case go forward and let me onto the jury, I'd issue a nice five-paragraph verdict that ends in a large number. That isn't a detailed policy prescription or legal argument, just an observation that it might be healthy for the system if somebody paid a price for the cruel joke that was played on him.

Another part of me actually has sympathy for his teachers. Despite my previous argument that they should create one special section, that is easier said than done. I'm not talking about budgets (by definition, there are 20 or 30 or whatever "top" students, and it costs nothing extra to put them in one section together), nor am I talking about bureaucratic rules (I have no doubt that there are all sorts of rules that I'm not aware of). Rather, I'm talking about the psychology. I know first-hand how hard it is to spend the morning in a freshman lab teaching people how to compute a percentage and spend the afternoon in advanced classes teaching advanced stuff. You spend enough time with people who say "You have to understand, at a place like this, with our students..." and even if you walk into that special advanced section, you are still walking in a different person than you were once upon a time. You spend enough time just being happy if they can do something, anything, and it's harder to bring yourself to ask even more.

Anyway, despite my sympathy for those teachers, I think somebody needs to come down on them. I say that because the most useful performance evaluation I ever got was the one that said my midterms were too easy. I don't know the right way to come down on them; it would be all too easy to impose a requirement that cannot be met in reality and thus gets "satisfied" with reports containing dubious data. Maybe it just has to be peer pressure. But somebody, somewhere, has to say something to them other than "You have to understand, at a place like this, with our students, you can't expect..."
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by the innominate one » 17 Aug 2013, 17:49

Educational malpractice indeed. They misled and deceived him by effectively grading on a curve relative to his school's performance. Too bad that bore little resemblance to realistic evaluation on a more objective scale.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Highway » 17 Aug 2013, 18:13

A question that occurs to me is whether some aspect of the 'communism' (for lack of a better word) of public schools had a hand in this. How expensive would it have been to find someone to help tutor this kid beyond what his crappy school could do? If they were so bent on doing right by this kid, yet the teachers themselves probably couldn't have even prepared him for Berkeley. But for whatever reason, they didn't realize that, or get someone who *could* prepare him. Instead, they pat themselves on the back that he got sent somewhere that he just wasn't ready for, that they didn't prepare him for, because he was the biggest fish in their eensy pond.

There were multiple examples when I was in school of kids getting special treatment, me included, because they were outside of what the school could do. High schoolers going to UMD for classes. 2nd graders put in special classes with 5th and 6th graders. Classes were separated by ability. Maybe it was that PG County was more used to that, maybe it was the particular schools I went to. But seeing a kid like this just get, well, failed by the school is terrible.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 17 Aug 2013, 18:26

Thing is, on one level this kid is totally ready for a top college, and on another level he isn't ready for any college. If his writing is as weak as the article makes it sound (and it sounds quite similar to problems that I encounter regularly, so I consider it credible) and if his school preparation was as poor as is claimed (it sounds a bit suspicious that a 1-page essay is "long", but I don't know enough to say for sure) then he isn't ready for any college. But if he's the top student in his cohort, and able to succeed and stay out of trouble in a tough environment, then he no doubt has something in him that makes him similar in ability to his peers at Berkeley.

There is no good answer here, for any system, public or private. Perhaps Berkeley could place him into a lower writing class. Perhaps they did. But those classes are taught by poorly-compensated and low-status people who lack the time and security to shake things up. And, sadly, the people who get the most fired-up about shaking things up to help the disadvantaged tend to wind up preaching sermons on the virtues of lowering standards. That has huge problems.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Highway » 17 Aug 2013, 19:02

I don't know if I'd concede he's 'ready' for a college on any level. I would say that he has a demonstrated aptitude that COULD make him a good college student. But it's raw 'talent' (again for lack of a better word) and not anything he's ready to apply. That's what the teachers were supposed to be for.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 17 Aug 2013, 19:27

Highway wrote:I don't know if I'd concede he's 'ready' for a college on any level. I would say that he has a demonstrated aptitude that COULD make him a good college student. But it's raw 'talent' (again for lack of a better word) and not anything he's ready to apply. That's what the teachers were supposed to be for.
I think the bigger issue than how we characterize this one kid's preparedness for whatever setting is that the top graduate of a public high school is not ready for a college-level composition class at ANY university in the state. I don't believe that universal 4 year degrees are a good goal, but somebody should be going for 4 year degrees, and high schools should be preparing at least some fraction of their student body to join that cohort.

Hell, even a lot of 2-year programs appropriately require a college-level composition class. It's a basic workforce skill.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Jadagul » 17 Aug 2013, 19:29

thoreau wrote:Thing is, on one level this kid is totally ready for a top college, and on another level he isn't ready for any college. If his writing is as weak as the article makes it sound (and it sounds quite similar to problems that I encounter regularly, so I consider it credible) and if his school preparation was as poor as is claimed (it sounds a bit suspicious that a 1-page essay is "long", but I don't know enough to say for sure) then he isn't ready for any college. But if he's the top student in his cohort, and able to succeed and stay out of trouble in a tough environment, then he no doubt has something in him that makes him similar in ability to his peers at Berkeley.

There is no good answer here, for any system, public or private. Perhaps Berkeley could place him into a lower writing class. Perhaps they did. But those classes are taught by poorly-compensated and low-status people who lack the time and security to shake things up. And, sadly, the people who get the most fired-up about shaking things up to help the disadvantaged tend to wind up preaching sermons on the virtues of lowering standards. That has huge problems.
Without commenting on the broader point, I don't think I ever wrote a paper longer than two pages in high school except once. My high school was big on the 500-word essay (and at least one teacher required "between 490 and 510 words").

It was an interesting exercise, actually, in that I got very good at editing my writing down to be as streamlined as possible--I'd usually rough draft a 650 word essay and then spend three hours chopping it down.

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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Number 6 » 17 Aug 2013, 19:51

Jadagul wrote:
thoreau wrote:Thing is, on one level this kid is totally ready for a top college, and on another level he isn't ready for any college. If his writing is as weak as the article makes it sound (and it sounds quite similar to problems that I encounter regularly, so I consider it credible) and if his school preparation was as poor as is claimed (it sounds a bit suspicious that a 1-page essay is "long", but I don't know enough to say for sure) then he isn't ready for any college. But if he's the top student in his cohort, and able to succeed and stay out of trouble in a tough environment, then he no doubt has something in him that makes him similar in ability to his peers at Berkeley.

There is no good answer here, for any system, public or private. Perhaps Berkeley could place him into a lower writing class. Perhaps they did. But those classes are taught by poorly-compensated and low-status people who lack the time and security to shake things up. And, sadly, the people who get the most fired-up about shaking things up to help the disadvantaged tend to wind up preaching sermons on the virtues of lowering standards. That has huge problems.
Without commenting on the broader point, I don't think I ever wrote a paper longer than two pages in high school except once. My high school was big on the 500-word essay (and at least one teacher required "between 490 and 510 words").

It was an interesting exercise, actually, in that I got very good at editing my writing down to be as streamlined as possible--I'd usually rough draft a 650 word essay and then spend three hours chopping it down.
One of my best writing teachers insisted on one-page essays on difficult topics. I once allowed the concluding paragraph to run onto the second page. I figured my brilliant prose and pithy insights would allow him to overlook that transgression. When I turned the paper in, the teacher, a Fr. Stark, ripped off the second page and handed it back to me, saying, "I'll just grade what I assigned." I was then marked down for lacking a conclusion.

The one-page papers were among the most difficult I was asked to write. They also taught me how to write tightly and concisely. Which was the point.

That being said, I don't think that is what was going on in this school.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by thoreau » 17 Aug 2013, 19:58

Number 6 wrote:
Jadagul wrote:
thoreau wrote:Thing is, on one level this kid is totally ready for a top college, and on another level he isn't ready for any college. If his writing is as weak as the article makes it sound (and it sounds quite similar to problems that I encounter regularly, so I consider it credible) and if his school preparation was as poor as is claimed (it sounds a bit suspicious that a 1-page essay is "long", but I don't know enough to say for sure) then he isn't ready for any college. But if he's the top student in his cohort, and able to succeed and stay out of trouble in a tough environment, then he no doubt has something in him that makes him similar in ability to his peers at Berkeley.

There is no good answer here, for any system, public or private. Perhaps Berkeley could place him into a lower writing class. Perhaps they did. But those classes are taught by poorly-compensated and low-status people who lack the time and security to shake things up. And, sadly, the people who get the most fired-up about shaking things up to help the disadvantaged tend to wind up preaching sermons on the virtues of lowering standards. That has huge problems.
Without commenting on the broader point, I don't think I ever wrote a paper longer than two pages in high school except once. My high school was big on the 500-word essay (and at least one teacher required "between 490 and 510 words").

It was an interesting exercise, actually, in that I got very good at editing my writing down to be as streamlined as possible--I'd usually rough draft a 650 word essay and then spend three hours chopping it down.
One of my best writing teachers insisted on one-page essays on difficult topics. I once allowed the concluding paragraph to run onto the second page. I figured my brilliant prose and pithy insights would allow him to overlook that transgression. When I turned the paper in, the teacher, a Fr. Stark, ripped off the second page and handed it back to me, saying, "I'll just grade what I assigned." I was then marked down for lacking a conclusion.

The one-page papers were among the most difficult I was asked to write. They also taught me how to write tightly and concisely. Which was the point.

That being said, I don't think that is what was going on in this school.
Exactly. If this kid had been given those sorts of assignments in high school, and had gotten A's on them, I'm quite certain that he would have mustered at least an acceptable grade in writing, even at Berkeley.
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Re: The real criminal is the P-S-D

Post by Jadagul » 17 Aug 2013, 21:52

thoreau wrote:
Number 6 wrote:
Jadagul wrote:
thoreau wrote:Thing is, on one level this kid is totally ready for a top college, and on another level he isn't ready for any college. If his writing is as weak as the article makes it sound (and it sounds quite similar to problems that I encounter regularly, so I consider it credible) and if his school preparation was as poor as is claimed (it sounds a bit suspicious that a 1-page essay is "long", but I don't know enough to say for sure) then he isn't ready for any college. But if he's the top student in his cohort, and able to succeed and stay out of trouble in a tough environment, then he no doubt has something in him that makes him similar in ability to his peers at Berkeley.

There is no good answer here, for any system, public or private. Perhaps Berkeley could place him into a lower writing class. Perhaps they did. But those classes are taught by poorly-compensated and low-status people who lack the time and security to shake things up. And, sadly, the people who get the most fired-up about shaking things up to help the disadvantaged tend to wind up preaching sermons on the virtues of lowering standards. That has huge problems.
Without commenting on the broader point, I don't think I ever wrote a paper longer than two pages in high school except once. My high school was big on the 500-word essay (and at least one teacher required "between 490 and 510 words").

It was an interesting exercise, actually, in that I got very good at editing my writing down to be as streamlined as possible--I'd usually rough draft a 650 word essay and then spend three hours chopping it down.
One of my best writing teachers insisted on one-page essays on difficult topics. I once allowed the concluding paragraph to run onto the second page. I figured my brilliant prose and pithy insights would allow him to overlook that transgression. When I turned the paper in, the teacher, a Fr. Stark, ripped off the second page and handed it back to me, saying, "I'll just grade what I assigned." I was then marked down for lacking a conclusion.

The one-page papers were among the most difficult I was asked to write. They also taught me how to write tightly and concisely. Which was the point.

That being said, I don't think that is what was going on in this school.
Exactly. If this kid had been given those sorts of assignments in high school, and had gotten A's on them, I'm quite certain that he would have mustered at least an acceptable grade in writing, even at Berkeley.
That's not what was going on at my school, either. My school was "this is all you need for standardized tests and college entrance exams." Our English classes were mostly PSAT prep--enough so that we did math practice in the English classes sometimes.

It was effective at test prep. Not that effective at teaching English.

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