You know how, every once in a while, we see news articles such as “US 8th graders rank 9th in mathematics compared to other nations”? It turns out some of these are based on a test called TIMSS, and this year M’s class was one of the 8th grade classes selected to take part in the test. The school sent home a notice ahead of time about it, reassuring parents that it was for informational purposes only, your students should not worry about it, etc. (Of course, I then jokingly told M that if he screws up, he’s going to make our entire country look bad. He rolled his eyes.)
Anyway, he took the test, and reported that much of it was ridiculously easy, including things like simple fractions and percentages which he learned years ago. It turned out that the part he had the hardest time with was the demographic questions at the end.
“What is the highest level of education completed by your mother (or stepmother or female guardian)?” He guessed that one right, though he’s probably far from the only kid who knows Mom went to college, but was not entirely clear on whether she got a bachelor’s or master’s degree there.
But when he got to “What is the highest level of education completed by your father (or stepfather or male guardian)?” he had to ask his teacher what to do. Because evidently whoever created the demographic questionnaire didn’t think to include an option for “I have no father (or stepfather or male legal guardian).”
I’m pretty pleased that M felt comfortable enough about our family structure to ask the teacher what to do; deep in the “I don’t want to appear different from anyone else” middle-school years, this is not something to take for granted. And I’m pleased that the teacher just took it in stride and told him to leave those questions blank.
Now if only the TIMSS people would realize that families come in more permutations than their little checkboxes allow for.