No, it’s not my high school locker combination. It’s my daughter’s “percentiles”. We had a visit to the pediatrician today, and among other things, Sam got some measurements taken. At 8lbs, 13 oz, she’s in the fifth percentile for kids her age (~2.5 months). At 21.5 inches long, her length (height?) is in the 15th percentile. I’ve forgotten what the raw data for her head circumference is, but it is in the 25th percentile.
I remember percentiles from my own days in grade school. Back then, it was OK to leave the stupid children behind. Nonetheless, we still had to take fairly regular standardized tests. Despite growing up in North Carolina, we took the California Achievement Test, or CAT — a source of confusion and irritation. After all, California had nothing to do with my education, why did they get to grade my performance?
When the results came back, the teacher (and principal?) were so pleased to report to me that I was in the 99th percentile. I, however, was devastated. I was used to getting 100s on my work. A 99, a 79, a 59, they were all the same to me — imperfect. Somehow, I’d really screwed up.
No, they exclaimed, It means you did better than 99% of the kids who took this test!
But there was no comfort there. I could do math, I knew lots of kids took the test, and I was just one. So, if 99% did worse than I did, that meant the remaining 1% must have done better than I did. And if a whole bunch of kids took the test, then 1%, while a low percentage, could still be a sizable number. And so were born imaginary hoards who, without straining a single neuron, could out-do my best efforts. I was used to knowing that there were adults, even older kids, who were smarter than I was. But, by the very definition of this test, all of the other takers were kids my age.
They tried other consolation — It was the highest score possible, etc., but by that point I was beginning to doubt their veracity. I mean certainly there was at least one kid for whom 100% of the other kids did worse than s/he did? Surely, if I’d answered EVERY question correctly, I could have been that kid? Percentiles. Don’t talk to me about percentiles!
[grin] And who says you can’t be too smart for your own good? What? Nobody said that. Oh, oh well.