During the Testing Season, I always discuss with my fourth graders what testing is all about, addressing their concerns and questions. I feel that when we make the process of teaching, learning and assessing transparent, they’ll be more comfortable and ultimately do better.
Here are the four most common questions I get from my students, along with my answers.
Question 1: If we do bad on this test will we get held back?
Answer: No. First of all, none of you are being held back. You’re all going on to fifth grade; and even if you weren’t, I would have started talking to you and your parents months ago about that very important decision.
But more importantly, moving on to the next grade is based on your ability to do the day-to-day classwork in fourth grade. And we assess your ability to do that all the time with the reading tests, the math tests and the writing assessments that you’re used to.
The SBA is different. It’s called a “Comprehensive Test” because it has questions from all of the material we’ve covered throughout the year. That’s why we’re reviewing all that stuff in the weeks leading up to the SBA.
And besides, by the time we get the results of your SBA it will be too late to decide what grade you’re going to be in. So don’t worry.
Question 2: Is it going to be hard?
Answer: Some questions will be easy, some will be very hard and the rest will be in-between. And there’s a good reason for that. Imagine if we had to test everyone to see how far you can throw a baseball. And imagine if we had that test in this classroom. I would give you the baseball and you would throw it as far as you could. Almost all of you would throw it from one side of the room all the way to the wall. As fun as that might be, it wouldn’t really tell us how for you can throw a baseball. All we would know is that you can throw it at least forty feet.
That’s what a really easy test is like. Everyone does really well, but we don’t really know how smart they are.
A better way to see how far you can throw is to take you out to a field big enough no one can throw across it. That’s what a harder – and better – test is like; no one can answer all the questions, just like no one can throw the ball clear across the field. But everyone can try, and we get to find out just how well you can do. So don’t worry if you get to a really hard question. Try your best, just like you would try to throw a ball across the field.
Question 3: Why do we have SBA testing?
Answer: I start by drawing a simple graph like this on the board:
I explain that most people come into Kindergarten not knowing very much. But they move through the grades, learning knowledge and skills along the way. Hopefully, by the end of high school, students will have all the knowledge and skills they need to get a good job or go to college. That’s certainly what we want for all of you.
But as you move through the grades, it’s important for your parents, your teachers – and especially you – to know how well you’re picking up the knowledge and skills you need. So beginning with third grade, we test you to see where you’re at. Hopefully, we find that you’re right around where that line is. If so, we’ll know that you’re on track. We might find that you’re a little below that line. If so, then we’ll work a little harder with you here at school and at home to get you back on track.
But the test is just one way of telling us how well you’re learning the knowledge and skills you need. Some people do much better on school work and class assignments than they do on tests. That’s why we look at all the evidence you’ve given us before we decide whether or not you’re on track.
Question 4: Can we chew gum?