Kaplan Parent's Guide to MCAS for 4th Grade

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780684870878
  • Publisher: Kaplan Publishing
  • Publication date: 1/7/2000
  • Pages: 64
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 9.06 (h) x 0.17 (d)


INTRODUCTION Although several years have passed since you were nine years old, your fourth-grade experience and your child's are probably not very different. There are still spelling bees at school, dodgeball games at recess, and giggling fits during class in which students try to stop laughing, but just can't. These are all memories you can share with your child. However, the experience of spending weeks in intensive preparation for three different multisession standardized tests is one your child will have all on his or her own.

The tests in question are the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, also known as the MCAS. The fourth-grade exams, which roughly seventy thousand children take annually, are similar to the MCAS exams given to all Massachusetts eighth- and tenth-graders around the same time. The fourth-grade MCAS exams are actually three different tests given to students in multiple sessions. There is an English Language Arts test, a Mathematics test, and a Science & Technology MCAS test. A Writing MCAS for fourth-graders will be debuting in the spring of 2000 as well, but the results for this test will not be released. The Writing MCAS will have questions that the educators will use to prepare for the Writing MCAS in 2001, when the results will count.

All MCAS tests are a mixture of multiple-choice questions and questions with extended open-ended answers. The English Language Arts exam also contains an early session during which the students must write a composition, while the Mathematics MCAS has five short-answer questions along with its multiple-choice and extended open-response questions. Critics of the test complain that some IRS forms are easier to understand than this test format. While this may be true, if you and your child familiarize yourselves with the test structure, your child will not be confused or frustrated by the test format and will instead approach the exam with the confidence of a veteran accountant handling a 1040EZ form.

How the MCAS Tests Were Born

Even though these fourth-grade tests do not cover past events, a little history here will help put the tests in perspective. In 1993 the state of Massachusetts passed the Education Reform Act, a $5-billion law aimed at doubling the amount of money the state spent on education. Among other things, the Reform Act set high academic standards for all students in seven core subject areas. The MCAS was created to test how well students were learning these subjects. The effects of the higher standards were shown in the results from the first wave of students who took this new test (the MCAS debuted in 1998): only 34 percent of all Massachusetts fourth-graders received a passing grade on the Math exam, while only 20 percent received an acceptable grade on the English Language Arts MCAS (66 percent of all students landed in the "needs improvement" category in English). These massive failure rates made headlines statewide and, understandably, caused widespread concern (and finger-pointing) among parents and educators. Some critics claim the test was too hard, others that the students are poorly prepared. The debate continues.

Though the dust has yet to settle, one thing seems clear: low scores do not mean these tests will be made easier or eliminated. The emphasis on standardized testing at all levels is growing stronger, not weaker. In fact, more MCAS tests, such as a History & Social Sciences test, are being added at various grade levels. With "accountability" the pervasive theme in national education, more and more states are setting academic standards and then rewarding or punishing schools depending on whether they achieve these standards.

What's at Stake?

With so much emphasis being placed on the MCAS, you'd think the fourth-graders who take it should be given the right to vote as a reward (at least in state elections). Quite a bit is at stake, for both the child and the school district. The state ranks all schools by how well their students fared on the exam. School districts that do badly may fire superintendents, principals, or teachers, although no specific plan is yet in place to deal with low-scoring schools. As for the individual fourth-grader, each school district must decide whether students who fail the tests can be promoted to the fifth grade, so the fate of the thousands of students who might fail in 2000 will be determined by geography.

How You Can Help

Many of you are already aware of how important the fourth-grade tests are to your son or daughter, which is why you picked up this book. While your child's teacher is probably already doing some exam-related work in the classroom, nothing is better for your child than receiving personal tutoring from someone she trusts. Since Mr. Rogers is very busy this time of year, that person will have to be you. Inside this book are all the facts, tips, questions, activities, and advice you will need to help your child succeed on the fourth-grade MCAS tests. The Parent's Guide to the MCAS for Grade 4 lets you know exactly what skills are being tested on these three exams, gives you test-taking strategies to make approaching these tests easier, and tells you exactly how to teach your child these skills and strategies. By analyzing and discussing the tests in detail, our goal is not only to provide you and your child with the basic knowledge she needs to excel on the tests, but to instill a sense of confidence through familiarity, since feeling confident and prepared for these long, involved exams is a key factor in how a student fares on the tests.

After reading this book, both you and your child should feel ready to take on the tests first, and then the fifth grade. While that feeling might not do you any good in your adult life, it will do wonders for your kid.

Copyright © 1999 by Anaxos Inc.

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