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GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents

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Parents' guide to SBAC testing

See what skills are tested, understand your child's scores, and get ideas for how you can help at home.


4th grade
ELA/Literacy Skills

Fourth graders should read smoothly and with expression. Instead of skipping unknown words, they should use context, root words, or a dictionary to figure them out.


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Fourth graders should be independently reading increasingly challenging books, such as The Black Stallion, and poems, such as Shel Silverstein’s Whatif. They will discover a range of sentence structures and vocabulary words (like descended) that make them flex their reading muscles. As students discuss what they’ve read, they should be able to point to several examples in the text (also called evidence) to back up their ideas.

Kids need to explain their thinking, use details, and make connections between what they read and what they already know.

Fourth graders begin to make sense of information presented in maps, timelines, and charts in history or science readings. Students are expected to work independently, even on challenging assignments that require research.

At this age, children are also expected to understand some figurative language, such as idioms and expressions that aren’t literal. (Example: You’ve lost your mind!)

Watch how a teacher gets a fourth grader to explain what she’s learning as she reads.

Want to know more?

At this age, kids are shifting from literal to abstract thinking. A literal thinker sees the Statue of Liberty as a lady holding a torch, but an abstract thinker recognizes that the statue represents freedom. As fourth graders come across more interesting sentences and words, new vocabulary and figurative language make reading more difficult but also more enjoyable. Note that figurative language can be especially challenging for students whose first language isn’t English because they must first learn and understand the literal meaning before interpreting the symbolism. (Imagine trying to understand He needs to get his ducks in a row if you were learning English!)

Fourth graders notice similarities and differences between the texts they read. They are developing an understanding of a narrator’s point of view (writing in the first person versus the third person) and an author’s purpose for writing.

If your child didn't meet the reading standard...

  • Your child may struggle to draw conclusions based on clues in the text.
  • Your child might come to the right conclusions but not point to the right evidence.
  • Your child may have difficulty finding the meaning of new words using clues in the word itself or the context.
  • Your child may need to practice the skills above with text that is more challenging than they are used to.
How to help

Read together and ask your child questions

In addition to stories, remember to read nonfiction texts. Pick something your child is interested in, maybe biographies, animals, or ancient civilizations. If a book or article is hard for your child to read, it’s perfectly fine to take turns reading aloud.

Questions to ask while reading with your child

Here are some questions to get your child thinking. (Remember to ask Why? and How do you know?)

  • What is this page mostly about? Why do you think that?
  • Why do you think the character did that?
  • What is the main lesson of this book or article? How do you know that?
  • Why did the author write this story? What makes you think that?

Helping your child understand new words

New words can get in the way of your child’s understanding. If your child pauses or stumbles on a word, he may not know its meaning. When your child comes across a word he doesn’t know, try this:

  • Ask your child to read the rest of the sentence to see if understanding the context helps.
  • Ask your child to explain what’s happening in the story or article. Then see if he can guess what the new word might mean.
  • Ask your child to try replacing the new word with another word that means the same thing. If she doesn’t know, tell her and have her repeat the new word.
  • Ask your child if he recognizes part of the word (for example, recognizing compete in the word competition).

Practice, practice, practice

These 15 lessons at will give your child some practical experience reading a variety of subjects, finding evidence, determining the main ideas, and using clues in the text to improve his skills.

Watch how a teacher guides a fourth grader through the process of figuring out new words.

Build your child’s academic vocabulary

It’s important for fourth graders to build their academic vocabulary. These are words that are used often, in many subjects, but can be hard to define, such as confirm, prefer, and typical. Academic vocabulary is also more precise (for example, argued, exclaimed, or described instead of said). Check out this list for more academic vocabulary words to use with your fourth grader.

To increase your fourth grader’s academic vocabulary, introduce a new word every day. Tell your child the meaning of the new word, and have him look up another word that means the same thing. For instance, prefer means the same as would rather. Next, make up a sentence using the word. I prefer going for a walk instead of running today. For fun, help your child start a daily word journal. In a notebook or journal, have your child write the word and create his own sentence using the new word. Maybe he’d like to draw a picture to illustrate his sentence, too. The more memorable the sentence, the better!

Talk to your child’s teacher

Reading requires a combination of many skills: decoding, fluency, reading with expression, and comprehension. Kids also need to be steadily growing their knowledge about the world with every new article, book, and website they read. Ask your child’s teacher which of these skills are strongest for your child, and which areas need support. Then ask for the best ways you can help.


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

At this age, kids need to explain their thinking, use details, and make connections between what they read, hear, and write.

Fourth graders should be able to write to tell a story (narrative writing), to inform about a topic (informational writing), or to convince someone of their opinion (persuasive writing).

When they reach fourth grade, kids need to organize supporting information clearly. In any type of writing, fourth graders are expected to stay focused on their main idea and write each paragraph to build on the previous one. Your fourth grader’s writing should start with a strong introduction that grabs the reader’s attention and end with a clear conclusion that restates the main idea. She should include details and facts to support the main points in her writing. Read a few real-life examples of fourth grade nonfiction writing.

See what organized writing looks like in fourth grade.

Finally, your fourth grader’s punctuation, capitalization, and spelling should be (mostly) correct.

See what teachers are looking for in your fourth grader’s writing

Want to know more?

At this age, kids should be good at catching their own capitalization, punctuation, and spelling mistakes and correcting them independently.

Part of the writing test is devoted to students fixing spelling and grammar errors and choosing which words fit best. Another part of the test asks kids to write and revise their own piece. All kids tackle the same topic when they write, but they are randomly given a narrative, informational, or opinion prompt. They must write in that style. Before the students start writing, the teacher leads a student discussion to help the kids remember what they already know about the topic. Students are then given sources to read that they can (and should) draw from in their writing.

If your child didn't meet the writing standard...

  • Your child may need help understanding what type of writing a prompt is asking for.
  • Your child may need help writing a clear main idea.
  • Your child may have trouble choosing facts that support the main idea and/or including those facts to make a clear argument.
  • Your child’s writing may lose focus along the way, or the introduction and conclusion may be weak.
  • Your child’s writing may include too many grammar, spelling, or punctuation errors.
How to help

Make writing fun

When you help your child with writing, remember to celebrate his creativity and help him write his ideas clearly. Pay little attention to punctuation and spelling errors for now. (No need to take out the red pen!) Your child should improve on these as he moves through school.

  • Keep a journal — Encourage your child to write in a journal about what happens each day.
  • Gimme a play by play — When your child comes home from a field trip, play date, or outing, ask him to write down what happened. If he’s suddenly not interested in sharing because he doesn’t want to write, let him tell you verbally but also ask him to write down the important parts of what he is saying.
  • Become the expert — Ask your child to write a report for a younger sibling, cousin, or family friend to teach them about his favorite topic, whatever that may be: electric currents, U.S. presidents, the fastest cars, drawing cartoon characters, etc.
  • Verbal brainstorm — If your child’s struggling with what to write, have a conversation to get him talking about what he knows. Talking ideas through makes those ideas clear before writing.
  • Playwright — Kids often enjoy turning parts of stories into plays. Encourage it! And be an attentive audience when they are ready to perform.

Clarify that, please

Use these 12 tools at to understand what’s expected of a fourth grader when the test talks about informative/explanatory, argumentative, or narrative writing.

Talk to your child’s teacher

What’s missing in your child’s writing? Your child’s teacher can tell you, but it’s better to ask her to show you. Bring in a couple of your child’s writing samples and ask the teacher to point out what’s working and where your child’s writing needs work. The teacher may have other samples to share with you, too. Using specific examples can help your child’s teacher explain things clearly and lets you see specific ways to help your child with writing.

Speaking & Listening

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Your fourth grader should have good communication skills: saying things clearly, making eye contact when speaking or listening, and really listening to what others say. In general, fourth graders’ statements are well articulated, grammatically correct, and include precise vocabulary words when appropriate (like sprint instead of run).

At this age, kids start to sound like little adults. Even group discussions in class can proceed without too much help from the teacher. Students especially benefit from carefully listening to their peers’ ideas during discussions because it helps them adjust their own thinking, understand text, and gather ideas for writing.

Want to know more?

Fourth graders work on their speaking and listening skills throughout the year in whole-class and small-group discussions. The state test, however, only covers listening skills (at least for now).

For this part of the test, students listen to a recording and answer questions about the main idea and supporting details to demonstrate their ability to listen attentively and capture the most important ideas and the reasons given to support those ideas.

If your child didn't meet the listening standard...

  • Your child may have trouble distinguishing between the main idea and supporting details when listening.
  • Your child may struggle to paraphrase what he understood from a presentation.
  • Your child may be stumped by unknown words or complex sentence structure even after listening to the audio several times.
How to help

Best ways to help your child

  • What’s the news? — Watch or listen to a news report together. Then have a conversation about what happened and why it’s important.
  • Daily recap — Tell your child a story about something that happened to you this week. Then ask your child to retell the story to someone else in the family. This can be a good around-the-dinner-table game, but it’s also a great excuse to call Grandpa or a favorite aunt and to tell them the story.
  • Borrow a storyteller — Check out audiobooks from the library. They can be a great diversion on a long ride and will help your child with listening skills. Remember to ask questions about the main ideas and details in the story.

Talk to your child’s teacher

Wondering what your child’s strengths and weaknesses are when it comes to speaking and listening? Ask the teacher! Is your child a great listener when he’s interested in a topic, but daydreaming when he’s bored? Does your child get caught up in a speaker’s first sentence and miss the details that follow? Your child’s teacher likely knows what your child needs to work on — and how you can help.


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

At this age, students are expected to work independently on research projects.

Fourth graders need to use their research skills to write — and they’re at the age where they don’t always get to focus on topics they’re interested in.

Kids should be able to read multiple sources to learn about a new topic, choose a main idea to write about, and select facts and details from their various sources that support their main idea.

Students gather information by reading books, reference materials, and online articles as well as from watching videos. While they’re researching, fourth graders are expected to take notes to help them prepare to write.

At this stage, kids may still need some guidance, but they should be getting better at recognizing which sources — and what information from those sources — will be most useful for their story, report, or opinion piece.

See fourth graders doing research for an essay.

Want to know more?

Your child’s research skills are tested using multiple-choice questions. Kids are asked to select the best source of information on a topic. They’re also asked to decide the best place to put that information in their writing.

Fourth graders are also tested on putting their research skills into practice by selecting information and using it in a longer writing piece; this portion of the test is called the performance task.

If your child didn't meet the research standard...

  • Your child may have a hard time deciding what information is useful and what isn’t.
  • Your child may choose the right details from the best source but then struggle to write a strong argument for her choices.
  • Your child may place the right information in the wrong section of her writing.
How to help

Best ways to help your child

  • Follow your child’s interests — Your child probably has lots of questions and interests that can be turned into research topics. It could be Spider-Man or spiders. It doesn’t matter; just let your child choose a topic of interest. He should then read about it, talk about it, and take some notes. Then ask him to present his findings to you in writing.
  • Convince me! — Does your child want a new backpack? Have him research backpacks online, considering quality, size, price, and customer reviews. Have him explain, preferably in writing, which backpack would be the best purchase and why. Ask your child where he found the best information. In his write-up, check to see that your child presented information and details in a logical order, with each paragraph supporting the main topic.

Read and talk with your child

This list of books that are good for fourth graders also comes with a guide to discussing each book! You’ll know exactly how to get your child chatting.

Talk to your child’s teacher

How are your fourth grader’s research skills? Ask! Your child’s teacher will be able to tell you about your child’s specific strengths and weaknesses when it comes to finding, choosing, and citing sources. And, if your child needs a little practice, your teacher can recommend sites where you can find age-appropriate articles and resources.

4th grade

What’s fourth grade math all about? Your child worked hard last year, but all those math lessons boil down to a few key skills: multi-digit division and multiplication, and adding, subtracting, and comparing fractions.

Concepts & Procedures

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Fourth graders focus on two big areas of work: 1) the four operations — adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing multi-digit numbers; and 2) fractions — adding, subtracting, multiplying, and comparing fractions, as well as converting fractions to decimals.

In each of these areas, students learn both the why (concepts) and the how (procedures). For example, fourth graders are taught to recognize fractions with equal value. That’s a procedure. They also have to be able to explain why the fractions are equal. That’s a concept.

Fourth graders practice adding and subtracting numbers up to 1,000,000, which requires a strong grasp of place value (ones place, tens place, hundreds place, etc.).

Fourth grade students also broaden their multiplication and division skills to include multiplying two two-digit numbers, multiplying up to a four-digit number by a one-digit number, and dividing up to four digits by one digit where the answer isn’t a whole number.

Watch how fourth graders do multi-digit multiplication.

Fourth graders also gain a deeper understanding of fractions. Students add and subtract fractions, multiply a fraction by a whole number (example: 7 x 34 ), find equivalent fractions, and compare fractions with different numerators (top number) and denominators (bottom number).

Students also gain more facility with using decimals, converting fractions with a denominator of 100, such as 62/100, into decimals: .62.

Watch how fourth graders compare fractions with different numerators and denominators.

If your child didn't meet the concepts and procedures standard...

  • Your child may not fully understand place value, making it difficult to add and subtract numbers within 1,000,000. (See sample problem 1.)
  • Your child may not be fluent with the 1-10 multiplication tables, making multi-digit multiplication challenging.
  • If your child has difficulty with multiplication, she may also have trouble with multi-digit division because division requires fluency in multiplication. (See sample problems 2 and 3.)
  • Your child may not fully understand the concept of fractions, and may have trouble adding and multiplying fractions (See sample problems 4 and 5.) or accurately locating fractions on a number line and comparing them to one another. (See sample problems 6 and 7.)
  • Your child may not understand that decimal notation is another way to express fractions with denominators that are powers of 10 (10, 100, 1000, etc.). (See sample problem 8.)

Sample problems

The four operations

Kids make the jump from adding and subtracting numbers within 1,000 in third grade to working with numbers up to 1,000,000 in fourth grade. It requires fourth graders to quickly see that the 1 in 1,000,000 is in the millions place, the 9 in 987,554 is in the hundred-thousands place, and so on. Students also learn that in multi-digit numbers, a digit in a certain place represents 10 times what it represents in the place to its right. For example, in the number 224, the first number 2 represents 200, but the second number 2 represents 20.

When adding numbers like 92,657 + 4,652, students have to understand place value to set up their problem correctly, aligning hundreds with hundreds, tens with tens, and ones with ones.


Sample problem 1: Addition with multi-digit numbers


Students also use place value to multiply and divide multi-digit numbers. They will be expected to multiply two-digit by two-digit numbers and up to four-digit by one-digit numbers, as well as divide up to four-digit numbers by one-digit numbers.

Sample problem 2: Multiplication with multi-digit numbers


Sample problem 3: Division with multi-digit numbers



In third grade, students learned that fractions are a part of a whole and can be placed on a number line by size. In fourth grade, students learn to add and subtract fractions with the same denominator (bottom number), and to multiply a fraction by a whole number. Students need to be proficient in these skills by the end of fourth grade because in fifth grade they’ll move on to adding and subtracting fractions with different denominators as well as dividing fractions by whole numbers, and vice versa.

Watch fourth graders doing word problems that involve fractions.

Sample problem 4: Adding and subtracting fractions


Fourth graders also need to be able to multiply a fraction by a whole number.

Sample problem 5: Multiplying a fraction by a whole number


The next question requires students to show fractions with different denominators and numerators and describe why two fractions with different denominators can have the same value.

Sample problem 6: Finding equivalent fractions


Students are also asked to compare fractions by creating visual fraction models or finding common denominators or numerators (bottom number and top number).

Sample problem 7: Comparing fractions


In fourth grade, students also learn about decimals by rewriting fractions with a denominator of 10 or 100 in decimal notation. For example, 6/10 becomes .6 and 6/100 becomes .06.

Sample problem 8: Decimal notation for fractions


How to help

Start with a great attitude

Attitude is contagious, so make sure yours is positive when talking to your child about math. There’s actually research showing that kids with “math-anxious” parents learn less than their classmates, and become more anxious about math themselves.

Sprinkle math into everyday activities

  • When you come across a large number in a book or magazine, ask your child to tell you which number is in the millions place, the thousands place, and so on.
  • Next time you’re shopping, get your child thinking about decimals by asking her to add the cost of two items whose price includes cents (for example, $1.99 + $5.05). Encourage your child to really think about the problem by promising to give her a fraction of the amount for a treat if her mental math produces the right answer (or close enough).
  • Make cookies with your child, but use only the 12 cup for measuring so your child can practice working with equivalent fractions. For example, for that one cup of flour, have your child fill the 12 cup two times. And for that 12 cup of water? Ask your child how many fourths are equivalent to 12 cup of water. She can fill the 12 cup halfway. Or, to figure it out, she can fill the 14 cup with water and pour it into the 14 cup to show you how many 14 cups are in a 12 cup.

Boost those skills

Talk to your child’s teacher

Ask your child’s teacher what specific math skills your child is struggling with and how you can help. Tell the teacher about activities outside of school that your child enjoys and ask if there’s a way to work math into those activities.

Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

We all know it’s important for kids to master basic procedures such as multiplication and division. But math is more than memorizing facts or even procedures. Math also teaches an essential skill: problem solving. Kids learn problem solving when the path to solving the problem isn’t clear. To do this, kids need to learn skills that include modeling and data analysis.

Sound complicated? Actually, we do it every day. Modeling and data analysis means taking a real-world problem and using math to solve it — with a graph, an equation, a table, or a drawing. For example, a problem like If you want to devote ⅓ of a 20 by 30 foot backyard to a vegetable garden, how many square feet would it need to be? could be solved using an equation or by drawing the backyard to scale and dividing the rectangle. This would be an example of using modeling to solve a real-world problem.

If your child didn’t meet the problem solving & modeling/data analysis standard...

  • Your child may need help figuring out new or different ways to solve problems, or may have trouble persevering when he gets stuck. (See sample problem 1.)
  • Your child may become confused when asked to solve a word problem with two or more steps. (See sample problem 1.)
  • Your child may get stuck when asked to show a real-world situation using math, for example writing an equation or creating an illustration to describe a situation. (See sample problem 1.)
  • Your child may find it challenging to understand data on a chart or graph. (See sample problem 2.)

Sample problems

Real-life problem solving

Fourth graders learn how to apply the math they know to solve problems in everyday life and to make sense of problems and persevere in solving them. The test questions designed to measure these skills require students to be able to identify the important information in problems and figure out which steps to take and what tools to use (examples: pictures, graph paper, ruler) to find the answer. The following problem tests whether students can break down a multi-step problem and use pictures or equations involving multiplication to solve it.

Sample problem 1: Solving real-life, multi-step problems


Analyze and use data

The problem below asks students to make sense of the data in the chart and use it to find the answer.

Sample problem 2: Analyzing and using data from a chart


How to help

Start with a great attitude

Be enthusiastic about how great problem solving skills will allow your child to do more cool things on her own. Does she enjoy building things? Is she trying to raise money to buy something? Isn’t it nice when she can figure things out without your help? The more kids see the practical side of math, the more exciting it becomes.

Sprinkle math into everyday activities

  • Is your child excited about a new project, a birthday party, a hobby? Challenge your child to use her mathematical thinking by planning a project. If your child cares about a cause, have her create a financial plan to raise a certain amount of money for it through a lemonade stand or some mini-entrepreneurial effort. Once the goal is set, have your child work backwards to figure out how much she will have to earn in what timeframe to achieve her goal.
  • Get your child to check the upcoming weather for planning a weekend outing. Ask him to look beyond the cartoon sun and look at charts and graphs about expected and historical weather patterns.
  • When your child gets stuck and asks you for help, trying saying What do you think you should try? Getting her to problem-solve on her own will sharpen this important skill.

Boost those skills

Talk to the teacher

Ask your child’s teacher how you can help your child identify flaws in mathematical reasoning. Find out what questions you could ask your child to get him to focus on places where he tends to make mistakes. Ask the teacher to point out examples in your child’s work where he struggled with a concept so you’ll have a better understanding of how to help.

Communicating Reasoning

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

When students explain and defend their work, they can’t simply say, “I just know that it’s right!” Fourth graders need to be able to explain their work and defend their answers using words, charts, graphs, diagrams, and drawings to illustrate the steps they took. Students should be able to recognize when their reasoning has gone astray and explain the flaws in their logic. They also may be asked to critique their classmates’ work.

If your child didn’t meet the communicating reasoning standard...

  • Your child may answer questions correctly, but not be able to explain how he did it or why one procedure or strategy is better than another. (See sample problem 1.)
  • Your child may not be able to figure out why he or a classmate got the wrong answer. (See sample problem 2.)
  • Your child may be having trouble reading the problem, understanding what she’s reading, and/or verbalizing her thinking. Some kids may need to learn to slow down and/or re-read the problem. Other kids may need more help processing the problem and/or expressing their thoughts. If slowing down and re-reading doesn’t help your child, talk to your child’s teacher about getting your child some extra help. (You may also want to read more about the signs of a reading issue.)

Sample problems

Explaining reasoning

The new standards ask students to understand how math works and why. If students have only been taught how to solve a problem using a certain procedure, they may be stumped when faced with a problem that doesn’t give them that step-by-step information. Fourth graders should be able to talk through their thinking and explain why something is true using words or pictures.

Sample problem 1: Explaining reasoning


Critiquing the reasoning of others

Teachers might use a question like the next one to figure out which students fully understand the concepts in the problem. To answer this question correctly, students need to know that ½ represents part of a whole and that half of something large is not equal to half of something small.

Sample problem 2: Critiquing the reasoning of others


How to help

Start with a great attitude

Research shows that confidence matters when it comes to math. When kids see themselves as capable at math, it boosts their willingness to stick with difficult problems. On the other hand, it’s not useful for kids to consider themselves “brilliant.” Overconfidence leads kids to shy away from difficult problems. How can you help? Make sure your child hears from you that she can learn math and be good at it, but it may take some effort.

Sprinkle math into everyday activities

  • Ask your child to choose a physical feat to attempt. (Set a personal record in the 100 yard dash. Complete as many perfect pushups as she can. Do five cartwheels in record time.) Find your child’s baseline time, and then have your child do the feat three more times, clocking each for a total of four times. Now have her show her progress or decline using a picture or chart. Have her talk her way through it before she draws. Also ask her to guess what her time would be a fifth time and get her to explain her reasoning.
  • Fill a glass of water halfway, and say If this glass is half full, what fraction of it is empty? Try it again with different amounts of water. This can get your child chatting about math (and maybe even a little philosophy).
  • When you’re at a movie (or somewhere else with lots of people), ask your child to estimate how many people there are and to explain her reasoning.

Boost those skills

  • When completing homework, ask your child to explain her thinking. Encourage her to solve the problem using a different strategy. Some strategies to encourage your child’s thinking include using a number line, drawing illustrations, or explaining her reasoning in writing.
  • Check out the many ways  Be a Learning Hero  will help your child master fractions —  multiplying, hatching, splattering, equalizing, just to name a few. These 23 games and activities will build other skills your fourth grader needs as well!
  • Talking to your child about math is easier (and more fun) than you think. Here are two resources to help you get started: 1) Watch the first few of minutes of this Teaching Channel video to see how a teacher gets students to talk about their mathematical reasoning; and 2) Print out these Math Talk bookmarks! They’re a subtle reminder to talk about mathematical reasoning in everyday life.

About GreatKids State Test Guide for Parents

GreatKids created this guide to help you understand your child's state test scores and to support your child's learning all year long. We worked with SBAC and leading teachers in every grade to break down what your child needs to know and exactly how you can help

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