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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.


8th grade
ELA/Literacy Skills

Eighth graders should be able to analyze information from many sources and decide which facts best support their argument. And they should recognize weaknesses in others’ arguments.


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Eighth graders should be able to critique arguments found in nonfiction texts and informational materials (books, articles, graphs, online sites, documentaries) and explore themes in plays and poems, such as “Still I Rise” by Maya Angelou. They can analyze whether an argument is strong by asking Does the author explain her reasoning, and Does the evidence provided make sense?

At this stage, students should pay special attention to an author’s choice of words and structure. In fiction, for example, they might analyze dialogue to better understand a particular character’s point of view. An eighth grader should understand that when a character says The look in her eyes made my blood run cold, he is expressing fear.

Want to know more?

After reading a novel and watching a movie version, an eighth grader should be able to analyze similarities and differences between the two. For example, How do images in the film compare to the descriptions written in the novel?

They also know to pay close attention to how the language an author chooses can influence tone.

At this age, students also know the difference between primary and secondary sources — for instance, the difference between the Declaration of Independence as a primary source (texts or artifacts created at the time being studied) and biographies of the signers as secondary sources (documents written after the events).

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

  • Your child may have trouble critiquing an argument presented in text.
  • Your child may misunderstand symbolic and figurative language, causing confusion about the mood and meaning of a text.
  • Your child may not be in the habit of re-reading difficult texts to make sure she really understands what she’s reading.
How to help

Best ways to help your child

  • Get expert intel — After seeing an art show or the latest superhero movie, find a discussion about it online or in your community. Listening to experts talk about a topic in depth will challenge your child’s critical thinking. Find books, films, or magazine articles on the topic as well. This can make for excellent dinner table conversation.
  • Build a bigger vocabulary, one word at a time — It’s important for eighth graders to build their academic vocabulary. These words are broadly used in many subjects and even in everyday conversation, but kids sometimes have trouble understanding their meaning. The words concise, obsolete, profound, and validate are examples of academic vocabulary. Print out this list of academic vocabulary words that your eighth grader should know. Try to use these words in context with your child, and see if your child can use them correctly when conversing with you. This will help with your child’s reading, speaking, and writing this year — and these are words your child will need to know for the SAT and ACT tests in high school.

Practice, practice, practice

These 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. And check out the books for eighth graders that come with discussion guides so you can work with your teen on those reading necessary skills.

Talk to your child’s teacher

Students should have learned to draw conclusions and find evidence in what they read. If you think your child has trouble with this skill, ask her teacher about what you can do to help in everyday life. At home can you strike up a conversation with your child about something she has read and ask questions to help her dig for the evidence? Does the teacher think this problem is limited to your child’s reading or does it extend to her ability to formulate verbal arguments as well?


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

By the time eighth graders are ready to write an essay or report, they should have looked at numerous sources of information (books, articles, timelines, online sites, documentaries) and chosen the best facts to include in their writing.

They should also be using academic words and different sentence structures to avoid repetition and add vitality and persuasiveness to their writing.

Want to know more?

In eighth grade, students are learning to use accepted styles and guidelines for citing information sources.

Although at this point they may still need feedback to help develop their flow, ideas, critical thinking, and language, they should not need a lot of editing for their spelling, punctuation, and capitalization.

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

  • Your child may not select the best facts to use in her own writing from the multiple sources that she’s read.
  • Your child may not have read carefully enough to understand what to include in his writing.
  • Your child may not know when to use short, simple sentences and when to use longer ones. Effective writers use both.
  • Your child may not use the academic language that best fits the context or subject of the writing.
How to help

Help with writing (not grammar)

Writing can be mentally and emotionally daunting, but you can help your child enjoy it. Start by helping her develop interesting ideas and stories — don’t put the focus on perfect grammar. If you notice errors in punctuation or spelling or see problems such as unclear handwriting, meet with your child’s teacher to develop goals to improve those skills.

  • Daily free write — A free write is just that…write whatever you want. The idea is to keep the pencil (or keyboard) moving for a specific amount of time. Start with two, three, or five minutes and ask your child to write down her thoughts. If she’s struggling with what to write about, give her a prompt: What was the best part of your day? What would you like to do this weekend? Why? As she gets comfortable with five minutes, increase the time to seven, then 10, etc.
  • Personal POV — It’s entirely normal for young teens to be focused on themselves and their thoughts. Channel this energy by asking your child to write about a personal experience from his point of view, like a fight with a sibling or why he loves or hates a certain sports team.
  • Prime the passion — Whatever your child loves— whether it’s a videogame or a singer or a sport — there’s probably a great forum for writing about it. Find the most intelligent website covering your child’s passion and encourage your child to post a review, write a letter to the editor, or comment on an article. By writing for kindred spirits, your child may discover the importance and power in writing accurately and persuasively.
  • Talk it out — Before putting the pencil to the page, encourage your child to talk about what she’s going to write. Talking helps writers organize their thoughts and makes the actual writing easier.
  • Read more! — That’s right; there’s a huge link between reading a lot and writing well. When your child reads things she likes, she absorbs new words and interesting turns of phrase that she can use in her own writing.

Clarify that, please

These tools at will help you understand what’s expected of your eighth grader when the test and teacher say write an informative/explanatory, argumentative, or narrative piece. Have your child watch the WriteAlong videos and practice as well.

Talk to the teacher

Don’t forget that an involved parent still positively affects a child’s academic outcome — even at this age. Communicating with the teacher is one way to stay involved. Ask what your child can do to be successful in high school in this subject.

Speaking & Listening

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

In class, eighth graders have lots of opportunities to discuss what they’re learning about — maybe volcanic eruptions — with partners, in small groups, and with the whole class.

They’re expected to listen attentively and add to what others say, using evidence and precise language to communicate clearly.

When planning their own presentations, eighth graders should include different media formats (video, blogs, social media, etc.) to help emphasize key points.

Want to know more?

As they listen to a presentation, eighth graders should be able to analyze the speaker’s motivation. They might ask themselves, for example, Is the speaker trying to sell me something? Does she want my support for some kind of cause?

Students should also pay attention to how speakers choose words that will help them connect with the audience.

While most teachers assess students’ speaking abilities throughout the year, the new test only assesses a student’s listening skills. The test has students listen to an audio recording and asks questions about the main ideas, supporting details, and the meaning of vocabulary used in the recording.

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

  • Your child may not have recognized the main idea of a recorded presentation.
  • Your child may not have cited evidence from the presentation.
  • Your child may have been confused by academic words used in the recording. For example, if she doesn’t know that tirade means a long angry speech of criticism, it’s hard to fully understand the sentence The judge responded with a tirade about the defendant’s actions.
How to help

Best ways to help your child

  • Get lyrical — Decoding the symbolism in song lyrics can be a lot of fun for young teens. Let your child choose a favorite song and ask What is the songwriter’s message? What words or phrases in the song give you that idea? It may help to choose a song you both know and enjoy so you can demonstrate how you analyze it.

Talk to your child’s teacher

Eighth graders must learn to listen for and restate the main idea and details of what they hear. Ask your child’s teacher what he’s noticed about your child’s verbal and listening abilities and what you can do to strengthen your child’s skills. Is there a debate team or some other club that could help your child develop better verbal skills? Will there be lessons on a certain topic that you could discuss with your child in advance?


What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Eighth graders should be analyzing several information sources and deciding which among them is the most reliable and relevant for their own writing. They should ask, for example, Does this author make a good argument? Who is the author and why did she write this?

Want to know more?

Eighth graders learn to identify conflicting information from two or more sources. For example, they might notice conflicting statements in two articles about the Apollo 11 moon landing. They can do their own research, checking several sources, and then make their case on whether the landing was real or fake.

They are learning to cite evidence in their writing and use technology to research, write, and present what they’ve learned.

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

  • Your child may not have chosen the best information source for her writing.
  • Your child may not have identified conflicting information presented by two sources.
  • Your child may have used a weak argument (one based on opinion) from her sources to support her writing.
How to help

Best ways to help your child

  • Go deeper into news — Watch three different news reports about the same topic. Ask your child to take notes during each report about who was interviewed — their name, title, and the organization they represent. Help him research the organization. What does the organization do? What’s its position on the subject? What facts does the person interviewed use to support her position? Compare the news sources. Does each report appear balanced?
  • Informed consumer — Is your family considering buying a new appliance or a used car? Ask your child to research an item for you by looking at product information, consumer reports, and customer reviews. Based on what she finds out about cost and reliability, ask her to recommend one of the products based on the family’s needs.

Talk about the stories

This list of books chosen with eighth graders in mind also comes with a guide for discussing each book! You’ll know exactly how to get your teen talking.

Talk to the teacher

An involved parent still positively affects a child’s academic outcome — even at this age. Communicating with the teacher is one way to stay involved.

8th grade

Eighth graders go to ancient Greece for geometry, advance toward Algebra, find power in exponents and radicals, and analyze relationships with functions and linear equations.

Concepts & Procedures

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Eighth grade is the main transition year between what used to be called “pre-algebra” and the real deal. All the procedures that students have learned up to now, the how-to part of math, get bumped up in complexity in eighth grade. So, too, do the mathematical concepts that explain why one formula works and another doesn’t. Read on and let’s get radical and irrational — numbers, that is.

Radicals, integer exponents, and irrational numbers

Math is nothing if not methodical; one piece builds on the next, until you know enough to sit behind a console at NASA calculating the ground speed of a Mars rover. Every year since kindergarten, students have been expanding their knowledge of the number system, including whole numbers, fractions, negative numbers, decimals, and rational numbers.

Irrational numbers go on forever without any repeating numbers or sequences of numbers after the decimal. For example, pi — or Π — is the most famous irrational number. Students usually write it as 3.14, but it actually keeps going on and on after the 4.

Radical means “root” and radical numbers are expressions that have a root sign, denoting square root, cube root, etc. The most common radical is the square root. You probably remember the square root symbol, it looks like a check mark: √. A square root is a number that, when multiplied by itself, equals the original number. For example: the square root of 9 is 3 since 3 x 3 = 9.

Watch this Khan Academy video for a better understanding of square roots.

In seventh grade, students learned about positive exponents, such as 32, which means 3 x 3 = 9. In eighth grade, students also use exponents that can be negative, such as 8-2. This means the answer will be a fraction, such as: 8-2 = 164 . Here’s an example of what your student might see.


Eighth graders need to become proficient at simplifying expressions (breaking them into their smallest components) with integer exponents to be prepared for fractional exponents in high school algebra.

Functions and linear equations

Functions describe situations in which one thing is determined by another. For example, a teacher might say, “Your grade in this class is a function of the effort you put into it.” A doctor might say, “Some illnesses are a function of stress.” Or a meteorologist might say, “After a volcano eruption, the path of the ash plume is a function of wind and weather.”

In math functions, when one number (known as the input number) changes, that changes the next number (known as the output number). In seventh grade, students represent functions of proportional relationships in tables, graphs, and equations. In eighth grade, students extend that to working with linear equations and they learn to determine the rate of change, known as slope, which they plot on a graph.

Want help understanding this concept? Watch this Khan Academy video to see how students learn slope or y intercepts or watch this shorter video on Virtual Nerd. Or watch this video to see a student explain how she used slope intercept to decide which cell phone plan to buy.


Since preschool kids have been learning about shapes and their different properties and attributes. In eighth grade, students learn a cornerstone equation of math — the Pythagorean Theorem, which is used to find the length of the sides in a square triangle (a triangle with a 90-degree angle, aka a right angle). Discovered sometime in mid-500 BC by the Greek philosopher and mathematician Pythagoras, the theorem seems simple: a2 + b2 = c2. Here, c represents the hypotenuse of the right triangle, which is the side directly across from the right angle.

Watch this Khan Academy video for a demonstration of the Pythagorean Theorem.

If your child didn’t meet the concepts and procedures standard…

  • Your child may have trouble understanding irrational numbers and simplifying negative exponents.
  • Your child may not completely understand the concept of functions and linear equations.
  • Your child may struggle to calculate the rate of change/slope or initial value/y-intercept and not know how to show it on a graph.
  • Your child may find it difficult to find the solution to a system of equations graphically or algebraically.
  • Your child may get confused applying the Pythagorean Theorem to solve problems.

Sample problems

Irrational Numbers

Watch this video on rational and irrational numbers: (reminder: irrational numbers are numbers that can not be expressed as a fraction). Students learn to categorize numbers within the number system as rational or irrational.


Integer Exponents

While eighth graders learn to work with square roots and irrational numbers, they also learn to use exponents to help estimate very large and very small quantities. For example, if students estimate the population of the United States as 3 x 108 and the population of the world as 7 x 109, they can determine that the world population is more than 20 times larger. An example students might see on the test is below.

Sample problem 1


Students also need to know that negative exponents are the reciprocal of the positive exponents (x-a = 1/xa) and that when you raise a number to a zero power you’ll always get 1 (x0 = 1).

Functions and Linear Equations

Functions are rules where there is exactly one output, or answer, for every input. For example, in the equation y = x – 2 for every value of x there is exactly one value of y.

Sample problem 2: Evaluating a function


The study of functions leads students to linear equations with two variables. Linear equations are written as y=mx+b. Your 8th grader should know what each part of this equation represents. Take your gym membership. You pay $29 each month to go to the gym. That monthly fee is constant and will not change. This is the ‘slope’ of the line represented by the variable m. The variable b represents the y-intercept which means the initial value or base price. Remember when you joined the gym? You had to pay a $99 signing fee. That is the initial value. So, students learn that to figure out the cost gym membership for the year, start with $99 and add that to the $29 monthly x 12 months.

Students will be expected to take a real-world situation and write and graph a linear equation like in the problem below:

Watch this video of eighth graders using linear equations to solve real world problems.

Once students have learned the concept of rate of change and initial value and have mastered the skills of graphing the linear functions, students look at two linear functions to determine where they will intersect. A real-world example could be when a person would want to compare the price of gym memberships to see at what point one plan is cheaper than the other. This is called a system of linear equations. Your 8th grader will solve problems involving systems of equations like the one below.

Sample problem 3: Solving a system of linear equations


Watch an eighth grader solve a system of linear equations algebraically

In addition to linear functions, 8th graders use their knowledge of solving one and two-step equations from the 6th and 7th grades to solve equations that involve multiple steps and that have variables on both sides of the equal sign. Students will be expected to use their procedural skills of adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing decimals, fractions, and negative and positive numbers learned in previous grades to solve problems such as this.


Equations with variables on both sides of the equal sign can have one answer, no answer, or infinitely many answers. Equations with no solutions mean that there is not a value that can be substituted for x that will make the sides equal. Like in the example below.


An equation with infinitely many solutions occurs when both sides of the equation are the same.



In eighth grade, students investigate what happens to a shape if it is flipped over (reflection), turned around (rotation), or slid in another direction (translation). These are called transformations. Students also learn about enlarging shapes (dilation). Some questions 8th grader see involve multiple transformations to one shape. Here are the transformations 8th graders learn about.





Another important geometry topic your 8th grader will learn about is Pythagorean Theorem. The Pythagorean Theorem is written as a2 + b2 = c2 and is used to find missing side lengths of a right triangle (a triangle with a 90 degree angle). The Pythagorean Theorem is used in many everyday activities and jobs, from architecture to sports. Yes, sports. Consider a baseball diamond. A diamond shape is actually made up of two right triangles.

Sample problem 4: Applying the Pythagorean Theorem


How to help

Start with a great attitude

You know what they say, monkey see, monkey do. So, even if you’re one of the many people who suffers from math anxiety, it’s best for your child if you keep that dread under wraps. If you say things like, “I hate math,” or worse, “I just don’t have the math gene,” your child will likely say these things, too. Research shows if you embrace math and show your child how useful it is in everyday life, your child’s attitude — and math scores — will be positively affected.

Sprinkle math into everyday activities

  • Explore math concepts and keep your child calculating by playing math and logic games such as chess, Set, and even algebraic bingo.
  • Get your child thinking about the long-term value of math. This week, drop it into conversation that you need math skills to sew the perfect pair of jeans, be an architect, invent a video game, and even to work as a successful garden designer. Think about your child’s passions and drop a few hints about how that profession might use math.

Boost those skills

Talk to your child’s teacher

Even if you can’t (or just don’t want to) solve a linear equation, your child’s teacher will have ideas for how you can help at home. Tell the teacher about your child’s passions or extracurricular activities, such as baseball or drawing, and ask for suggestions for how to inject some eighth grade math into those pastimes.

Problem Solving & Modeling/Data Analysis

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

Problem solving is the ability to assess and make sense of a situation that could come up in everyday life. It requires being able to identify the important numbers necessary to find a solution and to select appropriate tools or strategies to work it out.

In eighth grade, this requires students to: use functions to model (create graphs) the slope of two different proportional relationships; use functions to show inputs and corresponding outputs; solve linear equations with one variable; solve pairs or systems of simultaneous linear equations; and apply the Pythagorean Theorem in the real world or in mathematical problems.

If your child didn’t meet the problem solving and modeling/data analysis standard…

  • Your child may have difficulty using functions to model the slope of proportional relationships on a graph.
  • Your child may struggle with solving linear equations with one variable or pairs of simultaneous linear equations.
  • Your child may not understand how to apply the Pythagorean Theorem.

Sample problems

Problem solving requires students to choose which concepts and procedures to use and check their work using alternative methods. As problem-solving skills develop, student understanding of mathematical concepts becomes more deeply established.

A question from this section may be based on something a student could encounter in real life or a problem that does not have any context and is purely about math. Here is an example of a real life problem.

Sample problem 1: Solving real-world problems


By now 8th graders should understand the point of mathematical models. Students don’t just learn concepts and procedures to know them, they learn to be able to understand reality and modeling is a key way to do that. In 8th grade this concept gets driven home as students are expected to create and analyze more complex models that make sense of real life.

Sample problem 2: Modeling


How to help

Start with a great attitude

The next time you or your child are muttering bad things about math, go outside, look at nature, and marvel at the amazing beauty of math — from flower petals to pinecones, spiders’ webs to beehives, and the rotation of the planets and the moon.

Sprinkle math into everyday life

  • This week, start talking about the big problems that math can solve by hosting your own little math lecture series with these math Ted talks that’ll blow your mind. (Full disclosure: there are no women featured in this playlist!)
  • Got a nature lover on your hands? This Ted Talk by Margaret Werheim about the mathematics of coral offers a glimpse of how math is being used to solve ecological problems.

Boost those skills

Talk to your child’s teacher

People don’t go into teaching for the big bucks, they do it out of desire to help others learn. Ask your child’s teacher where your child is struggling and what you can do to help out.

Communicating Reasoning

What it means
How to help

What they're learning

There’s a classic Monty Python sketch where a man goes into an argument clinic and finds that it’s not up to snuff. “An argument isn’t just contradiction,” he says to the professional arguer. “Well! It CAN be!” retorts the arguer. “No it can’t!” argues the customer. “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition.”

That’s the essence of communicating reasoning. Students have to become proficient at creating an argument that supports their work and reasoning using a series of mathematical equations, rules, and illustrations (charts, graphs, tables, etc.) They are also expected to critique their classmates’ work and determine if an answer is correct or incorrect by identifying the strengths or the flaws in the math.

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

  • Your child may know how to solve a problem, but struggle to develop a clear argument to defend his work by explaining why he used certain tools or equations.
  • Your child may not understand all the procedures and concepts learned in eighth grade, making him unable to recognize where he or a classmate may have miscalculated or used the wrong operation.
  • Your child may not be able to prove his answer is correct by showing another way to solve the same problem.

Sample problems

Sample problem 1: Constructing clear arguments to support reasoning and critiquing the reasoning of others


Sample problem 2: Explaining reasoning


How to help

Start with a great attitude

To paraphrase the noted astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson: Kids don’t have an innate fear of full moons. They’ll play in a full moon, no worries at all. They only get scared of magic or werewolves from adults telling them silly stories. The same goes for math. The fear we express influences what our children think and believe. So keep your math monsters under the bed where they belong.

Sprinkle math into everyday life

Boost those skills

Talk to your child’s teacher

If you’re not sure where your child is struggling, but you suspect your child might be struggling with mathematical reasoning, make an appointment to speak with his teacher. Tell the teacher what you’ve noticed and ask — Is this a math issue or more about reading? What would be the best way to help my child build her mathematical reasoning skills?

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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