As they prepared to grab their buzzers for the first round of the Big Brain Blast at Newington Forest Elementary School, fourth-graders Frankie Stimmell, Katherine Haworth, Juliana Dzura and Connor Fenton brought their good luck charms. For Frankie, it was a lucky shell. Katherine had lucky money, Connor had his lucky T-shirt, and Juliana just crossed her fingers.
"I got the butterflies," said Connor, staring out at the cafeteria full of fourth- through sixth-graders, catching up on the material for the upcoming Standards of Learning (SOL) tests on Thursday, May 20.
"This piece of land is bordered by water on three sides," was the first question from master of ceremonies Jesse Kraft, a fourth-grade teacher. The answer was C, "peninsula."
While the questions were all multiple choice and only four contestants had buzzers in their hands, all the students in the cafeteria were getting a review.
"They're hearing it more than one time, so hopefully the repetition will make it sink in," said Carrie Kuberski, the music teacher, who acted as timekeeper. "This is really a fun way to get them excited to remember details."
ALTHOUGH STUDENTS have taken SOL tests over the past few years, this year's class of high-school seniors is the first class that must pass in order to graduate. The countywide time period to take the test is from May 12-June 2. Each individual school picks a time in that period to take the tests. Those taking individual semester course tests may have taken part of the test in the winter as well, according to Mary Helman, the elementary SOL coordinator.
"The SOLs are a big deal for a variety of reasons, including 'No Child Left Behind,'" Helman said.
The seniors who do not pass the test do not receive their diplomas, but they do have another opportunity, Helman said.
"You have the opportunity to retake the tests. This is not a one-shot deal," Helman said.
On the elementary level, those students who don't pass can participate in "remediation recovery," Helman said, which is a study session for the tests.
KRAFT and sixth-grade science teacher Wendy Goldfein were the originators of the Big Brain Blast at Newington Forest. "The teachers generated all the questions," said Goldfein.
Newington Forest is an accredited school. To be accredited, a certain percentage of third- through sixth-graders have to pass the tests, according to the principal John Kren. Seventy percent of the third-graders have to score at least 70 percent, for example, Kren said.