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Fact Sheets and FAQs
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Spanish-language versions of these materials will be posted soon.
Role of State Assessments
- This fact sheet explains the purpose and value of state assessments - English (PDF).
- This fact sheet explains the purpose and value of state assessments - Spanish (PDF)
Score reports are given to every student, showing how they did on the previous spring's assessments and how that compares to the state, school and district. These fact sheets help explain to families how to interpret the score reports and use them to help their students improve.
- Using the CMAS Score Reports to Support your Student's Success - English (PDF).
- Using the CMAS Score Reports to Support your Student's Success - Spanish (PDF).
The PSAT and SAT exams, taken by Colorado’s ninth-, 10th- and 11th-graders, are aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards and offer free, high-quality practice tools and scholarship opportunities. Ninth-graders and 10th-graders take the PSAT and 11th-graders take the SAT as the state college-entrance exam.
Colorado Growth Model
A decade ago, the state created the Colorado Growth Model to look specifically at how individual students progress from year to year based on the state standards.
Frequently Asked Questions
The frequently asked questions are grouped into categories for easier navigation. This section continues to be updated. Please check back often for additional information!
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What are the Colorado Measures of Academic Success assessments?
The Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) is the state’s common measurement of students’ progress at the end of the school year in English language arts, math and science.
Students in grades three through eight take the CMAS tests in math and English language arts. Students in fifth, eighth and 11th grades take the CMAS science assessments.
Who developed the CMAS assessments?
These assessments are developed collaboratively by the Colorado Department of Education, Pearson (the assessment contractor) and Colorado educators.
What grade levels and content areas will be assessed by the CMAS assessments in spring 2023?
- English language arts and math: Students in grades three through eight.
- Science: Grades five, eight and 11.
Which college entrance suite of assessments will be administered in Colorado public high schools in spring 2023?
Colorado will provide the current PSAT/SAT suite of assessments in spring 2023 to public school students in grades nine, 10 and 11. The high school college entrance suite of assessments administered in spring 2024 will be determined through a procurement process completed during the 2022-23 school year.
How was testing in 2022 different from testing in 2021?
Beginning in spring 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in reduced, disrupted and/or adjusted learning opportunities for many students. While schools continued to transition to increased normalcy throughout the 2021-22 school year, the pandemic’s sustained impact on learning experiences for some students should be taken into consideration when interpreting spring 2022 results.
In 2021, the number of required tests was reduced due to the impacts of the pandemic. Third-, fifth- and seventh-graders were required to take the English language arts tests; and fourth-, sixth- and eighth-graders took the math tests. Eighth-graders took the CMAS science tests.
In 2022, typical test-taking resumed with students in third through eighth grade taking both the math and English language arts tests. Fifth-, eighth- and 11th-graders took the CMAS science tests.
This full assessment schedule administered in spring 2022 gives a more complete picture of how our students are performing following the disruptions and lost opportunities due to the pandemic. While some students’ academic performance may reflect the impact of pandemic disruptions, the results are still important because they show whether students are performing at grade level and how students are doing compared to their peers in their school, district and state.
Additionally, this year’s tests will help inform families and teachers about what kind of help students may need. The state has received federal American Rescue Plan funds through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief fund (ESSER III) specifically to address learning loss caused by the pandemic. Parents should check with their districts to find out how these relief funds are being used locally.
Why do we need assessments?
As part of a balanced assessment system, statewide assessments provide valuable information to students, families, schools, districts, the state and taxpayers. A balanced assessment system is one that contains:
Formative assessments -- quick checks for learning conducted by classroom teachers.
Interim assessments -- more formal progress monitoring often conducted several times throughout the year to see how students are progressing.
Summative assessments – end-of-year assessments to find out what students know and can do at the end of a grade level.
The state assessments are summative. Where formative, interim, and classroom-based assessments inform classroom instruction on a regular basis, state summative assessments are designed to be point-in-time snapshots of what students know and can do in core content areas at the end of the school year.
Summative assessments help students and their families know whether students are meeting grade-level expectations defined in the Colorado Academic Standards and how they are doing compared to their peers across the state as well as how they’ve grown over time. The tests also provide school and district leaders, the state, policymakers and the public with information on how well the system is meeting the goals of helping every child attain academic proficiency. The data are used to inform the continuous improvement of the system at all levels.
Assessments are aligned to the Colorado Academic Standards, which are statewide expectations of what students should know and be able to do at the end of each grade. The standards incorporate future skills and essential knowledge that the next generation will need to be successful in college and careers.
Colorado’s statewide assessments help to determine if students have mastered the grade-level expectations by the year’s end. The standards set clear, consistent guidelines for what students should know and be able to do at each grade level across several subject areas, including English language arts, math and science.
Are states required to administer statewide assessments and what are the minimum requirements?
Colorado receives approximately $350 million of federal funds yearly to support the education of children in poverty, English language learners and students with disabilities. States that receive these funds are required by the federal government to administer annual statewide assessments to all students.
The minimum required assessments are:
- Grades three through eight for English language arts and mathematics.
- At least once in high school for English language arts and mathematics.
- At least once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school for science.
Colorado law also has assessment and participation requirements and includes provisions regarding parent excusals from state assessments. Click here for more information about participation and parent excusal. There are also some required assessments specific to certain populations of students (e.g., language screeners for English language learners).
Will Colorado administer more assessments than the federal minimum in 2022-23?
Yes. Colorado’s state assessment system for the 2022-23 school year will include the following tests:
- English language arts in third through eighth grade
- Math in third through eighth grade
- Science in grades five, eight and 11
- PSAT in ninth and 10th grade*
- SAT in 11th grade
*These assessments are solely required by Colorado law.
When will the tests be given in 2023?
In the 2022-23 school year, Colorado's state testing window for all spring 2023 CMAS and alternate assessments is April 10-28. Districts may request to administer the high school science tests as early as March 27 . Districts may also request an extended test window for ELA and math due to limited device availability for online testing. March 20 is the earliest start date for ELA and math. Schools administering only paper-based tests will complete testing during the three-week window. Schools with an approved extended test window may administer the paper-based assessment to students as an accommodation outside of the three-week window.
Districts may choose April 12, 13 or 14 as their PSAT test date for ninth- and 10th-grade students. The test window for students needing accommodations is April 12-19. The PSAT makeup window is April 25-27.
Eleventh grade students will take the CO SAT on April 12. The test window for students needing accommodations is April 12-14. The SAT makeup date is April 25.
Can students see sample items before testing?
Districts are encouraged to give students time to interact with the selected test format (online or paper) before testing begins. Colorado Practice Resources (CPRs) that help to familiarize students with the test format and item types can be accessed here. Additional resources, including CPR Scoring Guides and resources for educators, can be accessed through this page.
For the college entrance suite of assessments, free PSAT and SAT resources from Khan Academy include interactive questions, guided essay practice, video instruction sessions, thousands of practice questions, a mobile app for daily practice and the ability to scan and score practice tests.
Are the CMAS tests given on a computer?
The assessments are designed to be administered on the computer, and they feature a variety of interactive questions that are more engaging and aligned with 21st-century teaching and learning practices. However, in 2015, the state legislature passed a law allowing districts to request paper versions of the tests.
Are students able to practice with the tests before actually taking them?
How do participation rates impact results?
Participation in the state assessments can vary across schools, grade levels, and student groups. Participation information should always be reviewed and taken into consideration thoughtfully when interpreting state assessment results, particularly at the district and school levels. As participation rates decrease and vary across student, school and district groups, challenges with interpreting results will increase. Depending on the specific school or district, some student groups may be overrepresented in the results and others may be underrepresented. Participation information may indicate that in some cases, conclusions should be drawn with caution or completely avoided. Data will not support all cross-state comparisons and historical uses when participation rates are low. Additionally, participation rates and differences across years should be considered for any comparisons that are made across years.
Can parents excuse their children from taking the state tests?
Colorado law allows parents to excuse their child from state assessments. This law requires districts to have policies that explain how parents may excuse a student from participating in one or more state assessments and notify parents of those policies. Your district can share its specific policy with you.
What are the consequences of excusing a child from participating in state tests?
According to state law, districts cannot impose negative consequences on students or parents if a parent excuses his or her student from participating in an assessment, including prohibiting school attendance, imposing an unexcused absence, or prohibiting participation in extracurricular activities. Likewise, districts cannot impose unreasonable burdens or requirements on a student to discourage the student from taking an assessment or to encourage the student’s parent to excuse his/her child from the assessment.
Legislation passed in 2018 mandates that schools must offer all students who are excused from testing the opportunity to participate in celebrations and/or incentives related to the assessments.
It is important to note that non-participation in state assessments means parents will not have information about their child’s attainment and growth on the state standards compared to other students in their school, district and state.
Will my school or district’s accreditation rating be impacted by low participation on tests?
In some cases, low participation on state assessments can impact school and district plan type assignments. State and federal law have shaped these state assessment expectations. State statute requires assessments for evaluating students’ mastery of and growth in the Colorado Academic Standards and evaluating the performance of districts and schools. Third- through ninth- grade students are to be assessed in English language arts and math, as well as science and social studies. Federal law requires 95% of students overall, and in each demographic category, take the required assessments. However, the assessment participation requirements are applied differently for the state accountability system (e.g., School and District Performance Frameworks) and for identification of schools for support and improvement under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA.
For identification under ESSA, Colorado must count all non-participants, including parent excusals, in excess of 5% as non-proficient records..
Under state accountability, if a school or district fails to meet the 95% participation rate requirement in two or more content areas for reasons such as students refusing to take the test without a parent excuse, then the school or district’s plan type will be lowered one level.
The Colorado State Board of Education passed a motion in February 2015 that says districts will not be held liable under the state system when parents excuse their children from testing. This means that parent excusals are not counted in the required 95% accountability participation rate on the performance frameworks.
Are there financial impacts on teachers or schools for low participation?
There is no fiscal impact on a district or teacher, at the state level, for parents excusing students from state assessments.
When will students, families and educators receive the scores?
Individual student scores for CMAS English language arts and math tests completed in April 2022 were provided to all school districts in June 2022 and hard copy student performance reports were received by school districts in July. School-, district and state-level scores will be publicly released during the Aug. 17 State Board of Education meeting.
What do the score reports include?
The CMAS score reports are designed to provide educators, families and students with better information about students’ mastery of grade-level academic standards. Score reports offer an overall measurement of performance in a particular subject, as well as how a student compares to other students in the school, district and throughout Colorado.
This spring, the CMAS science test was aligned to the 2020 Science Colorado Academic Standards for the first time. Because of this, score reports for science will not include performance-level information but instead will provide the student’s percentile ranking.
How will the test scores impact other measurements of students’ performance?
The test scores do not impact grade point average, class ranking or college acceptance.
Understanding your student’s score
What is a performance level?
Performance levels help students, families, educators and school officials understand how students are performing against the content standards for college and career readiness. The performance levels indicate what a typical student at each level should know based on their command of grade-level standards.
There are five performance levels for CMAS math and ELA. Spring 2022 science reports will not have performance levels because the tests were aligned to the 2020 Science Colorado Academic Standards for the first time this spring. Instead, score reports will provide a percentile ranking.
|CMAS ELA and Math Performance Levels|
|Level 5: Exceeded Expectations*|
|Level 4: Met Expectations*|
|Level 3: Approached Expectations*|
|Level 2: Partially Met Expectations*|
|Level 1: Did Not Yet Meet Expectations*|
*Students in the top two performance levels met or exceeded the expectations of the Colorado Academic Standards and are considered on track to being ready for the next grade level in the content areas of language arts, mathematics or science. Students in the remaining performance levels may need academic support to successfully engage in further studies in the content area.
The colored graph below shows the score ranges for each performance level and where the student's score falls within the range. This gives parents an indication of how close their student is to achieving the next level.
The student’s score is indicated by the black diamond. The arrows next to the diamond represent the probable range, indicating the range of scores the student would likely receive if the assessment were taken multiple times. The scale score needed to reach Performance Level 2 on CMAS ELA and Math is 700, for Performance Level 3 it is 725, and for Performance Level 4 it is 750 for all grade levels in mathematics and English language arts. The scale score needed to reach Performance Level 5 varies.
The average scale scores at the school, district, and state levels are identified to the left of the graph and are indicated by smaller diamonds on the graph. If the student’s score diamond is to the right of the school, district, or state average diamond, then the student performed better than that group’s average. If the student’s diamond is to the left of the school, district, or state diamond, then on average, that group performed better than the student. The dotted lines on the graph show the lowest scores needed to achieve Partially Met Expectations, Approached Expectations, Met Expectations, and Exceeded Expectations performance levels. The scale scores representing each of those scores are indicated at the bottom of the graph.
A scale score is a numerical value that summarizes student performance. When the points a student earns on an assessment are placed on a common scale, the student’s score becomes a scale score.
Scale scores adjust for slight differences in difficulty on versions of the assessment that can vary from student to student within a year or between school years. Scale scores allow for comparisons of assessment scores, within a particular grade and subject area, across school years. Not all students respond to the same set of test questions, so each student’s raw score (actual points earned on test items) is adjusted for the slight differences in difficulty among the various administrations of the test. The resulting scale score allows for an accurate comparison across test forms and years within a grade and content area. For example, a student who receives a score of 700 on one form of the seventh-grade mathematics assessment is expected to score a 700 on any form of the assessment.
Scale scores maintain their meaning and can be compared across years. A student who scored 750 on the eighth-grade math assessment in 2022 demonstrated the same level of mastery of concepts and skills as an eighth-grade student who scored 750 on the math test in 2019. The student’s overall scale score and level of mastery of concepts and skills would be comparable to a student who took the same assessment the previous year or the following year.
What is a percentile ranking?
The percentile ranking shows how well the student performed in comparison to other students in the state. For example, a student in the 75th percentile performed better than 75% of students in the state.
Who scores the tests?
For human-scored questions, qualified scorers are recruited and must have a bachelor’s degree or higher in mathematics, English, education or a related field. Scorers for the mathematics assessments hold at least a four-year degree in a related field and have demonstrated the knowledge needed to effectively score responses to math questions. Scorers for the English language arts assessments hold at least a four-year degree in English, education, history, psychology, journalism or a related field, and/or teacher certification or other work experience that will enable them to effectively score the literary analysis, research simulation, or narrative writing tasks found in the assessments. Not all scorers are teachers, but as many as three-quarters have previous teaching experience. Half of all scorers are current K-12 teachers.
How are scorers trained?
All scorers receive extensive training to evaluate student performance on a select and specific group of questions across multiple exams. To ensure that scoring is fair and unbiased, scorers are trained on specific questions instead of a student’s full assessment. Each scorer receives extensive training at a regional scoring center on his or her specific question or group of questions and must pass two evaluations before they are deemed eligible to score an assessment.
How are the tests scored?
There is a regimented and defined process to score every student exam that ensures accuracy and security of the assessments and students’ information. First, all students are assigned an identification number to protect their privacy. Student answers are then separated and sorted question-by-question and sent to the scorers who have been trained and qualified to score that question. This maintains student anonymity and allows scorers to become experts in scoring one question at a time. Scorers assign points to each answer. Depending on the question, up to six points could be available. Each scorer has a binder for each question with the scoring rubric and examples of pre-scored answers that he or she can use to compare his or her scoring against the guide prepared by educators. To ensure scorers are maintaining accuracy standards throughout the scoring process, they will routinely be given pre-scored answers along with un-scored answers. A scorer’s evaluations must match the “true” scores at least 70% of the time. When a scorer’s accuracy declines, he or she receives additional training on the test question. If a scorer cannot maintain consistency and accuracy, his or her previous scores are all put back into the system for re-scoring.
How can parents use the scores?
Score reports demonstrate students’ understanding of grade-level subject standards at the end of the school year. Families can use the scores to begin a discussion with their child’s teachers and school officials about the child’s academic strengths and areas for improvement; together everyone can decide how best to support the student’s needs.
How will teachers use the scores?
Teachers can use the scores to support students’ needs, identify strengths and weaknesses, and enhance learning for all students. Because the scores reflect high expectations for what students should know and be able to do, aligning with the demands of today’s global economy, teachers can use them to plan instruction and enrichment for students in the coming year that prepare students for life beyond high school.
How will these score reports be used to evaluate schools and teachers?
Colorado law requires 50% of an educator’s evaluation to be based on student academic growth as demonstrated by various assessments or “measures of student learning,” including but not limited to state assessments.
However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the law was changed this year. For the 2022-23 school year, the use of student growth from the Colorado Growth Model or district/school performance frameworks may not be used as a part of licensed personnel's Measure of Student Learning/Outcome. All other aspects of the system will remain the same. All licensed personnel are still required to be evaluated annually, which includes generating a final effectiveness rating consisting of 50% Measures of Student Learning/Outcomes and 50% Professional Practices (Quality Standards).
A large part of Colorado’s educational accountability system is based on the results from state assessments. School ratings are based on average scores on state assessments as well as growth students show from year to year on assessments. The legislature in 2022 passed Senate Bill 22-137 that requires CDE to calculate frameworks in 2022-23 but suspends the automatic advancement on the accountability clock. The percentage of students contributing to the growth indicator will be added to the framework for informational purposes only. The Request to Reconsider process will be offered and can be used to exit performance watch (i.e., move to “on watch,” exit the clock fully) if meeting certain conditions (e.g., Improvement plan type or higher, 90% total participation on state assessments). See the 2022 Accountability FAQ webpage for more information.
As is the case every year, preliminary school and district ratings are typically released in August with final ratings approved in December. For more information about Colorado’s school and district accountability system, click here. Score reports comprise only one part of how district and school accreditation ratings are determined.
Are students with disabilities required to take state assessments? If so, are adjustments made?
State and federal law require all students to be held to the same standards and participate in the state assessment program. There are three ways that students with disabilities can participate in the state assessments:
- Take the general assessment without accommodations.
- Take the general assessment with accommodations.
- Take the alternate assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities.
What are accommodations and what are some examples?
Accommodations are changes in how the test is given without changing what is being assessed. Students with an Individual Education Plan (IEP), 504 plan or English Learner (EL) plan, can use specific accommodations allowing the student better access to the test as long as there’s alignment between the accommodation and the student’s educational plan. That plan may also indicate the student is eligible to participate in Colorado’s alternate tests. Accommodations can be divided into four categories:
- Presentation accommodations – changes in the way test items are presented to a student (i.e., large print, braille, oral presentation, translated oral presentation, etc.);
- Response accommodations - changes in the way a student responds to test items (i.e., uses scribe, responds in Spanish, uses assistive technology device, etc.);
- Setting accommodations - changes in the test environment's setting (i.e., small group or individual administration); and/or
- Timing accommodations – changes in the scheduling of the assessment (i.e., allowing multiple breaks, providing extra time, testing at specific times of the day, etc.).
What is the CoAlt?
A small number of students, approximately 1% of the student population, take the Colorado Alternate assessment. These are students who have significant cognitive disabilities. Special accommodations are built into the CoAlt specifically for these students.
How are schools, districts and educators held accountable for the test results?
Schools, districts and educators are expected to use the results to reflect upon the education program and progress of individual students to improve attainment for students. Part of this work is done through the Unified Improvement Plan.
Funding is never withheld from schools or districts based on low test scores. Instead, increased funding is available to support school and district improvement in places where students are struggling.
If a school or district has been consistently underperforming on multiple measures (achievement, growth, graduation rates, dropout rates and college entrance exams) for more than five years, the State Board of Education may direct the local board of education to take a more drastic measure to improve performance for students.
Colorado’s education accountability system is based on the belief that every student should receive an excellent education and graduate ready to succeed in careers or in college. Successful schools and districts are recognized and serve as models, while those whose students struggle are identified for support.
Specifically, schools are identified for support and improvement under various state and federal laws that look at performance on several indicators.
Schools’ overall performance is evaluated by looking at scores on assessments, measuring how well students are growing academically year to year and seeing how well they are preparing students for success after high school. Under this measure, districts and schools are given performance ratings. Those that need additional support for improvement are also identified.
Additionally, schools with lower graduation rates on the four-year and seven-year cycle may be identified for additional support.
In the same way, schools are examined for how well they are serving students from specific groups on academic achievement and academic growth, how well they are being prepared for life after high school, and whether they are chronically absent. These specific groups of students include English learners, students with disabilities, those who are economically disadvantaged and students with individual race and ethnicities.
Schools and districts that continue to struggle with student performance over a number of years receive additional attention.
State assessment results may be used as part of an educator’s evaluation, as a measure of student growth in the current school year only if results are received two weeks prior to the end of school. If results are not received at least two weeks before the end of school, the assessments may be used as prior year data for the following year.
Will test scores impact the statewide system of accountability for districts and schools?
The 2009 Accountability Act requires CDE to issue annual school and district ratings, called “performance frameworks,” that let communities know how their schools and districts are doing. The ratings are based on performance and growth on state tests, as well as postsecondary measures, help identify schools and districts that are struggling, so they can receive additional support. Schools that are succeeding are recognized so others can learn from them.
Keep in mind that the state’s rating system is just one measure of how we’re doing. So much more goes into the effectiveness of a school, including culture, the commitment of staff and the involvement of parents and community members.
Typically, elementary and middle school ratings are based on state assessments in English language arts and math – both the average scores students received in spring as well as the average growth they showed over the last three years. Achievement on state science assessments is also factored in. High schools and districts are also rated on graduation and dropout rates, college matriculation numbers and SAT scores. There is also information on specific groups of students, based on race, gender, free and reduced lunch eligibility, those in special education and who are English language learners.
The state releases preliminary school and district ratings through the School Performance Frameworks (SPF) and District Performance Frameworks (DPF) in August. Reports are finalized in December.
In addition to state ratings, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act also requires that states hold schools accountable for the performance of all students, performance of specific student groups, and graduation rates of all students. ESSA provides additional resources for schools in the most need of support and improvement in those areas.
How is CDE calculating growth this year, given that state assessments in 2020 were cancelled and there was partial testing in 2021?
Because growth calculations use two years of assessment data (2021 and 2022), elementary and middle schools have less available data than usual. This is due to the 2021 CMAS/CoAlt assessments only being required in alternating grade levels – English language arts was required in grades three, five and seven; and math was required in grades four, six and eight. Growth calculations continue to be weighed the most in the 2022 Transitional Frameworks.
The department’s analysis found no substantial difference in overall plan type assignments despite some of the gaps in data. PSAT/SAT and WIDA ACCESS were administered in all relevant grades in 2021, so growth calculations remain consistent with previous frameworks. A growth participation rate has been added to the 2022 Transitional Frameworks to provide more context on the percentage of students included in the calculation.
Will the accountability system resume after COVID-19 pandemic?
Colorado will be calculating frameworks in 2022-23 but won’t move schools and districts on the Accountability Clock. This is due to legislation that was passed in the 2022 session. Senate Bill 22-137 considered the impacts of the pandemic on students. Given the fact that students were required to take a reduced CMAS in the spring of 2021 and that the accountability system relies on assessment scores and, more specifically, growth, the legislature felt it was necessary to modify the accountability system for this year. The percentage of students contributing to the growth indicator is still being added to the frameworks for informational purposes but it won’t be a factor in a school or district ratings. Additionally, the request to reconsider process will continue to be offered and can be used by a school or district to exit performance watch if meeting certain conditions (i.e., move to “on watch” or move off the Accountability Clock entirely).
Financial information on schools and districts throughout Colorado. Learn more about financial transparency.