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Fact Sheets

  • Assessment Overview (PDF)
    Meaningful, timely and precise measures of student learning – assessments - provide critical data and feedback to determine whether educational goals are being met. Colorado assessments are changing in order to accurately assess student mastery relative to the Colorado Academic Standards. Learn more in this fact sheet.
  • Parent Handout on CMAS (PDF)
    Quick guide to CMAS for parents, including test length, testing windows and the value of state tests to teachers, parents and schools.
  • CMAS Testing Times (PDF) 
    These charts provide detailed information on the number of sections and scheduled testing time for CMAS compared to TCAP. 
  • Assessment Timeline  (PDF)
    Illustrates which assessments have been added to the state list of requirements over time.
  • Colorado’s Education Improvement Efforts “101” (PDF)
    Colorado has a comprehensive education improvement agenda which over the past few years has been encoded into state law. This fact sheet provides an overview, implementation progress and next steps for Colorado's Achievement Plan for Kids (Senate Bill 08-212), the Education Accountability Act (Senate Bill 09-163) and the Great Teachers and Leaders Act (Senate Bill 10-191).
  • PARCC-Developed English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments (PDF)
    Colorado’s state assessments are changing in order to accurately assess student mastery of the updated Colorado Academic Standards. With the standards being more focused, coherent and rigorous, assessments must adapt to align with the standards. Colorado’s new assessment system is called the Colorado Measures of Academic Success. It incorporates new science and social studies assessments developed by Colorado and new English language arts and mathematics assessments developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC).
  • School and District Accountability during the 2015 Assessment Transition: Overview of HB 14-1182 (PDF)
    As Colorado implements new standards and assessments, some adjustments will need to be made to the state’s accountability system. The greatest impact will come in the spring of 2015 with the transition from the reading, writing and mathematics Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) assessments to the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments that include the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessments in English language arts and mathematics. House Bill 14-1182 was passed in 2014 to address the impact of the 2015 assessment transition on school and district accountability.
  • State and Federal Assessment Requirements (PDF)
    Access this quick reference on the federal and state required assessments.
  • Transitioning to 21st Century Standards and Assessments  (PDF)
    Meaningful and relevant assessments work hand in hand with rigorous academic standards. Assessments provide ongoing measures of student learning at each grade level. The data from assessments is critical in determining if educational goals are being met and if students are on track to graduate prepared for college and career. The Colorado Academic Standards are the foundation for the state assessments in science, social studies, English language arts and mathematics.
  • Transitioning to New State Assessments  (PDF)
    Colorado assessments are changing in order to accurately assess student mastery of the new, more focused, coherent and rigorous Colorado Academic Standards. The Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) is being phased out and replaced by the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, the state’s new English language arts, mathematics, science and social studies assessments. Learn more in this brief overview and FAQ document.


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!

Colorado Measures of Academic Success

What are Colorado Measures of Academic Success?

Colorado assessments are changing in order to accurately assess student mastery of the updated Colorado Academic Standards. The Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) name encompasses the new Colorado-developed science and social studies assessments as well as the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)-developed, English language arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments. The new CMAS science and social studies assessments were administered in spring 2014 in grades 4, 5, 7, and 8. The CMAS PARCC English language arts and mathematics assessments will be administered for the first time in spring 2015.

Why do we need new assessments?

The Colorado State Board of Education adopted updated Colorado Academic Standards in 10 content areas in December 2009 and then adopted the Common Core State Standards for English language arts and mathematics in August 2010. The updated standards are to be fully implemented in all schools by the 2013-14 school year. Challenging new standards require next-generation assessments that measure students’ knowledge of the new expectations. The assessments also provide educators with important information they need to prepare their students for success.

As part of a balanced assessment system, state 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 teachers throughout their class), interim assessments (more formal progress monitoring often conducted several times throughout the year to see how students are progressing), and summative assessments (end or course/unit, end of year assessments to find out what students know and can do).

The state assessments are summative assessments. Where formative, interim, and classroom-based summative 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. They help students and their families know how they are performing compared to the standards and compared to their peers and how they’ve grown over time. They enable teachers to see how their students are performing against the standards and identify areas they may need to adjust in their practice for the future. And, they provide school/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 is used to inform continuous improvement of the system at all levels.

Are states required to administer state-wide assessments and what are the minimum requirements?

States that accept federal funds for such purposes as supporting the education of children in poverty, English language learners, and students with disabilities are required to administer state-wide assessments to all students. Currently, Colorado receives approximately $350 million in federal funds for these and related purposes. The minimum required assessments are:

    • Grades 3 through 8 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

For the assessments noted above, states must give the same assessments to all students and at least 95% of the students must participate in the tests. There are also some required assessments specific to certain populations of students (e.g., language screeners for English language learners).

Does Colorado require more assessments than the federal minimum?

Yes. Colorado’s statewide summative assessment system, as outlined in state statute, includes the following assessments:

  • Grades 3 through 11 for English language arts (under TCAP grades 3-10 were assessed)
  • Grades 3 through 8 and three times in high school for math (under TCAP grades 3-10 were assessed)
  • Once in elementary, middle, and high school for science
  • Once in elementary, middle, and high school for social studies
  • ACT in 11th grade

Colorado has had two assessments in high school for English language arts and math and the ACT. The state will be adding 11th grade English language arts and math in 2014-15. A key rationale from education practitioners and policymakers for having these assessments at the high school level was based on the desire to have an early signal of whether students were on track to graduate college/career ready (the 9th grade assessments) and to then have an assessment that gave a closer approximation to their readiness (the 10th grade assessment) followed by the measure of readiness accepted by colleges and universities, the 11th grade assessment and the ACT. Social studies was added through feedback on the importance of this content area from practitioners, policymakers, and the State Board of Education.

Are we adding to the number of state-administered assessments?

The new state assessments are comparable to TCAP with the addition of social studies in grades 4, 7, and 12 and the addition of 11th grade testing in English language arts and math. TCAP included reading, writing, math, and science. Under the Colorado Measures of Academic Success assessment system, reading and writing are combined into one assessment – English language arts, math and science remain, and social studies is added. The addition of 11th grade testing allows students to use the results of those assessments for higher education course placement purposes (and, for Colorado institutions, for admissions purposes).

How much time will the tests take?

The testing time for the typical student in TCAP versus CMAS is comparable. Testing times are largely the same with the exception of 3rd and 11th grade. Overall, the estimated amount of testing time on CMAS is expected to be less than 1.5% of typical students' total instructional time.

Can Parents Refuse to allow their children to take the tests?

On February 18, 2015, the state board of education adopted a motion to not hold districts liable for the decisions of parents who do not want to allow their children to take the PARCC-developed tests in English language arts and math.  Effective immediately, districts will not be penalized by a lowering of their accreditation rating or school rating should their student participation rates fall below 95 percent due to parent refusals.  CDE is asking districts to document all parent refusals. For more information, click here

Can Districts Receive a Waiver from the Requirements to Test Students?

The state board of education voted in March 2015 to allow continued submissions of requests from districts to waive the performance-based component of the PARCC-developed tests in English language arts and math.  This is the first component of two-component tests in English and math which will be given beginning on March 9. The board’s decision on the waiver requests was tabled until the next special or regular meeting of the board.  Since the board did not grant waivers, districts should continue preparations for the administration of the upcoming assessments. 

How much do the new assessments cost?

The General Assembly allocated approximately $6 million to develop state science and social studies assessments, including alternate assessments for our students with significant cognitive disabilities. The General Assembly also directed the state to participate in a consortium of states developing shared assessments for English language arts and math. Colorado is a member of the PARCC consortium. The consortium funds the design cost for the assessments. The General Assembly allocated $34 million for the administration of English language arts and math assessments this year.

How is CDE examining the impact of the assessment changes on districts?

The amount of tests and testing time are largely comparable from the TCAP system to the new CMAS system. That said, moving to an online testing environment, adding social studies, and adding 11th grade assessments have a range of intended and unintended implications on districts, schools, teachers, and students. In addition, the General Assembly has adopted legislation regarding literacy assessments and school readiness assessments that districts are implementing.

To study the implications of these assessment changes on districts, CDE is working with WestEd, a nonprofit education research agency, to research the assessment requirements, gather data from a representative sample of districts across the state regarding the implications of the requirements, and submit findings and recommendations to the department. This study will also take into consideration district and school level assessments. The multi-phase study will provide information  from data gathered prior to the science and social studies assessments, from data gathered after the science and social studies assessments, and at various times during the 2014-15 school year to inform the work pre/post PARCC administration. The department plans to share the results of the study with stakeholders, use the information to refine state administration policies and procedures, and use the recommendations to propose any policy changes that might emerge from the findings.

PARCC-developed English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments

Who is developing and reviewing the new CMAS PARCC-developed English language arts and mathematics assessments?

The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) is a multi-state consortia developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. Colorado is a governing member of the PARCC consortia which allows Colorado Department of Education staff, along with staff from the Colorado Department of Higher Education and Colorado educators, to collaborate with individuals from across the U.S. to develop common assessments for English language arts and mathematics.

Hundreds of K-12 and postsecondary educators, content specialists and assessment experts from across the PARCC states are participating in thorough review of all items, including about 57 educators from Colorado. Their priority is to evaluate whether the items are closely aligned to the standards, are of high quality and are rigorous, fair and unbiased.

What grades will be assessed?

    • 3rd -8th grade: Mathematics and English language arts
    • 9-11th grade: English language arts
    • There are three high school assessments in the two math sequences:
          • Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II
          • Integrated/International I, Integrated/International II and Integrated/International III

            *8th graders taking Algebra I (or Integrated I) will be able to take the Algebra I assessment

When will the new English language arts and mathematics assessments be given?

In the spring of 2015 (2014-15 school year), the new English language arts and mathematics assessments will be administered. Assessments in each content area will be administered in two components: a performance-based assessment administered after approximately 75 percent of the school year and an end-of-year assessment administered after approximately 90 percent of the school year.

Will the PARCC-developed English language arts and mathematics tests be given on a computer?

Yes, these tests will be computer-based, except for a small group of students with special needs.

Will students be able to practice before actually taking the English language art and mathematics assessments? 

Sample items and tasks for mathematics and English language arts, along with a range of supplementary materials and additional resources, are available online.

The PARCC practice test is also available that includes technology-enhanced items using the same technology platform that was used for field testing, allowing students and educators in all PARCC states to become more familiar with the types of items that will appear on the PARCC assessments.

Were the PARCC-developed English language arts and mathematics assessments field tested?

In spring 2014, the PARCC field test was administered to more than one million students across the PARCC states. The PARCC field test gave students and local educators the opportunity to experience the administration of PARCC assessments. The field test was conducted in a random selection of schools across PARCC states. The sample of students in the selected school represented the demographics of each state and of PARCC as a whole. PARCC worked with Education Testing Service (ETS) to draw a sample of Colorado schools for the field test, and districts with sampled schools were notified of their final selections in December 2013. More than a hundred Colorado districts participated in the field test. While the field test assessments were designed to mirror those that will be used in the first PARCC administration in 2014-2015, most students that participated in the field test only took one component of the whole assessment in one content area in order to minimize testing burden on individual students and schools.

How quickly will assessment data be returned to districts?

PARCC results will be delayed the first year due to the need for standard-setting. Results are expected to be returned around September or October.

How much time will it take students to complete the entire PARCC assessment?

The updated English language arts and mathematics assessments replace TCAP tests; they are not additional assessments (with the exception of the 11th grade assessments which were not part of the TCAP assessments). Testing time will be refined based on timing data collected from the field test. Current time estimates for typical students on all components of the English language arts and mathematics assessments are currently expected to be about (note that these times are largely comparable to current TCAP testing times):

    • 8 hours annually in 3rd grade
    • Just over 9 hours in grades 4–5
    • A little less than 9 ½ hours in middle school
    • A little more than 9 ½ hours in high school

These times refer to on-task time, or the time it will take the typical student to complete the PARCC summative tests in both content areas. Once field testing is completed, test timing will be re-evaluated to determine time-on-task for the operational assessment. While it is anticipated that most students will complete the assessments within these estimated times, schools will be asked to schedule a limited amount of additional time to ensure that students who work at slower rates can complete the assessments. Schools also will continue to make special accommodations for children with disabilities who have specific requirements regarding test administration.

Colorado-developed Science and Social Studies Assessments

Who is developing the new CMAS science and social studies assessments?

These assessments are being developed collaboratively by the Colorado Department of Education, Pearson (the assessment contractor) and Colorado educators.

What grades will be assessed?

    • Social studies:  Grades 4, 7, 12
    • Science:  Grades 5, 8, 12

When will the new science and social studies assessments be given?

All of the new science and social studies assessments were given in the spring of 2014 (April 14-May 2) except for the 12th grade science and social studies assessments which will be administered in the fall of 2014 (November 3 – 21).

Will the Colorado-developed science and social studies assessments be given on a computer?

Yes, the science and social studies assessments will be delivered online. The device information provided by districts in the 2013-14 school year (via the Technology Readiness Tool), paired with district success in spring and fall field testing, suggests that most districts are on track to deliver the assessments online. The paper-based versions of the science and social studies assessments are considered accommodated forms. Use of the paper-based assessments is expected only to be available to students who:

      • Have a neurological disorder, a condition that causes seizures or another health condition that prevents the student from accessing the computer
      • Need a braille form with tactile graphics  
      • Have a IEP or 504 plan that requires assistive technology, such as speech-to-text, that may not be compatible with the test engine
      • Will provide written responses in a language other than English or Spanish

Can students practice before actually testing?

Districts are strongly encouraged to give students time to interact with the testing environment before testing begins. Practice testing environments, also referred to as ePATs (electronic Practice Assessment Tools), that help to familiarize students with the testing environment, can be accessed here. To access the ePATs on this website, select Colorado from the drop down box then click on the support tab. On the support page, you will find the ePATs, along with practice guides. Mac users will need to be sure that the device has Java updated.

Were Colorado’s school districts able to field test these exams?

Field testing for the science and social studies assessments included 117 Colorado school districts in the spring and fall of 2013. Across elementary, middle and high school, 62,203 science and social studies assessments were submitted by students. Data generated from the field tests are being used to evaluate the items for possible inclusion in the 2014 assessments.

How much time will it takes students to complete the science and social studies assessments?

The assessment for each grade level and content area is comprised of three sections. It is estimated that the typical student will take 50 – 55 minutes to complete each section. CDE recommends that districts schedule sections for 90 minutes to allow time for students who need time beyond the estimated-time-on-task to complete the section.


Will districts have the technology to administer online assessments?

Over the spring and fall of 2013, CDE engaged 117 districts in field testing for the new science and social studies assessments. Results from these field tests as well as from a technology readiness survey suggest that approximately 95 percent of the schools can administer the new science and social studies assessments in a three-week window. It is important to note that a number of solutions are available for technical challenges, including proctor caching to address bandwidth issues. The spring science and social studies administrations will provide a good baseline for district readiness for the PARCC assessments the following spring.

How is CDE helping districts prepare for the online assessments?

CDE has supported districts in preparing for online assessments via a variety of site readiness activities: technology readiness survey, site visits, face-to-face trainings, webinars and regional District Technology Coordinator (DTC) meetings. CDE and Pearson will have conducted in-person technology consultations to all districts expressing interest, totaling 52 site visits through January 2014.

Will students be tested at the same time?

Districts will have multi-week assessment windows within which to schedule the assessments. Unlike paper and pencil tests where it is feasible to have all students in a grade take the test at the same time, the online assessments will likely require students to take the test at different times throughout the day to accommodate the number of computer/tablet devices that are available.

Will the technology be hard for students to use when taking the assessment?

The new assessments are built on a computer system that should be easy for students to learn and use. Schools will be able to use a range of devices from desktop computers to laptops and tablets - the same technology that students use in classrooms throughout the year.

How have districts/schools with low bandwidth capabilities been taken into account?

Proctor caching allows districts to securely download test content to local networks before testing. This no-cost-to-district vendor-supplied software solution reduces bandwidth requirements and accelerates the delivery of test content.

Can tablets (Chromebooks, iPads, etc.) be used for the new assessments?

Chromebooks and iPads may be used for the Colorado-developed science and social studies and PARCC-developed English language arts and mathematics assessments as long as they meet the minimum device specifications for laptops and netbooks identified by Technology Guidelines for PARCC Assessments: Version 3.0.

Quick highlights for iPad requirements include:

      • iPad version: iPad 2 or greater
      • Operating system: iOS 6 or greater
      • RAM: 512 MB RAM or greater
      • Keyboard: External keyboard required

To avoid limiting or obscuring the view of test item content and related functionalities when inputting text, the new assessments require external keyboards when tablets are being used (virtual keyboards occupy essential onscreen space). External keyboards must allow students to enter letters, numbers, symbols, shift, tab, return, delete and backspace. To meet security guidelines, each Bluetooth/wireless keyboard must be configured to pair with only a single computer during assessment administration. Tablet touch screen interfaces can be used for student interactions with the assessments other than text input, including to select/deselect, drag, and highlight text, objects, and areas.

Are headphones required for the new assessments?

In 2014,the headphone technology requirement is the major difference between the technology specifications for the science and social studies assessments and the PARCC English language arts exams.

Headphone needed:

      • PARCC ELA assessment
      • Accommodations requiring them for science and social studies (text-to-speech)
      • PARCC math assessment when accommodations require headphones

Headphones not required:

      • Science and social studies assessments
      • PARCC mathematics assessments


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:  1) take the general assessment without accommodations; 2) take the general assessment with accommodations; and 3) 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 Learn (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 alternative tests in science and social studies. Accommodations can be divided into four categories:

  1. Presentation accommodations – changes in the way test items are presented to a student (i.e., large print, braille, oral presentation, translated oral presentation, etc.);
  2. Response accommodations – changes in the way a student responds to test items (i.e., uses scribe, responds in Spanish, uses assistive technology device, etc.);
  3. Setting accommodations – changes in the test environment's setting (i.e., small group or individual administration); and/or
  4. 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.).

The CMAS: Science and Social Studies assessment administration time includes an extended time allotment of time-and-a-half for all students. Students who have an extended time need beyond time-and-a-half documented in an approved IEP, 504, or EL plan my be provided with additional time..

What is the CoAlt?

A small number of students, approximately one percent of the student population, take the Colorado Alternate (CoAlt) assessment. These are students who have significant cognitive disabilities. Special accommodations are built into the CoAlt specifically for these students.

Impact on Accountability

How will the new test scores impact the statewide system of accountability for districts, schools and educators?

In the 2014 legislative session, some adjustments were made to the state’s accountability system to account for the transition from the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) assessments to the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments in the spring of 2015. House Bill 14-1182 addresses the adjustments to school and district accountability frameworks during the assessment transition. To learn more, please download the fact sheet.

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