Site Index | CDE Offices | Staff Directory


Jump to a Section:

Fact Sheets

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!

Jump to a Section:

Colorado Measures of Academic Success

What are Colorado Measures of Academic Success?

The Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) are the state’s common measurement of students’ progress at the end of the school year in English language arts, math, science and social studies. CMAS encompasses the 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 science and social studies assessments were first administered in spring 2014 in grades 4, 5, 7, and 8. The English language arts and mathematics assessments were 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 were fully implemented in all schools in 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, but changes were made to Colorado’s statewide assessment system by the state legislature in 2015. The assessment system for the 2015-16 school year will include the following tests:

  • English language arts 3rd through 9th grade
  • Math in grades 3rd through 9th grade
  • Science in grades 5, 8 and 11
  • Social studies in grades 4, 7 and 11 (Over the next three years, about one-third of elementary and middle schools will be selected each year to administer social studies assessments. In November, CDE will share with districts their selected schools for this year. Social studies exams will not be administered to high school students in the 2015-16 school year.  To meet the new law’s requirement for a three-year sampling plan for social studies tests, these assessments will be administered at zero percent of high schools in 2016, approximately 50 percent of high schools in 2017, and the remaining 50 percent in 2018.)
  • College preparatory exam in 10th grade
  • College entrance exam in 11th grade

How much time will the tests take?

CMAS testing time is comparable to previous tests in Colorado. Overall, the estimated amount of testing time on CMAS is expected to be less than 1.5% of typical students' total instructional time.

In spring 2015, PARCC shortened the length of its math and English language arts tests and condensed the tests into one window. As a result, testing time will be reduced by approximately 90 minutes for all students 3rd through 9th grade.

Some Colorado students will participate in PARCC’s 90-minute field test of questions that could be used in future years.

When will the tests be given?

In the 2015-2016 school year, CMAS assessments for third through ninth graders will take place from April 11–29. However, the Colorado Department of Education will allow districts to begin testing one to three weeks early if they cannot complete testing within the allotted timeframe due to limitations on the number of computers or other devices needed for testing. The college entrance and preparatory exams taken by 11th and 10th graders, respectively, will be taken in the spring of 2016, but specific dates are yet to be determined.

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

In 2015, the state legislature passed a law requiring districts to develop policies allowing parents to excuse their students from participating in one or more state assessments.

PARCC-developed English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments

Who developed the new 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 country 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 participated in a 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.


When will students, families and educators receive the scores from the 2015 tests?

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) score reports will be provided to students and their families later this fall. The Colorado Department of Education will provide additional resources in September and October to help schools and families understand and use the score reports. In future years, score reports are expected to released in the summer. In the first year of any new standardized assessment, performance levels must first be set before scores can be released. See more about performance levels below.

What will the score reports include?

The new score reports for PARCC-developed English language arts (ELA) and mathematics assessments are designed to provide educators, families and students 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, Colorado and other PARCC states.

Why do scores look different than scores on previous tests?

Because this is first year of the new tests in English language arts and math, the scores mark a new baseline for students. The scores are not comparable to previous test scores. The new tests measure different things – such as where the students are in developing the critical-thinking and problem-solving skills employers in the 21st Century are demanding. They are also more rigorous, as they are aligned to higher standards. The level of knowledge that students have is the same as previous years, but since now the standards are higher the performance on these tests may change. Adjusting to these changes will take time but evidence in other states such as Kentucky, Massachusetts and Tennessee have proven that over time, students will achieve proficiency on more rigorous tests. Higher proficiency of higher standards means Colorado students will be better prepared for college and career success.

How will the test scores impact other measurements of students’ performance?

The test scores do not impact GPA, class ranking or college acceptance. The state legislature has made the decision not to tie this year’s test scores to teacher or school rankings and evaluations. This will give students, teachers and schools more time to gain more experience with the standards and aligned assessments.

Are the PARCC-developed English language arts and mathematics given on a computer?

The tests are designed to be administered online, 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?

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.

Performance Level Setting for PARCC- Developed Tests

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:

  • Level 5: Exceeded expectations
  • Level 4: Met expectations 
  • Level 3: Approached expectations 
  • Level 2: Partially met expectations 
  • Level 1: Did not meet expectations

Score Graph- the colored graph below shows the score ranges for each performance level and where the student's score falls within the range. This gives parent's an indication of how close their student is to achieving the next level. 

Who is involved in Performance Level Setting for the PARCC-developed tests?

Colorado – like all states participating in PARCC – nominates a variety of stakeholders to participate in 12 in-person panels representing each grade level and subject area. Stakeholders include: K-12 educators, educators who serve students with disabilities, educators who teach English language learners, postsecondary faculty, and state education experts. In all, over 240 teachers, postsecondary educators and content area experts will meet in small groups to review the tests and determine what range of scores best matches each performance level.

How are PARCC performance levels set?

A panel of K-12 educators, postsecondary faculty and workforce professionals determine what range of scores best matches each performance level. To make their judgments, panelists use performance level descriptors (developed earlier by PARCC states), and actual PARCC tests results and compare them to existing assessment research. Each group of panelists will go through at least three rounds of review per assessment to develop the range of scores for each performance level. The determinations of these groups will then be reviewed and voted on by district and postsecondary leaders in each of the PARCC states.

When will the performance levels be set?

Panel groups are convening in July and August to recommend performance levels, and the Governing Board of PARCC will vote on the recommended performance levels in August and September.

Scoring PARCC-Developed Tests

Who scores the tests?

Qualified scorers are recruited from across the country and must have a Bachelor’s degree or higher in mathematics, English, education or a related field. Scorers for the mathematics portions of the PARCC 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 and literacy portions of the PARCC 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 literacy analysis, research simulation, or narrative writing tasks found in the PARCC assessments. Not all scorers are teachers, but as many as three-quarters have previous teaching experience. Half of all PARCC 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 that have been trained and qualified to score that particular 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 they can use to compare their scoring against the guide that was prepared by educators. To ensure that scorers are maintaining accuracy standards throughout the scoring process, scorers will routinely be given pre-scored answers along with un-scored answers. A scorer’s evaluations must match the “true” scores at least 70 percent of the time. When a scorer’s accuracy declines, they receive additional training on the test question. If a scorer cannot maintain consistency and accuracy, their previous scores are all put back into the system for re-scoring.

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 and 11 (Over the next three years, about one-third of elementary and middle schools will be selected each year to administer social studies assessments. In November, CDE will share with districts their selected schools for this year. Social studies exams will not be administered to high school students in the 2015-16 school year.  To meet the new law’s requirement for a three-year sampling plan for social studies tests, these assessments will be administered at zero percent of high schools in 2016, approximately 50 percent of high schools in 2017, and the remaining 50 percent in 2018.)
  • Science: Grades 5, 8 and 11

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.

When will students receive scores for the science and social studies assessments?

Score reports for the Colorado-developed science and social studies assessments were released in July 2015. Check with your district on distribution plans for individual student reports.

How are CMAS scores used?

How can parents use the scores?

Score reports demonstrate a student’s 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 will use the scores to support students’ needs, identify strengths and enhance learning for all students. Because the different scores on PARCC 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?

These results will not be used for district accreditation ratings or educator evaluations this year. The “time out” created by state legislature in 2015 allows more time for educators, schools and districts to gain more experience with the standards and get used to the new assessments before they are used for accountability purposes. In future years, these score reports will only comprise one part of how district accreditation ratings and teacher evaluations 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: 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.

View all Fact Sheets & FAQs from the Communications Division

We want to hear from you! Answer two quick questions.

Quick Links


Contact Us

Colorado Dept. of Education
201 East Colfax Ave.
Denver, CO 80203
Phone: 303-866-6600
Fax: 303-830-0793
Contact CDE

CDE Hours
Mon - Fri 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
See also: Licensing Hours

Educator Licensing