by Marissa Lorenz
West Grand and other Colorado students will resume standardized testing upon their return to school on Monday, April 12, after having suspended testing in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and after the state and federal governments agreed to several testing modifications.
In non-pandemic years, Colorado students are mandated, with few exceptions, to take a series of Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) tests. Most of the state’s third through eighth graders take both a math skills and English language arts assessment. Students in fifth, eighth, and 11th grades take a science exam. And fourth and seventh graders are tested in social studies.
The Colorado Department of Education (CDE) calls CMAS testing “the only common measuring tool for Colorado students,” in order
to gauge academic growth and achievement from year to year. And test results are then also tied to individual teacher and school performance evaluations.
But none of those tests were administered in 2020, leaving a gap in data collection. And with many Colorado districts and schools experiencing remote learning and/or interrupted in-person learning during the 2020-2021 school year, many have expressed concern that test results would be unreliable, including the state’s largest teacher’s union, the Colorado Education Association.
While testing opponents introduced legislation to cancel testing again, others argued that another year without new data would leave no way to determine how students had been impacted by COVID-19 disruptions, such as if they had fallen behind in learning and, if so, by how much.
A compromise was reached and passed by the Colorado legislature in March that would have approved eliminating all science and social studies testing and only required every other grade, third through eighth, to take the English and math tests. Test results would not be tied to teacher or school assessments for ‘20-’21.
And most modifications were approved upon submission of a waiver request to the US Department of Education.
Fourth, sixth, and eighth grade students will be required to take the math assessment. Third, fifth, and seventh graders will take
the English language test. And eighth and 11th graders will take the science evaluation. No social studies tests will be administered, as the federal government has no normal mandate for the subject. But any student could choose to take both the math and English tests.
West Grand K-8 Assistant Principal Nathan Tedjeske, who was tasked with organizing this year’s testing season, explains in more detail. “In normal years, there is an opt-out form parents can sign to have their kids not take the test, which is still available this year.
The big difference is that parents are able to opt their students into the test that their grade level isn’t taking. For example, if I have a third grader and I want them to take the math test, I need to opt them into that.”
On what the opt-in numbers may look like in Kremmling, Tedjeske says they could go either way. “On the one side, I can see parents wanting to gauge where their students are and opting them in. On the other side, I can see parents not wanting their students to take additional assessments in this type of year.
“I expect lower participation for our remote families. Many have expressed concerns about having their students do in-person learning as a result of COVID. I can see families who have chosen to keep their students home for the school year keeping them home for testing as well.”
There are other uncertainties as well. Colorado Senator Bob Rankin, a Republican who represents the State’s 8th District, including Grand County, is concerned that eliminating literacy assessment of fourth graders means the State won’t gain important data on how the Colorado Reading to Ensure Academic Development (READ) Act is impacting students.
In 2019, Rankin sponsored a major update to the READ Act legislation, which was first passed in 2012, to address the growing number of Colorado students unable to read at grade level by third grade, a deficit that is increasingly tied to ongoing educational, social, and career struggles.
“I honestly do believe this was an important, overlooked issue,” Rankin said. “That test is the primary measure of how well we’re doing.”
West Grand students have demonstrated similar challenges in recent testing years. In 2019, the most recent year for which there is data, while 97.4% of third through eighth graders in the District took the CMAS English tests, only 36% met or exceeded grade-level expectations, 2% fewer than the year before.
There were large variances between grade levels, however, as the West Grand School District has maintained a focus on curricula evaluation and replacement over the last couple of years, hoping to ultimately better align curricula across grades for better achievement.
2019 saw West Grand third and seventh graders who met or exceeded English language expectations increase 23.3% and 20.5% respectively over the previous year, while eighth grade scores showed a 40.6% decrease in subject “mastery.”
Similar numbers took the mandated math assessments in Kremmling that year with only 22.6% of students meeting or exceeding math expectations, 4.5% fewer than in 2018. Eighth graders again showed the lowest achievement, with 12% fewer students meeting or exceeding grade-level expectations.
However, District leadership is positive about this year’s standardized test results, given the more complete curriculum overhaul, the relatively uninterrupted in-person learning they have been able to achieve, and the small class sizes that they were dedicated to maintaining during the 2020-2021 school year.
Testing will take place between April 12 and May 14, according to Tedjeske. “As far as a daily testing schedule, because we are one-to-one, it will allow classrooms to be more flexible about when they test, so each grade will look a little different.”
For more information, check out ParentSquare, contact your child’s classroom teacher, or go to wgsd.us.