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Fact Sheets

  • Introducing the PSAT and SAT in Colorado (PDF)
    The PSAT and SAT exams, to be 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 will take the PSAT for the first time in 2018, 10th-grade students took the PSAT for the first time in 2016 and 11th-graders began taking the SAT as the state college-entrance exam in 2017.

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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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 English language arts and math assessments developed with the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)-developed. CDE is working with Colorado educators to develop state specific test items in English language arts and mathematics to appear on future years’ CMAS 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. In 2018, students in ninth grade will take the PSAT instead of CMAS tests.

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-wide 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 are 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 support 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 percent of the students must participate in the tests. Colorado also has assessments and participation requirements as well as state law regarding parent excusals from state assessments. View 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).

Does Colorado require more assessments than the federal minimum?

Yes. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, states must test students in grades three through eight and once in high school in math and reading, plus science in certain grade spans. 

For Colorado, the assessment system for the 2017-18 school year includes the following tests:

  • English language arts in third through eighth grade
  • Math in third through eighth grade
  • Science in grades 5, 8 and 11
  • Social studies in grades 4 and 7 (Over the next three years, about one-third of elementary and middle schools will be selected each year to administer social studies assessments. Eleventh-graders will not be administered the social studies exams in 2018).
  • PSAT in ninth grade
  • PSAT in 10th grade
  • SAT 11th grade

How much time will the tests take?

Overall, the estimated amount of testing time on CMAS is expected to be less than 1.5 percent of typical students' total instructional time.

In spring 2015, the math and English language arts tests were shortened and the administration of the tests was condensed into one window. As a result, testing time was reduced by approximately 90 minutes for all students third through ninth grade.

When will the tests be given?

In the 2017-18 school year, Colorado's state testing window for all spring 2018 CMAS and alternate assessments will be April 9-27. Schools administering only paper-based tests will complete testing during this three-week window, with the exception of students taking the paper-based form as an accommodation in a school taking the assessments online. Districts may request an early window to administer the high school science test as early as March 26. Districts may also request an extended test window for math and ELA due to limited device availability. March 19 will be the earliest start date for math and English language arts.

The testing schedule for the PSAT for both ninth- and 10th-grade students will be April 10-12. Students needing accommodations will be tested from April 10-17. Makeup dates will be April 11-20.

The testing schedule for the SAT will be April 10. Students needing accommodations will be tested April 10-13. The makeup date for the SAT is April 24.

What is the PSAT?

In the spring of 2016 Colorado 10th-grade students first took the PSAT test that replaced the CMAS tests in English language arts and math for that grade. The PSAT reflects the Colorado Academic Standards and is a precursor to the SAT, which is the state’s college-entry exam. The PSAT comes with a host of benefits, including content review for the SAT and scholarship opportunities. 

This spring Colorado ninth-graders will also take the PSAT, which replaces the CMAS English language arts and math tests for that grade. The changes came about from legislation and a desire to provide students with a stronger connection to the SAT.

Colorado awarded a new testing contract. Does that mean students won’t take PARCC tests?

Colorado’s contract for statewide assessments in science and social studies was set to expire in 2017. The contract for English language arts and math assessments could be amended to include one more year, through the spring of 2018. In March of 2017, CDE issued a Request for Proposals for a contractor to handle all tests in the coming years. Pearson, which has administered Colorado’s statewide tests since 2014, was awarded the contract by a selection committee comprised of educators from around the state and CDE staff. Under the contract, the science and social studies assessments will start this year and the ELA and math assessments will start in 2019.

The State Board of Education directed the department to ensure that the English language arts and math tests were shorter in duration and results were returned faster. In addition, the board required that CDE have decision-making authority over math and English language arts test design, form development and test administration policies. Colorado is working to develop test items just for our own CMAS ELA and math assessments, but while that work is underway, items from the PARCC assessment will continue to be used. CDE continues to target for shorter operation testing time. With Pearson continuing to administer the assessments, the transition for students and educators should be relatively seamless.

Participation and Parent Excusal

Can parents excuse their children from taking the state tests?

Yes. State 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 their specific policy with you.

What are the consequences of excusing your child from participating in the 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 a statewide 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.

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. Also, there is a chance that comparisons between schools and districts won’t be available as common state assessments are the most consistent way to compare performance right now.

Will my school or district’s accreditation rating be impacted by low participation on tests?

Federal law requires 95 percent of students overall, and in each demographic category, to take the required assessments. However, the Colorado State Board of Education passed a motion in February 2015 that says districts will not be held liable for parents choosing to excuse their children from testing.

As a result of these two policies, there is no impact on state accountability determinations for schools or districts that do not meet the federal requirement for 95 percent participation in two or more content areas due to parents excusing their students from testing. If, however, the school or district fails to meet the 95 percent 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.

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.

CMAS English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments

Who developed the new English language arts and mathematics assessments?

The English language arts and math assessments were developed in collaboration with PARCC. 

Colorado was a governing member of the PARCC consortia, which allowed 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.

The PARCC consortia is changing to allow states more flexibility in determining their assessments. Colorado is currently working to develop test items just for our own CMAS ELA and math assessments, but while that work is underway, items from the PARCC assessment will continue to be used.  Other than some adjustments for test time and getting results back faster, the 2018 assessments will be largely unchanged. 

English Language Arts Icon

When will students, families and educators receive the scores?

Individual student scores for CMAS tests that will be completed in April 2018 will be provided to all school districts in June 2018. School-, district and state-level scores are expected to be released at the August 2018 meeting of the State Board of Education. 

What do the score reports include?

The score reports 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 states.

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

The test scores do not impact grade point average or class ranking. 

Are the CMAS English language arts and mathematics given on a computer?

The tests 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?

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

A practice test for the English language arts and math tests is also available that includes technology-enhanced items using the same technology platform that was used for field testing, allowing students and educators to become more familiar with the types of items that will appear on the statewide assessments.


Performance Level Setting for CMAS 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 yet meet expectations

Score Graph- the colored graph below of an Algebra II assessment 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 students are to achieving the next level.

Scale Score Graphic for Algebra II

Who was involved in Performance Level Setting for the CMAS tests?

Colorado nominated a variety of stakeholders to participate in 12 in-person panels representing each grade level and subject area. Stakeholders included: K-12 educators, educators who serve students with disabilities, educators who teach English language learners, postsecondary faculty, and state education experts. In all, more than 240 teachers, postsecondary educators and content area experts met in small groups to review the tests and determine what range of scores best matches each performance level.

How are CMAS performance levels set?

A panel of K-12 educators, postsecondary faculty and workforce professionals determined what range of scores best matched each performance level. To make their judgments, panelists used performance level descriptors, and actual CMAS tests results and compared them to existing assessment research. Each group of panelists went through at least three rounds of review per assessment to develop the range of scores for each performance level. 


Scoring CMAS 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 CMAS 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 CMAS 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 CMAS assessments. Not all scorers are teachers, but as many as three-quarters have previous teaching experience. Half of all CMAS 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 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 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 percent 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.

Colorado-Developed Science and Social Studies Assessments

Who developed the CMAS science and social studies assessments?

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

What grades will be assessed?

  • Social studies: Approximately one-third of schools will participate in the testing for grades four and seven. 
  • Science: Grades five, eight and 11.


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 was used to evaluate the items for inclusion in the 2014 assessments and beyond.

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

In 2017, individual student scores for the CMAS assessments completed in April were provided to districts in June 2017. Electronic versions of student score reports for the Colorado-developed science and social studies assessments were available beginning in June 2017. Paper copies were available beginning in July 2017. School-, district and state-level results were released at the August 2017 State Board of Education meeting. A similar schedule is expected for 2018.

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 scores on CMAS 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 percent of an educator’s evaluation be based on student academic growth as demonstrated by various assessments or “measures of student learning,” including but not limited to state assessments. Beginning in 2015-16, 50 percent of teacher evaluations must be based on student academic growth measures.

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 the growth students show from year to year on assessments.  Preliminary school and district ratings will be released in August, and final ratings will be approved in November and December.  For more information about Colorado’s school and district accountability system, please click here. 



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 alternate 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 may 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 are schools, districts and educators held accountable for the test results?

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 the growth students show from year to year on assessments. Schools, districts and educators are expected to use the results to reflect upon the education program and progress of individual students in order to improve attainment for all 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, some 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, matriculation 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 action to improve performance for students.

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.


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