(The Center Square) - Colorado received conditional approval by the federal government for its student assessment plan Friday.
Under the plan approved by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), Colorado schools will administer the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) English assessment to students in third, fifth, and seventh grades. CMAS math assessments will be administered to fourth, sixth, and eighth grade students.
DOE did not approve Colorado's plan to suspend CMAS science tests for eighth graders this school year, the state education department said. While the test will not be offered to fifth and eleventh graders this school year like previous ones, school districts must publicly report the SAT analysis in science sub-score this year.
The changes, which only apply to the 2020-2021 school year, were requested following the approval of House Bill 21-1161, which limits CMAS testing to one subject per grade.
The bipartisan bill was sponsored by Reps. Emily Sirota, D-Denver, and Barbara McLachlan, D-Durango, and Sens. Rachel Zenzinger, D-Arvada, and Don Coram, R-Montrose.
"In the spirit of collaboration, Colorado educators, school districts, advocacy organizations, legislators, and the department of education came together to create a solution that serves students, and provides some relief after a challenging academic year," Gov. Jared Polis said in a statement.
In December, Colorado's Department of Education (CDE) released a survey that found state educators are concerned by declining K-3 literacy rates and the mental health of their students following the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the state's special legislative session, lawmakers hoped to counter these concerns by appropriating $20 million to expand broadband access for rural students.
Still, several school districts reported seeing lower literacy rates among their students. The Denver Post reported students at Denver Public Schools were still reading "significantly below their grade level" during their mid-year assessments.
Similarly, third through seventh grades students in Jefferson County experienced "lower median growth in reading between the fall and winter than in previous years," the Post reported.
Colorado's largest teachers union--the Colorado Education Association (CEA)--applauded the DOE's decision to limit testing next year. The organization said the plan is necessary to provide support for students who are "struggling to survive because of the COVID-19 pandemic."
"Students and educators have been bouncing between in-person, virtual and hybrid learning depending on the COVID-19 conditions in their community for a year now. The last thing students need is to have the brakes slammed on learning to accommodate several weeks of standardized testing," Amie Baca-Oehlert, CEA's president, said in a statement.
In addition to paring back standardized testing, CDE said it is planning to submit another waiver to pause federal accountability requirements for another year.
The requirements are codified in The Education Accountability Act of 2009 and requires the State Board of Education to conduct annual performance reviews of each school district. The law requires the board's audit unit to focus on helping school districts grow their CMAS and other standardized test scores.
CDE anticipates submitting the waiver by the end of April.