Remember those state tests your kids took last spring? You should be getting their score reports any time now — if you haven’t already.

The reports include lots of numbers, plus intimidating terms like “performance level descriptor,” but don’t toss them in your junk drawer just yet. We’ve compiled answers to common questions about score reports showing results from the Colorado Measures of Academic Success or CMAS tests, including what districts are required to share, how parents should interpret the reports, and where to get more information.

To find 2019 school- or state-level results, check out our searchable database and for a look at how the latest round of CMAS scores will affect schools and districts on the state’s watch list, read our latest coverage here.  

Got a question about CMAS score reports that you don’t see answered? Send us a note at co.tips@chalkbeat.org, and we’ll do our best to answer it.

My child took the CMAS tests last spring. Does the school have to send me the score report?

Yes, state law requires districts to ensure that schools, including charters, distribute and explain students’ state test results to parents. It’s the “when” and “how” that varies — even across schools in the same district. 

Christina Wirth-Hawkins, director of assessment development for the Colorado Department of Education, said that beyond the general language in state law, the department doesn’t mandate a specific schedule or format for sharing CMAS reports. 

“We don’t say how or when they do it, but it really should be a soon-as-possible situation,” she said.

The state distributed electronic versions of students score reports to school districts in June and hard copies in July.

Some schools have already mailed the hard copy reports to parents or sent them home in students’ “Friday folders.” Other schools will share the paper reports with parents at fall back-to-school events or parent-teacher conferences. 

Some districts also provide CMAS scores to families through online parent portals such as Infinite Campus or Empower. Some provide the full score report and others provide just a couple numbers off the report.  

Which students won’t get CMAS score reports?

Students whose parents opted them out of CMAS tests won’t get score reports. Also, students who were absent when the tests were given, didn’t answer any questions, or answered too few questions to produce a valid score. In some cases, score reports aren’t issued if school staff improperly administered the CMAS test or a security breach occurred. 

What should I do if I don’t receive a CMAS score report for my child?

If your child took CMAS tests last spring and you don’t receive a score report, state officials recommend calling your child’s school, and if that doesn’t work, your school district.

Do score reports come out in languages other than English?

For the most part, no. However, student score reports were translated into Spanish for the 2,900 third- and fourth-graders who took the Spanish version of the CMAS literacy test. The other 124,000 CMAS literacy reports for those grades are in Engiish. 

On its CMAS information page for parents, the state education department does provide a parent’s guide to math and literacy score reports in Spanish as well as a one-pager explaining how parents can use CMAS to support their children academically. It also provides sample score reports in Spanish for the literacy, math, science, and social studies assessments. 

The state doesn’t provide CMAS resources in languages other than Spanish, but some districts translate them into additional languages. The Denver district, for example, offers five CMAS-related documents translated into Vietnamese, Amharic, Burmese, French, Nepali, Russian, and Somali. It also provides versions in English and Spanish.

There’s so much information on the CMAS score report. Where do I start?

Start with your child’s “performance level.” There are five of them for the math and literacy tests, and four for the science and social studies tests. The top category for all the tests is “exceeded expectations” and the second highest is “met expectations.” Students in these two categories are working at grade level or higher. 

The third highest performance category for all the tests is “approaching expectations.” Scores in this category mean students may need extra help to get to grade level, but aren’t far off. (More on that below.) On the math and literacy CMAS tests this year, about a quarter of Colorado students were “approaching expectations.” 

For math and literacy tests, “partially met expectations” is the second lowest score category and means students have a limited command of the skills they need to be at grade level. Last is “did not yet meet expectations,” which means students need extensive help to reach grade level. 

Between 10% and 20% of Colorado students fell into the “did not yet meet” category this year on math and literacy tests, depending on grade level. (“Partially met expectations” is the lowest of the four performance levels for science and social studies tests.)

Score reports also show how your child performed compared with other students in their school and district, as well as around the state — that’s the “percentile” at the top of the report. The report also shows how many points they earned on each section of the test.

District and state officials stress that CMAS scores are meant to be a point-in-time snapshot of what students know and don’t necessarily summarize all their abilities. Still, the scores and performance levels do provide a look at whether students have mastered state standards meant to ensure college and career readiness. 

My child has always scored in the 50th percentile or above on national literacy and math assessments used by our district, but on CMAS falls into the “approaching” category. Is my child on grade level or not?

There’s a few points worth unpacking here. First, CMAS specifically tests students on Colorado’s academic expectations while other tests don’t focus on Colorado-specific criteria.
“They are off-the-shelf products and they’re not designed specifically to measure our standards,” Wirth-Hawkins said of other assessments. “The alignment isn’t as tight.” 

CMAS tests are what’s known as criterion-referenced assessments, which means results are based on whether or not students meet a certain defined standard — in this case, Colorado’s grade-level expectations. A score in the approaching “category” means your child didn’t meet the defined standard. 

That said, many standardized tests, including CMAS, give parents multiple ways to see how their children are doing. So, comparing one element of the CMAS score report to a different element of another score report could be an apples to oranges comparison. 

More specifically, your child’s percentile rank on a reading test used by your district shows how she did in relation to other students who took the test, but not whether she met grade-level standards. For example, a 50th percentile rank means, she’s doing as well or better than 50% of students who took the test. 

In the end, district and state officials say parents should always talk to their child’s teacher if they’re concerned about their child’s performance on CMAS. But it’s worth remembering that a score in the “approaching” category doesn’t necessarily indicate a serious problem. 

“It’s not that those kids don’t know things,” said Wirth-Hawkins. “They know a lot of information, but they’re not quite crossing that bar.” 

Matt Flores, the Jeffco school district’s chief academic officer, said that while touching base with a student’s teacher can’t hurt, “I would never let an ‘approaching’ score be considered an emergency.”

My child got a zero on the writing portion of the CMAS. Does that mean he wrote nothing?

Not necessarily. There are a couple possibilities here. Your child may have answered the question with only a generic sentence instead of a longer passage that includes key details from the text. Or maybe your child wrote plenty, but his answer was off-topic and riddled with errors. 

Either way, lots of Colorado students struggle with the writing subtest. Education department officials said they don’t tally the number of students who earned zeros on the writing subtest “at this time,” but some districts have provided those numbers to Chalkbeat. In 2018, Denver district officials reported that 21% of students — more than 8,000 of 40,000 — earned zeros on the writing subtest. The same year, Aurora district officials found that 40% of test-takers got zeros on certain sections of the writing subtest.

To learn more about how writing is scored on the CMAS, it may help to look at questions released by PARCC. (Colorado is now transitioning away from using PARCC questions, but CMAS questions and scoring are based on models developed by the PARCC consortium.) 

Here’s an example of student writing on the third-grade literacy test that netted a zero. In response to a prompt asking students to “Write an essay to explain how the pictures and words in the story provide details about the setting,” a student responded: “The pictures and details provide you an iben of what the karitors are doing and how they are toking.”

According to the scoring explanation, the student didn’t show comprehension, cite evidence from the story, or use language to express ideas clearly. 

Check out this document for more student writing samples and their scores. 

Do my child’s CMAS scores make a difference on his report card or determine whether he can move to the next grade?

No. CMAS scores don’t weigh into report card grades, retention decisions, or class rankings. 
“This is one data point in a large body of evidence that teachers … use to determine how students are progressing academically,” said Flores.

In terms of holding back a student, he said, “You would never use one data point to make that kind of high-stakes decision.”

While it’s possible that some normally well-performing students might have an off day and bomb CMAS, generally speaking, low CMAS scores reflect longer-standing academic struggles.

“If a child is behind, we should have known that long before the CMAS,” said Mat Aubuchon, director of elementary education in the Westminster district north of Denver. Low CMAS scores “should be verifying something we already know and not something that’s coming back as a surprise.”

Yesenia Robles contributed to this report.