Colorado will cancel state tests in light of coronavirus school closures, officials say

Colorado will cancel state standardized tests this school year while about 90% of the state’s 913,000 students are out of school to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, state education officials announced Tuesday.

“With the extraordinary actions we are taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19, it’s clear that we need to press pause on our CMAS tests this year,” Education Commissioner Katy Anthes said. “Students and educators need to feel a sense of stability and normalcy before state tests can be administered and produce valid results. This also means we plan to pause our school and district state accountability system as it relates to state assessments for a year.”

Each spring, Colorado tests students in grades 3-8 in literacy, math, and select other subjects using tests known as the Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS. Colorado also administers the PSAT to students in ninth and tenth grades, and the SAT college entrance exam to 11th-graders.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said it would consider waiver requests from states with widespread closures related to coronavirus. Efforts to stop the virus have thrown spring testing into disarray around the country.

Colorado is working with federal education officials but has not yet received a waiver. Asked to clarify what state officials mean by “pause,” Colorado Department of Education spokesperson Jeremy Meyer said, “The state CMAS tests will not happen in the 2019-20 school year. Pause means they are paused for this year.”

State education officials also are working on possible solutions for administering the PSAT and SAT tests, “which offer unique roles in Colorado’s system in terms of scholarships and college entrance,” the Colorado Department of Education said in a statement.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said he supports the decision to suspend state testing.

“I’m a big fan of accountability and transparency in public education. But we will simply have to forgo incredibly useful data on student achievement for a year to help contain the virus,” Polis said in a statement.

Making this decision now, a few days after school districts across the state announced they’d close for two to four weeks, allows districts “to concentrate on determining ways to deliver continued instruction to the extent they are able” during this time, Anthes said.

While state officials earlier had declined to say much about the possibility of putting off tests, district leaders in Aurora and Jeffco had indicated they would ask the state for waivers from testing for their students. The Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, had also called for testing to be canceled.

Kallie Leyba, a first-grade teacher who is president of the AFT Colorado teachers union in Douglas County, speaking just minutes before the state’s announcement, said teachers were eager for a decision on this year’s tests.

“Many teachers are feeling anxiety around preparing their students for these tests, as well as the implications of the test scores on their own evaluations,” Leyba said.

Leyba said anxiety is “a natural result of this pandemic,” and said state leaders needed to take care of educators so they in turn can care for their students. She said that while many teachers are continuing to engage students while school buildings are closed, the point isn’t just about learning, it’s about providing stability and normalcy for students.

The state will also suspend its school and district accountability system, education officials said. The accountability system relies on state test scores to determine which schools and districts most need academic improvement. Schools on the “accountability clock” face intervention that ranges from having to write an improvement plan and win state approval for it, to closure.