Why CMAS Standardized Testing Shouldn't Happen but Probably Will

Why CMAS Standardized Testing Shouldn't Happen but Probably Will
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Many of Colorado's largest education organizations, as well as the Denver Public Schools board, want this spring's Colorado Measures of Academic Success, or CMAS, testing to be canceled so that teachers can focus on making up educational deficits incurred as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But such a move would be difficult even with the support of Governor Jared Polis — and thus far, he offers no indication that he wants a fight over standardized tests.

The Colorado Department of Education describes CMAS as "the state’s common measurement of students’ progress at the end of the school year in English language arts, math, science and social studies. Students in grades three through eight take the CMAS tests in math and English language arts. Students in fifth, eighth and 11th grade take the CMAS science assessments. In 2021, about a third of schools will administer the CMAS social studies assessments in grades four and seven."

According to the department, "A typical state assessment administration season is currently scheduled to resume in spring 2021 as required by state and federal law." The testing window is now set for April 12-30, with the earliest possible start date for English Language Arts (ELA) and math on March 22. However, the CDE acknowledges that "state assessments may need to be adjusted in response to COVID-19 conditions."

The tweak most desired by the Colorado Education Association, the Colorado Association of School Executives, the Colorado Association of School Boards and the Colorado Rural Schools Alliance is calling off 2021 CMAS tests entirely. On February 4, the organizations jointly announced the results of new polling data in which "solid majorities" of parents and voters who responded "believe that CMAS testing should be canceled this spring, including two-thirds of public school parents and six out of 10 rural voters."

Details of the poll and the results were discussed in a press conference overseen by Amie Baca-Oehlert, a high school counselor and the CEA's current president. See it here:

The DPS school board is equally adamant that CMAS testing shouldn't move forward this spring, and provided the following statement to Westword:

In acknowledging the difficulty the COVID-19 pandemic continues to present to our school staff, students, and families, the Denver Public Schools Board of Education calls on Governor Jared Polis, the State Board of Education, and the Colorado General Assembly to urge the Colorado Commissioner of Education and Department of Education to submit an application to the federal government to waive required standardized assessment. In DPS, we’re focused on building a system that’s designed to help every student thrive and in doing this we are prioritizing the health and mental health of students, teachers and staff, along with focusing on recovering learning loss.

The pandemic has set back learning for all students, especially students of color, students who receive Free and Reduced Lunch (FRL), and students with disabilities. Given the scope of learning so far and the limitations of the remote environment, we will need to utilize our capacities and resources to determine our students’ needs and provide them with additional learning opportunities, hours and programs to make up the loss. Denver Public Schools is taking a multi-faceted approach to re-envision education focused on acceleration rather than remediation.

The impact of the pandemic has caused our district to focus on engaging Denver families to re-enroll their students in DPS. We ask the Colorado Legislature to allow a one-time distribution outside of the School Finance formula to hold school funding steady for this fiscal year so that we can continue to focus on providing the resources needed to help our students and educators overcome the challenges of this pandemic.

As these remarks underscore, Polis would need to be on board for a CMAS cancellation to even have a chance of happening. But the response offered by gubernatorial spokesperson Conor Cahill artfully dodges the subject.

"While the Governor remains laser-focused on ensuring every student who wants it has the opportunity to learn in person, we know that students — and especially the students furthest from opportunity — have been affected by learning loss," his comment reads. "The first step to helping our students recover is to understand the gaps that exist across the state and to take a proactive approach to address those gaps through additional support and resources. We want to ensure that our recovery is focused on equity while continuing to support the heroic efforts made by our educators and schools. We believe this path helps us build back stronger for Colorado’s students."

Unless Polis's position evolves in a major way, students, parents and teachers should prepare themselves to stop teaching and start testing this spring — whether they think it's best for kids or not.

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