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Brenda Najera works on a laptop in a classroom in Newlon Elementary School on Aug. 25, 2020, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado students in grades three through 11 will take state standardized assessments this spring, with students testing in either English language arts or math depending on their grade level, following the U.S. Department of Education’s partial approval of a state plan for assessments.

Under the approved part of the plan, students in third, fifth and seventh grades will take the Colorado Measures of Academic Success exams in English language arts while students in fourth, sixth and eighth grades will complete math assessments. 

The federal government, however, did not give Colorado the green light to waive all science exams this year, so eighth graders will be required to test in science. Students in fifth and 11th grades will not have to take CMAS science assessments as they typically would, but the Colorado Department of Education is required to report the SAT Analysis in Science subscore this year.

Social studies exams, obligated only by state law, will not be conducted this year.

News of the federal government’s approval follows a contentious debate among parents, educators, education advocacy organizations and lawmakers about how to conduct state standardized testing this spring, after disruptions to schooling caused by the coronavirus.

Some lawmakers initially set out to pause all standardized testing for a second year in a row. Colorado canceled the exams for K-12 students in 2020 because of the pandemic and after receiving a waiver from the federal government.

Many testing proponents worried the state would, by forgoing testing, miss how deeply the pandemic has affected academics. Others who opposed testing this year have emphasized that students have undergone enough stress amid all the disruptions created by the pandemic and questioned whether testing results would be valid in light of how much students have shuffled between different modes of learning.

Legislators struck a compromise with a scaled-back approach to testing through a bill signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis earlier this month. The legislature then waited to hear whether the federal government would allow them to move forward with it.

In a statement released by CDE on Friday, Polis expressed gratitude toward the Biden administration and the U.S. Department of Education.

The state’s approach to testing, he said, “will allow us to understand how to best support students moving forward, while balancing the extraordinary circumstances of the pandemic and our state’s goal of continued in-person instruction. Our schools can now complete the spring semester in-person with clarity, as we take steps as a community to return to a more normal school year in the fall.”

Parents will still have the choice to opt their students out of CMAS testing. They will also be able to direct schools to give their students tests in both English language arts and math if they want to know how their kids are doing in both subject areas.

Lawmakers hope to also suspend accountability measures traditionally tied to CMAS exams. For instance, test results would not factor into teacher evaluations this year.

CDE is preparing a separate waiver request to halt accountability requirements and will likely submit that waiver early next month.

Lawmakers who worked to craft a plan for state standardized testing this spring are relieved at the federal government’s response.

State Rep. Emily Sirota, a Denver Democrat, noted how much the legislature’s bipartisan plan to test in a limited capacity will benefit students across the state.

“While the federal Department of Education didn’t approve everything we asked for, this waiver will certainly make a meaningful difference for our students, parents, and teachers and significantly reduces the testing burden,” Sirota said. “This process shows that when people come together to address big issues, we can make a real difference for our kids.”

Erica Breunlin

Email: Twitter: @EricaBreunlin