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Year Two Of Common Core Tests Still Not Enough To See Trends In Colorado

Alberto G.
Flickr - Creative Commons

The Colorado Department of Education released the results of 2016 assessment tests Thursday morning, showing increased participation and modest strides. However, two years of data provides little in the way of trends in student achievement.

This year is the second for the CMAS PARCC assessments - aligned with Common Core standards. Common Core sets benchmarks for achievement in subjects at each grade level, and their implementation has been met with controversy in some states. The state also released results for the PSAT and ACT college-readiness tests.

“I’m pleased we are are releasing the results of CMAS tests as well as the PSAT 10 and ACT at the same time together because together they give parents insight - every step of the way - into whether students are on track to be ready for college and careers,” Interim Commissioner of Education Katy Anthes said in a statement. “While we’re seeing some improvements, two years of data isn’t really enough to say we’re seeing a trend. Still, it’s clear that we all have more work to do to ensure that all students are ready for college or careers and that we are closing historic gaps in achievement.”


The CMAS PARCC tests assess whether students are meeting benchmarks in math and english, and are administered in grades three through nine. As of this year, math assessments are given through 11th grade. The number of students meeting or exceeding benchmarks remained steady compared to last year’s data, with only about a third of students meeting expectations in english at every grade level.

The percentage of students meeting expectations in higher grade levels of math such saw considerable leaps. For example, in 2015, only 26 percent of students met expectations in algebra II assessments. In 2016, that number shot up to 70 percent. However, the 2015 math assessments were not given to 10th and 11th graders, so the trend is not representative of all students. That means it will take longer for trends to emerge in higher grade level math assessments. 

In grades three through nine, female students were more likely to meet or exceed English benchmarks than their male peers. That rate more or less evened out when it came to math.

Achievement rates remained consistent compared to last year across demographics. Across both subjects at each grade level, less than a third of black students met or exceeded expectations. Those numbers slide at higher grade levels, with just 10 percent of black eighth graders meeting or exceeding expectations in math. That rate was mirrored with hispanic students. Only 11 percent of hispanic eighth graders met or exceeded expectations in math.

While participation rates rose in 2016 compared to 2015, opting out of the tests appeared to be more common among predominantly white students, who tended to be better off economically and spoke english as their first language.


From 2012 to 2016, the state recorded small upticks in every subject area besides math, with each increase coming in at less than one decimal point. Achievement was nearly the same for male and female students across subjects in 2016.

Across subjects, black and hispanic students lagged only slightly behind white students, often just by two or three points. White students were more likely to meet benchmarks in all subjects, while black and hispanic students on average fell just short.


2016 was the first year the PSAT was administered in 10th graders in Colorado. On average, Colorado students nearly matched the national average, according to results released by the college board for 2015 (national averages for 2016 are not yet available). For reading and writing, Colorado students scored 475 on average, compared with the national average of 479. When it came to math, Colorado students fell slightly behind with an average score of 468, compared to 479 nationally.

When it came to overall scores, Colorado also fell slightly behind with an average score of 944, compared to the national average of 958.

The total score for black students on average was 852, and the average for hispanic students was 860. Asian students had the highest score on average compared to any demographic at 1021. The PSATs are scored on a scale of 320-1520.

In spring 2017, 11th graders in Colorado will take the SATs.

Ann Marie Awad's journalistic career has seen her zigzag around the United States, finally landing on Colorado. Before she trekked to this neck of the woods, she was a reporter and Morning Edition host for WRKF in Baton Rouge, Louisiana's capitol. In a former life, she was a reporter in New York City. Originally, she's from Buffalo, so she'll be the judge of whether or not your chicken wings are up to snuff, thank you very much.
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