In 1993 the state of Colorado began developing content standards. The state determined what Colorado students needed to know in the areas of reading, writing, math, science and social science, and initiated the state assessment program to drive school improvement in the state.

What is the Colorado Student Assessment Program?

The Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP), pronounced “see-sap,” is a test given annually to all students in grades 3 through 10 that measures student achievement based on the state’s content standards for each grade level.

What types of questions are on the CSAP tests?

The questions on the CSAP include both multiple choice and open-ended written responses. They are based on Colorado’s content standards and grade-level expectations for math, reading and writing skills in grades 3 through 10 and science in grades 5, 8 and 10.

When are the tests given and how long do they take?

The CSAP is given in March or April and takes approximately 12 hours of classroom time each year for third through tenth graders. Each subject area of the test (reading, writing, math and science) takes three, one-hour testing sessions. Third grade reading and writing are the exception, which take two, one-hour testing sessions.

How are the tests scored?

Each test is given a proficiency level score: advanced, proficient, partially proficient or unsatisfactory. Colorado teachers from different parts of the state developed these performance levels. Multiple-choice questions are scored by machines; trained and certified scorers score the open-ended written responses.

Why do test scores matter?

Although the school with the highest test scores is not necessarily the best school for your child, test scores can help parents make decisions about where their child goes to school. Since Colorado teachers are required to review individual test scores with parents, test results can help parents assess what their child needs to learn and inspire them to become more involved in their child’s education.

CSAP scores have the highest consequence in grade 3 reading. A below-level CSAP reading score can contribute to a student being held back in reading instruction or given an individual literacy plan. Each individual school and district decides how the CSAP results will affect a student’s grade and promotion.

How are the test results reported and used?

The Colorado Department of Education uses test results to assess how well schools are teaching and to reform education in the state for all students. They present a yardstick to measure how well students of different backgrounds and at different schools are performing statewide against the Colorado Model Content Standards.

The Colorado Department of Education releases test results every summer. They are required to report CSAP results for the state and for all local school districts. The state uses the tests to look at each district, while districts look at the results of their schools and recommend measures, such as better teacher preparation, to improve student performance.

Individual student scores are released to the individual school and school district. Schools and teachers are required by law to share the full test results for each child with his or her parents.

How can I prepare my child for the CSAP?

Ask your child’s teacher for information about activities that you can do at home to help your child learn the appropriate academic content.

Ask your child to read the directions and each test question carefully. Remind your child to tackle each question one at a time and to skip a question if he or she does not know the answer. She can come back to skipped questions if she has time at the end. Remind her to double-check her answers.

Plan ahead so your child is ready for the testing days with enough rest and breakfast to be able to concentrate, since hunger and fatigue can lower test performance.

When can I see my child’s scores?

In Colorado, teachers are required to share a child’s test results with his or her parents. It is important to be aware of your child’s score and the overall scores for his or her school. If your child scores below the standards, contact his or her teacher to discuss getting additional assistance and find out how you can support your child’s learning at home.

Are some students given special consideration?

It is up to each individual school district to determine when it is not appropriate to administer the CSAP to special needs students. In the spring of 2000, the Colorado Department of Education created an alternate assessment program called CSAP-A for special needs students who are unable to participate in the CSAP because of the severity of their disability.

Is the CSAP available in Spanish?

The CSAP tests are available in Spanish for the grades 3 and 4 reading and writing tests only. The state of Colorado exempts students from taking the CSAP until they have studied English for three years.

What is an accommodation?

Accommodations can be made for students who are not proficient in English, for example, by providing them with translators for the math section of the CSAP. In addition, teachers can read math problems to students who are also native speakers of English. This accommodation is allowed for math because the student is not being tested on his or her reading ability. The accommodation is not allowed for the reading section of the test.

Does Colorado have a high school exit exam?

No, Colorado does not currently have a high school exit exam but does require that all grade 11 students take the ACT Assessment, a national examination. However, no particular score is needed for graduation.

What are my options if my child is in a school with a low rating and low test scores?

Under Colorado’s Open Enrollment Plan, Colorado students have the option to enroll in a different school. Open enrollment policies may vary according to the district your school is in. Generally, students can enroll in another school in the district, as long as there is space available. Students also have the option to enroll in magnet or charter schools.

What happens to schools with low ratings and test scores?

Beginning in 2001-2002, Colorado began rating schools on the basis of CSAP test scores, making schools rated “excellent” eligible for additional funds and monitoring the progress of under-performing schools. In addition, in July 2004, an education reform plan — Colorado Senate Bill 186 — was signed into law requiring the state of Colorado to assign a letter grade to every school based on students’ performance on the CSAP. Low-performing schools can obtain assistance from the Colorado Department of Education in the development of a School Improvement Plan. After three years, consistently low-performing schools will be turned into charter schools.

According to the federal No Child Left Behind law, schools must demonstrate “adequate yearly progress” towards meeting state standards for all students. Schools that consistently fail to comply risk losing federal Title I funding. Schools that are rated at the unsatisfactory level on the CSAP for three years in a row will have to submit to intervention by the state. Children in failing or unsatisfactory schools have the right to transfer to a better-performing school in the district, and obtain tutoring and other supplemental services.

The more informed you are as parent about the CSAP and standardized tests, the better able you will be to help your children have confidence and understand how the testing fits into their learning.

Thanks to the California Business for Education Excellence Foundation for providing information for this article.