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Reports from Policy Analysts

Changes in State Assessments Impact the Whole System

Submitted On: Sunday, October 23, 2016

Analyst: Quate, Stevi

Far from complete, below is a sampling of the educational issues swirling around in Colorado. The issues below are a direct result of the 2015 change in state assessments. When PARCC replaced Colorado’s state assessment (TCAP and before that CSAP), policymakers knew that the shift would impact the state’s educational system including the approach to accountability and potentially districts’ school rating systems.  


During the 2015-2016 school year, Colorado’s accountability system was put on hold because of the shift to PARCC. This year the system is back in action, but there are still major concerns that the State Board of Education must address. Last year lawmakers codified the right for parents to exempt their children from the assessments. It appears that the participation rate in more than half of the state’s districts and one-third of its schools fell below the federal requirement of at least 95% participation.  As the State Board of Education puts together the annual school quality ratings, it’s forced to address the incomplete data resulting from the “Opt Out” movement.

At the District Level

With the changes in the assessments, Denver Public Schools has had to revise their school rating system. The school rating system is an important factor in the district’s decision about whether or not to close a low performing school. In the past, the district used two years of growth data to determine a school’s rating. To receive a high rating, 20 to 50 percent of the students in a school need to meet or exceed expectations. However, with only one year of growth data and with a more challenging test, DPS has lowered the percentage from 50 to 40 percent.

High School Graduation Rates

The good news is that Colorado’s on-time graduation rate continues to climb upwards, but the bad news is that compared to other states Colorado’s rate is quite low. In fact, it’s 7th from the bottom. According to Colorado Department of Education, one possible cause for this low rate is that each school district sets its own graduation requirements. As a result, when students transfer from one district to another, they face new requirements, possibly ones that make it difficult to graduate on time.

In order to address this situation and to ensure that graduates are career and college ready, Colorado districts are in the process of adopting new graduation requirements. During the prior school year, the State Board of Education developed a Menu of Options for school districts to consider. The Menu of Options is broad and includes guidelines such as a score of 62 on reading comprehension on the Accuplacer; a score of at least 18 on the ACT or 430 on the English portion of the SAT; a district Capstone or culminating project; and an industry certificate, which is recognized by businesses and industry that attests to mastery of skills and knowledge. Districts can adopt all or part of the options, but they must meet or exceed the State Board’s guidelines.

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