The Roaring Fork School District strategic plan measures success by much more than the results of standardized state and national tests. The strategic plan includes a commitment to monitoring and fostering character development alongside academic learning, and to ensuring that all students gain the skills and knowledge they need to succeed in a changing world.  Our comprehensive approach to assessment comprises multiple and varied components: classroom-based, formative assessments (assessments done by teachers to monitor students’ learning and adapt teaching activities based on this feedback) providing students with multiple opportunities for revision and improvement of their work; clear, consistent expectations and ongoing feedback to students as to how they are progressing; grades which measure student performance against academic standards; standardized district and state assessments to ensure that local expectations are aligned with and meeting ultimate goals such as college and career readiness; a uniform and fair grading policy; and the use of assessment data to inform and improve instruction.  We strive to challenge and inspire our children with real world learning applications such as capstone projects, and with real life working conditions such as collaborative teams and public presentations.  

Changes in State Testing that Affect Children

One can hardly pick up any newspaper or magazine these days without seeing examples of the growing frustration that parents have about standardized tests. While the amount of testing is sometimes overstated, it is important to review the assessments (state mandated and not state mandated) RFSD is currently using to monitor students’ progress as well as the time spent on these tests.

State Mandated Testing Overview

The Colorado State Assessment System is designed to measure Colorado students’ mastery of the Colorado’s academic content standards. In December of 2009, Colorado adopted revised academic content standards, progressing from early school readiness to postsecondary competencies reflective of both workforce readiness and 21st century skills.

Colorado is a member of the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) consortium to develop new assessments in English and mathematics. The PARCC assessments were administered for the first time in the 2014-15 school year.

Colorado has also developed its own Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments in science and social studies this school year.

The attainment of English proficiency by English Language Learners (ELL) is measured annually by an English Language Proficiency (ELP) assessment called ACCESS.

The 11th grade assessment in Colorado is designed to measure students' preparedness for postsecondary educational opportunities and can be submitted for college entrance by the student to their college or university of choice.  For the first time in 2015-16, all 10th graders will take a college preparatory assessment that helps predict performance on the 11th grade college entrance exam.  The State of Colorado, after administering the ACT exam for many years, is in the process of transitioning to the SAT; both are nationally recognized college entrance exams.  For 2016 only, all sophomores will take the Pre-SAT (PSAT), and all juniors will take the ACT.  Starting in 2017, sophomores will take the PSAT and juniors will take the SAT.

The state also requires the use of a literacy progress monitoring assessment in grades K-3 to ensure that all students will be proficient readers by end of third grade.  The district chose the DIBELS reading assessment, which is administered three times per year to all students in grades K-3.

For the first time in 2015-16, the state is requiring the use of Teaching Strategies-GOLD to monitor school readiness, social progress and academic progress in kindergarten.  Data for the TS-GOLD is gathered by teachers as they observe students on a day-to-day basis; there is no sit-down administration time for the TS-GOLD.

Other Standardized Testing

RFSD has dramatically reduced the amount of standardized testing it is using for all students.  The district administers the NWEA assessment in math (k-8) and reading (3-8) once per year.  NWEA assessments are “adaptive,” meaning that they adjust as the student takes the tests, zeroing in on knowledge and skills of the individual student.  Each test administration takes about a class period (40-60 minutes depending on the grade level).  Starting in the 2016-2017 school year, 9th graders also got the opportunity to take the PSAT 8/9 in the fall semester.  This assessment provided our students with feedback early on in their high school studies regarding their college readiness, as defined the College Board.

Standardized tests such as NWEA, which are not state mandated, are used for diagnostic purposes and progress monitoring.  Because the state tests are administered infrequently and the results take several months to return, other testing provides more granular and timely information about students’ progress, and identifies any gaps in their learning so that they can be addressed immediately.  

Some of these assessments are used more frequently for students who need additional support, such as students who are lagging behind in reading development or who have special learning needs.  Increased administrations of the NWEA are being used at school and teacher discretion for the following purposes:

  • To measure program impact for summer school and other programs designed to help struggling students catch up;

  • To monitor students with identified concerns in literacy or math;

  • To monitor students who are significantly below grade level.

District Common Assessments

The district is moving away from externally developed standardized assessments and toward creating or adapting assessments that tie directly to the curriculum and courses we offer.  These internal measures tie specifically to our learning expectations, tend to be more authentic, contain less multiple choice-type questions, and occur on an ongoing basis, but are embedded in the courses and units that teachers teach, as opposed to being added on.  

Based on the collaborative work of all middle and high school math and English teachers in the district, we have adopted common assessments to administer in secondary English and K-11 mathematics.  We are using NWEA as the common assessment two or three times per year for some subjects and grade levels.  Teachers in other disciplines are working to identify common learning outcomes that tie directly to their own courses, and to develop or adapt common assessments in other subject areas over the next couple years.  The adoption of common assessments in all core subjects will allow us to monitor that students are gaining the knowledge and skills that teachers have determined best prepare students for next-level learning, and reduce the use of standardized testing.  


State Mandated Assessments 2016-2017


Approximate Time

Time of Year

TS Gold

Pre-K & K

Ongoing data collection

Beginning, middle and end of year

Reading (DIBELS)


5-15 minutes

Beginning, middle, and end of year

English (PARCC)


up to 4.5 hours (increases by grade level)


Math (PARCC)


up to 4.5 hours (increases by grade level)


Science (CMAS)

5, 8, 11

up to 4 hours


Social Studies (CMAS)

Administered to grades 4, 7

once every three years

up to 4 hours


ACCESS reading, writing, speaking, listening (for English Language Learners)


2 to 4 hours (increases by grade level)



10, 11

3- 4 ½ hours (depends on optional essay)


District Required Standardized Assessments


Approximate Time

Time of Year

NWEA Math and Reading

Math K-8

Reading 3-8

40 to 60 minutes each (increases by grade level)

May for all students;

some grade levels and subjects more frequently as needed.

PSAT 8/9



Fall semester


Is Testing Taking Too Much Time?
Knowing that there are concerns from parents and teachers about the amount of time students are spending taking tests, we conducted an analysis of the amount of time spent on different activities during the school day and year.  Using the prescribed time parameters for mandated assessments at each grade level, we learned that students spend between two hours in first grade and 15 hours in eighth grade on state mandated assessments out of approximately 1,200 hours that students spend in school per year.  That is, the time that students spend taking mandated assessments is approximately 1% of the total number of hours they spend in school.  The charts illustrate approximate time allocations for various school activities in eighth grade, the most heavily tested grade level.

Breakdown of 8th Grade Use of Time in School


Given that actual time allocations for testing are relatively low, why are there perceptions that we are spending too much time on testing?  Because of tight regulations which dictate how and when tests are administered, mandated testing often requires schools to rearrange their schedules.  These schedule changes can have ripple effects that disrupt entire days and weeks. The impacts of testing on overall programming can be offset by creative scheduling, and also by not setting aside an entire day of instruction for a few hours of testing.  Because the district is increasing the number of Chromebooks available for students to take mandated tests, and the most of the new assessments are administered online, some of the scheduling impact of testing should be further minimized in the future.

Many schools have the tendency to create activities surrounding the tests, which disrupt the academic program.  We discourage schools from spending time on test preparation activities, or on activities such as test pep rallies -- these activities are far less effective than regular classroom instruction of the knowledge and skills that tests will measure.  To the degree that practice testing is necessary, it can be embedded into regular classroom activities.  For example, teachers can format their own tests to mimic the format of state test in order for students to gain familiarity.  Tests also require that students become accustomed to uninterrupted work without help or distraction.  Stamina and focus are important skills for students to develop, regardless of their impact on test scores. Helping students develop these and other executive functioning skills should be a programmatic effort in all schools, especially in light of the district’s commitment to the Habits of a Scholar that were introduced this school year.

May I See My Child’s Assessment Results?

Parents and guardians of course have the right to see their students’ state assessment results as soon as they become available.  Assessment reports are either mailed or hand-delivered to parents during conferences, and parents may request to see a copy of their students’ records at any time.  Your child’s teacher or principal will be happy to discuss them with you and discuss ways we can work together to provide additional support for your child’s learning.

May My Child Opt Out of State Testing?

Parents/guardians who wish to exempt their children from a particular state assessment may make this request by contacting their child’s school.  The school will provide a form that requests basic student information, specific assessment for exemption, reasoning for the parental opt out, and a parent/guardian’s signature.  Parents may be contacted after the form is received to verify their request.  Requests must be submitted every year.  The district will not impose any negative consequences upon a student whose parent/guardian has requested an exemption.  Exemptions apply only to state assessments other than ACCESS and not to district, classroom assessments, or other learning activities.


Additional Resources

CMAS Fact Sheet;

Quick Reference on Federal and State Required Assessments:

CDE Assessments:

PARCC Resources for Parents:


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