Updated Aug. 25, 2012
Testing in transition: From CSAP to TCAP and beyond
The Colorado Student Assessment Program, the state’s annual tests for fifteen years, was administered to students for the last time in spring 2011. CSAP was replaced by the TCAP – the Transitional Colorado Assessment Program – in spring 2012.
TCAP tests content common to both Colorado’s old Model Content Standards and its newly adopted Colorado Academic Standards. It assesses the same subjects and grades – reading, writing and math in grades 3-10 and science in grades 5, 8 and 10 – as the CSAP.
In spring 2013 and 2014, students will again take the TCAP plus they’ll see some pilot items from the new – as yet unnamed – state exams expected to be rolled out in spring 2015.
State Board of Education members unanimously adopted attributes of the new state exams in December 2010, including:
- Adding tests for students in preschool through grade 2 to check their readiness
- Adding a social studies exam to be given once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school
- Adding interim exams in every grade to check progress, though results will not be used for accountability
Why the transition?
CSAP was phased out as part of the implementation of the 2008 Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids, or Senate Bill 08-212. Former Gov. Bill Ritter’s education initiative called for preparing all students for postsecondary and workforce readiness.
CAP4K led to the adoption of new state academic standards in 2009. The standards are “fewer, clearer and higher,” according to the Colorado Department of Education.
“The transitional test will encourage districts to move forward with their implementation of the new standards, while providing time for the preparation of students for the higher expectations to come,” said Jo O’Brien, assistant commissioner in the CDE’s Office of Standards and Assessment.
“It is important for students to have been taught the new standards, including new learning skills, by the time the new assessment is in place.”
The end of CSAP
CSAP began in 1997 with reading and writing tests for the state’s fourth-graders. Additional grades were added each year and math and science exams were added in 2000.
Creating, administering and grading the exams eventually became a $16 million annual expense for the state. The CDE’s most recent contract with CTB/McGraw-Hill totaled $83 million for years 2007-2011.
CSAP results became the basis – in large part – for various state efforts at rating schools, from the “excellent” to “unsatisfactory” ratings favored by former Gov. Bill Owens to the current accountability system with labels ranging from “performance” to “turnaround.” Search here for your school’s rating.
As CSAP evolved, so did the sophistication with which test results were viewed. Colorado’s Growth Model, which pulls apart the results to gauge individual student progress from one year to the next, will continue to be used with new exams.
Did CSAP improve student achievement for Colorado pupils? In recent years, the headlines from the state’s annual press conferences was often, “Flat results.”
But statewide results did improve over the duration of the tests. In 1997, 55 percent of the state’s fourth-graders scored proficient or advanced in reading. In 2010, it was 66 percent. Writing results improved even more – the percent of fourth-graders achieving proficiency in 1997 was 38 percent, growing to 56 percent in 2011.
Math and science exams were added later. In 2000, the first math and science tests were given to the state’s eighth-graders. That year, 35 percent of eighth-graders scored proficient or advanced in math. In 2010, 51 percent of eighth-graders achieved math proficiency.
Science standards changed in 2007 so comparisons are not possible back to 1997. In 2008, 46 percent of eighth-graders were proficient or advanced in math and, by 2011, the figure was 49 percent.
ACT tests for high school juniors
CSAP and TCAP tests end in grade 10 but all Colorado high school juniors are required to take a version of the ACT college entrance exam in the spring. The scores are factored into the state rating system for district and school accountability.
Many states don’t require all juniors take the test, and many students take the test in the fall of their senior years as part of the college application process.
Eight other states also administer the ACT to all students once in high school. The average composite scores for those states and Colorado are under the national average of 21.1.
Composite scores in those states range from a low of 18.7 in Mississippi to highs of 20.9 in Illinois and 20.7 in North Dakota, compared to Colorado’s 20.6. The composite in neighboring Wyoming was 20.3.
Beyond TCAP to multi-state tests?
The State Board of Education and the state Department of Education have leaned toward development of Colorado-only tests to replace the TCAP.
But the state legislature in spring 2012 declined to fully fund the department’s request to develop a complete battery of Colorado-only tests. Lawmakers provided money only for work on new science tests and social studies assessments, which aren’t being developed by either of two federally funded groups crafting exams for voluntary use by states.
Use of multi-state tests is favored by Gov. John Hickenlooper and key legislators, including Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver, who pushed a bill requiring Colorado to join one of the two national groups as a full partner. State lawmakers approved the bill over the opposition of state board of education members.
On Aug. 8, the state’s education commissioner, Robert Hammond, announced Colorado will join the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, also known as PARCC, as a governing member. The other group is the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium.
States that are governing members of either consortium have more say in test development and generally are expected to use that group’s tests when they become available, which is expected to be no earlier than 2015.
Interactive Charts & Resources
EdNews coverage of state test results
- 2012 – State scores mostly flat, but growth in Denver
- 2012 – TCAP reading results reveal trends (third-grade reading results only)
- 2011 – CSAP results mostly flat – again
EdNews coverage of changes in state testing
- State casts its lot with PARCC testing group – Aug. 9, 2012
- Testing bill passes state Senate – May 1, 2012
- State Board of Education unconvinced on new tests – April 28, 2012