Summit School District students take new standardized tests

Alli Langley
A new state-mandated standardized test called PARCC, which stands for Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, will occupy a chunk of classroom time for public-school students in grades 3-11 during March.
Getty Images | moodboard RF


Try to answer these sample questions from the PARCC tests taken by fifth graders this year.

Which detail from the story provides the best clue for the meaning of the word misery?

A. “...waiting for nothing, with nothing I wanted to do.”

B. “...tired of waiting and went off on his own...”

C. “And right away, I knew what I had to do.”

D. “No plans.”

Which of these is equal to 83.041? Select the two correct answers.

A. eighty-three and forty-one tenths

B. 8 X 10 + 3 X 1 + 4 X 1/10 + 1 X 1/100

C. eighty-three and forty-one hundredths

D. 8 X 10 + 3 X 1 + 4 X 1/100 + 1 X 1/1000

E. eighty-three and forty-one thousandths

Answers: 1.) A 2.) D, E

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Last week, students at Upper Blue Elementary opened cards from teachers and school staff full of words of encouragement.

Kids who stayed focused on their standardized tests Tuesday and Wednesday and used their time wisely received colored bracelets as rewards, said Kerry Buhler, the school’s principal.

Third-, fourth- and fifth-graders at Upper Blue and the county’s five other elementary schools began taking a new state-mandated test on March 10 called Partnership for Assessments of Readiness for College and Career, or PARCC.

The test was created by one of two multi-state consortia given $360 million in federal funds to design new standardized tests that align with the Common Core State Standards in math and English language arts.

Now PARCC testing is underway across the country amid a growing movement among parents who are refusing to allow their children to take the test.

Some Colorado schools experienced frustrating computer glitches during the test, which became the first state assessment to be administered online.

In Summit County, however, problems were minimal and handled quickly by support staff, said Bethany Massey, the school district’s director of assessment and technology. “All and all I think things went pretty well.”


She described heightened fears among teachers, students and families about the fully digital standardized tests this year.

“When you take a standardized test people have anxiety,” she said. “You put it on the computer, and that anxiety level goes a little higher.”

The district prepared by purchasing new computers, tablets and other electronic devices last summer, and schools arranged for students to test on the devices they use during regular school days.

The district also tested its digital infrastructure the week before PARCC began, Massey said, and school leaders don’t expect any problems once middle and high school students start taking the tests at the same time as the elementary level kids this week.

Buhler said parents brought their kids to school on time and well rested, and the students ate breakfast and arrived ready to test.

After the first day of testing Tuesday, superintendent Heidi Pace told school board members that she heard kids talking about how they enjoyed the interactive nature of some of the test questions.

“Several kids walked out saying things like that was so fun,” she said.

District officials say they expect fewer positive reviews from the middle and high school students, who will sit for about 11 hours of PARCC testing spread over several days while the elementary students will take about 10 hours of PARCC tests.

The spring testing will cost the state about $36.8 million, $20 million of which will go to Pearson, the company producing the tests, and $7.7 million of which will be covered by federal funds.

Locally, administering the test costs about the same as those given with pencil and paper in previous years, Massey said.


Besides the online factor, the biggest difference between PARCC and its predecessor tests — Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP) and Transitional Colorado Assessment Program (TCAP) — is that PARCC measures students’ understanding of the recently implemented, more rigorous set of standards known as the Colorado Academic Standards, or the state’s version of the Common Core.

Compared to previous standardized tests, PARCC asks students to analyze and synthesize information in ways that are more applicable to real-world scenarios, Buhler said.

“It has definitely stepped up in terms of what they’re expecting kids to be able to do,” she said. “It really is about that rigor that we want for our kids.”

Massey would not speculate on how scores could change this year, but she said the district will be interested to see how students perform in those critical thinking areas.

“We typically don’t worry about it here because typically our students show growth and they perform well,” she said.

Along with the increased difficulty of the test, the digital switch comes with pros and cons that will affect results, she said.

Some students are more comfortable with the devices and the simulations now available in the test questions, while others with weak computer skills might not perform as well.

Schools, students and parents won’t receive results from the PARCC testing until the fall or spring of the next school year, but officials have promised faster turnaround times with the electronic tests in the future.

Massey called that a benefit of the switch as quicker results will help educators modify their instruction earlier. Plus, she said, the online test encourages students to learn computer skills they will need outside of school.


The few Summit County parents who have approached school officials about the tests have been asking how best to help their children prepare and not about how to opt out of testing.

“It hasn’t been this huge revolt we’ve heard about in some places,” Massey said. “So far we’ve had very supportive parents.”

She said she wasn’t aware of any parents who chose to exempt their children from testing last week, which the state decided about two weeks ago to allow for the first time.

Parents who want their children not to take the tests must complete a form, and parents should know that the schools don’t have alternatives for any kids not testing, Massey said.

She added that the high-stakes tests provide another valuable tool to measure student understanding that teachers and schools use to improve education.

For that reason Buhler called mass testing walk-outs elsewhere, in Boulder County for example, unfortunate, and Renea Hill, principal at Frisco Elementary, agreed about the importance of the tests.

“As educators we believe in assessment because it gives us great information about students that drives our instruction so we can make it better,” Hill said.

She encouraged parents to check out sample test questions available online at

“They would probably be amazed at what their students can do and what they have learned,” she said.

Hill said she has told students leading up to the tests that she has full confidence in their success because they have been learning all year and have been well prepared by their teachers.

The test scores, while not directly tied to school funding or teacher pay, are used by the state to determine schools’ academic achievement and growth, which factor heavily into school and district accreditation.

Last year for the first time, Summit’s students performed so well on standardized tests that the school district received the distinction of the state’s highest accreditation rating.

The district’s graduation rate, dropout rate and student ACT scores also came into play.


Massey said much is unknown about what standardized testing could look like in future years, as federal and state legislators grapple with the controversial issue.

“All of the testing pieces are kind of up in the air right now,” she said. “My understanding is in May we’ll get better picture.”

Later this spring, fourth- and seventh-graders will take Colorado Measures of Academic Success (CMAS) assessments in social studies while fifth- and seventh-graders will take the CMAS tests in science.

Those tests were administered for the first time in 2014, and Summit students performed better than low state averages, while high school seniors took the science and social studies tests for the first time in early November.

Like PARCC, CMAS is taken online, which allowed the science portion to incorporate interactive simulations for the first time along with more typical multiple-choice questions and written responses. Unlike PARCC, CMAS was developed in Colorado.

Students will also take another shorter round of PARCC math and English language arts tests in May. Massey said those end-of-the-year tests will contain more multiple-choice questions as opposed to the open-ended questions requiring human grading that students are completing now.

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