The overwhelming sound coming from Steamboat Springs' public schools Tuesday morning was that of silence.
Tuesday marked the beginning of widespread Colorado Student Assessment Program testing in the Steamboat Springs School District, where empty, quiet hallways were the norm rather than the exception.
"It's very quiet," said Steamboat Springs Middle School Principal Tim Bishop shortly after his students were given a break from testing to munch on snacks and play outside in unusually mild weather.
Then it was back to No. 2 pencils and scoresheets.
Public schools administer the state-mandated CSAP tests each spring to students in grades three through 10. High school juniors are required to take the ACT Assessment, a common college entrance exam.
The content-standards-based tests are intended to hold schools accountable for student learning and to measure student achievement in certain subject areas.
CSAP test results are a major factor in the state's determination of individual School Accountability Reports, or school report cards. Steamboat Springs High School and Strawberry Park Elementary School earned "excellent" ratings last year, the highest mark the state gives schools. The middle school and Soda Creek Elementary School earned "high" ratings, one step below excellent.
This year, all third- through 10th-graders will be tested in reading and writing. Fifth- through 10th-graders also will be tested in math, and eighth-graders will be tested additionally in science.
The importance of CSAP testing and the time schools must devote to preparing for and administering the lengthy tests is stressful for staff and students, Bishop said.
The middle school is using its entire staff, including aides and AmeriCorps mentors, to administer tests this year in an effort to keep testing groups as small as possible. Schools also must provide special accommodations for students who need one-on-one testing, frequent breaks or extra time to complete test sections.
"It's a logistical challenge to try to do all this," Bishop said. "It's quite a process. It consumes us."
Strawberry Park fifth-grade teacher Judy Ross said educators recognize the value of the test.
"I do think that, in some ways, the accountability is valuable," Ross said. "I've seen we have a more definite direction. We know what the target is and what we're shooting for. I think the bar has been raised some."
Ross, a teacher with 28 years of experience, said some parents wonder whether subject areas not tested by the CSAP are overlooked in public school classrooms. Teachers and schools work hard to address all content areas, not just those tested, Ross said.
Students handled the testing surprisingly well, she added.
"I've been really impressed by the kids. They're focused and calm."
CSAP testing will continue today and Thursday before resuming at some grade levels next week. Third-graders, fifth-graders and eighth-graders took some sections of the CSAP tests before this week.
The Colorado Department of Education recommends children who will take CSAP tests get a good night's rest, eat a nourishing breakfast and aren't pulled from school on testing days. Students who don't take tests receive a score of zero, which is factored into a school's overall performance.