NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Alternate Assessments for English Language Learners with Disabilities


Alternate assessments are used to evaluate the performance of students with disabilities who are unable to participate in regular state assessments (either in content areas such as English or Mathematics, or on English proficiency) even with accommodations. Alternate assessments provide a mechanism for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and a small number of other students with disabilities who may need alternate ways to access an assessment, to be included in the accountability system. Because some students with disabilities are also English language learners (ELLs), a small percentage of students participating in alternate assessments may be ELLs with disabilities.

There are three types of alternate assessments:

Alternate Assessments Based on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS), for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. These assessments are based on grade-level content covered by the general assessment, but at reduced depth, breadth, and complexity. These assessments describe achievement based on what a state determines is a high expectation for these students.

Alternate Assessment Based on Modified Academic Achievement Standards (AA-MAS), for students with disabilities who are working on grade-level content that is covered on the general assessment but whose disabilities may result in their needing more time to master the content. These assessments measure a student's mastery of grade-level content, but are less difficult than grade-level achievement standards.

Alternate Assessments Based on Grade-level Achievement Standards (AA-GLAS), for students with disabilities who need testing formats or procedures that are not included in the general assessment or not addressed with use of accommodations. These assessments include the same grade-level content as the general assessment and describe achievement in the same way as the general assessment.

The primary purpose for alternate assessments in state assessment systems is to increase the capacity of large-scale accountability systems to create information about how a school, district, or state is doing in terms of overall student performance on academic content or English language proficiency assessments. Gathering data on the performance of students through alternate assessments requires rethinking traditional assessment methods. An alternate assessment is neither a traditional large-scale assessment nor an individualized diagnostic assessment. Alternate assessments can be administered to students with disabilities who differ greatly in their ability to respond to stimuli, solve problems, and provide responses.

These links provide additional information and resources for each of the three types of alternate assessments.