NCEO - National Center on Educational Outcomes

Alternate Assessments for Students with Disabilities


Alternate assessments are used to evaluate the performance of students who are unable to participate in general state assessments even with accommodations. Alternate assessments provide a mechanism for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and for other students with disabilities who may need alternate ways to access assessments, to be included in an educational accountability system.

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 the 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. This is an optional assessment and many states that currently offer this option are phasing it out.

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. 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. For students with disabilities, alternate assessments can be administered to students who differ greatly in their ability to respond to stimuli, solve problems, and provide responses.

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