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California Alternate Assessments

California’s statewide alternate assessments for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The California Alternate Assessments (CAAs) for English language arts/literacy (ELA), mathematics, and science are part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress System. The purpose of the CAAs is to measure what students know and can do. These measures help identify and address gaps in knowledge or skills early so students can receive the support they need.

The CAAs are aligned with alternate achievement standards—called the Core Content Connectors—and linked to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for ELA and mathematics and to the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS) for science.

Eligible Students

Only eligible students may participate in the administration of the CAAs. Any student identified for alternate testing takes the alternate version of all tests. Individualized education program (IEP) teams “shall determine when a child with the most significant cognitive disability shall participate in an alternate assessment aligned with the alternate academic achievement standards.” (Title 1, Part A, Subpart 1, Sec. 1111(b)(2)(D)(ii)(I)—Every Student Succeeds Act, 2015)

The 1 Percent Threshold on Alternate Assessments

Local educational agencies (LEAs) are required to notify the California Department of Education if they believe that they will exceed 1 percent of their total assessed student population taking CAAs; however, there are no repercussions to LEAs for exceeding this threshold.

CAA Blueprints and Core Content Connectors

ELA and Mathematics

These CAA blueprints address the basic core content domains, the CCSS, the Core Content Connectors, and the essential understanding for each standard.

The National Center and State Collaborative (NCSC) developed the Core Content Connectors (Connectors) for ELA and mathematics. These Connectors are content targets linked to the CCSS. The Connectors are less complex than the CCSS, focusing on the main academic content in each subject and grade. The Connectors illustrate the necessary knowledge and skills needed to reach the learning targets within the CCSS and the knowledge and skills needed in each grade. The Connectors identify priorities in each content area to guide the instruction for students in this population and for the alternate assessment.


The CAA blueprint documents the CA NGSS Performance Expectations to be measured using the assessment. It also documents the modified alternate achievement standards aligned with the grade-level content standards.

For the CA NGSS alternate summative assessments, Educational Testing Service, in collaboration with its subcontractor edCount (the developers of the National Center and State Collaborative Connectors for ELA and mathematics), developed the preliminary CA NGSS alternate summative assessment Connectors. As with those developed for the ELA and mathematics, the Connectors developed for science provide learning goals aligned appropriately with the needs of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. They serve as a basis for the state's CA NGSS alternate summative assessments for eligible students.

Administration of the CAAs

Each CAA is administered in a one-to-one setting by the student’s teacher. Teachers and students have the opportunity to use the CAA training tests to gain experience with different types of questions and performance tasks. New grade-specific practice tests are now available for ELA and mathematics that allow parents, teachers, and students to become familiar with using the various embedded and non-embedded resources to establish the best possible setting for the student’s testing experience.

ELA and Mathematics

The CAAs for ELA and mathematics are given in grades three through eight and grade eleven. The ELA and mathematics tests are delivered online and are stage adaptive, adjusting to the student’s performance at selected points during the administration.

Performance Level Descriptors (PLDs)

PLDs are descriptions of what students at each achievement level know and what they are able to do. The CAA PLDs have been developed for ELA and mathematics.


The CAA for Science is administered to eligible students in grades five and eight and once in high school. For the pilot test, all eligible grade twelve students will take the CAA for science. LEAs also have the option to test any or all grade ten or eleven students; however, it is recommended that LEAs select students in grades ten or eleven who are enrolled in their last science course. For additional guidance, please refer to guidance for IEP teams. The CAA for Science is based on the Core Content Connectors (DOCX) and essential understandings, which are aligned with the CA NGSS.

The 2017–18 CAA for Science pilot test is a performance task assessment designed to be administered closer to the student’s instructional activity rather than once in the spring. LEAs will have access to student scores and provisional information for each student. The provisional results will be based on a new assessment that is still being refined.

CAA for Science Timeline

The implementation of the CAA for Science is under way, as shown below:

CAA for Science Available Testing Window
Pilot test
March 20, 2017, LEA last day of instruction
Pilot test
November 1, 2017, through the LEA’s last day of instruction or July 16, 2018, whichever comes first
Field test
January 2019 through the LEA’s last day of instruction or July 15, 2018, whichever comes first
Operational test
September 2019 through the LEA’s last day of instruction or July 15, 2020, whichever comes first

Preparing for the CAA for Science —Pilot, Field, and Operational Tests

The following resources on preparing for the CAA for science are available:

  • CAA for Science video (Video: 7:08)
    Informational video about the CAA for Science embedded performance task. (Posted; 30-Mar-2017)

Related Resources

For Coordinators, Administrators, and Teachers
For Parents/Guardians and Students
Questions:   California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Office | | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Monday, March 5, 2018