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Alternate Assessment IEP Team Guidance

Guidelines for individualized education program (IEP) teams regarding participation in the California Alternate Assessments and the Alternate English Language Proficiency Assessments for California.

This document is intended for IEP teams to help guide them in determining whether the California Alternate Assessments (CAAs) and the proposed Alternate English Language Proficiency Assessments for California (Alternate ELPAC) would be the most appropriate assessments for an individual student with the most significant cognitive disabilities. The participation criteria presented in this document are adapted from the 2013 Guidance for IEP Teams on Participation Decisions for the National Center and State Collaborative Alternate Assessment. In order to participate in the CAAs and Alternate ELPAC, students must meet all three of the criteria outlined in the “Participation” section of this document.

  • The CAAs for English language arts/literacy (ELA), mathematics, and science were developed by the California Department of Education (CDE) to ensure that all students are able to participate in assessments that are a measure of what they know and can do in relation to the grade-level California Common Core State Standards (CA CCSS) and the California Next Generation Science Standards (CA NGSS). In addition, the CAAs are aligned with grade-level content and are part of a curriculum and assessment cycle, which is accomplished through a linkage between the CA CCSS and the CA NGSS and their respective Core Content Connectors.

  • The proposed Alternate ELPAC is being developed by the CDE to ensure that all students are able to participate in an assessment that is an accurate measure of a student’s English language proficiency (ELP) in relation to the 2012 California English Language Development Standards (2012 ELD Standards) via connectors derived from the Council of Chief State School Officers’ ELP Standards for English Learners with Significant Cognitive Disabilities. The English Language Development (ELD) Connectors are reduced in depth, breadth, and complexity in order to be appropriate for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

    The development of the Alternate ELPAC will reach the pilot phase in January 2020. The current locally determined alternate assessment will be administered until December 2020. IEP teams must use the same eligibility criteria for the locally determined assessment that will be used to determine eligibility for the proposed Alternate ELPAC.

The learning characteristics of students with significant cognitive disabilities represent a broad range, and assignment to the alternate assessment is based on the cognitive disability, not the category of a student’s disability. Therefore, information considered by the IEP team to make a determination as to whether the student has a significant cognitive disability is the first consideration before selecting an alternate assessment that provides student access to state assessments, promotes participation, and elicits the student’s best performance.

IEP teams must consider a student’s individual characteristics when determining whether a student with a disability should participate in general statewide assessments, with or without accessibility resources, or participate in the alternate assessments. In addition, as part of the IEP process, parents must be clearly informed that their child’s achievement is being measured against alternate achievement standards and of “how participation in such assessments may delay or otherwise affect the student from completing the requirements for a regular high school diploma” (Code of Federal Regulations, Title 34, [34 CFR] Section 300.160 [d][1]). While many of the students taking alternate assessments are not on a “diploma track,” this “does not preclude a student with the most significant cognitive disabilities who takes an alternate assessment from attempting to complete the requirements for a regular high school diploma” (34 CFR Section 300.160 [d][2]).

Description of the CAAs and Alternate ELPAC

CAAs for ELA and mathematics. These assessments are administered in grades three through eight and grade eleven to all eligible students. These CAAs are composed of approximately 29 test items that assess approximately 10 to 12 prioritized content targets per grade level, depending on the grade-level. The content targets were identified for each grade level on the basis of learning progressions and alignment with the grade level CA CCSS. These assessments include multiple-choice, constructed-response, and technology-enhanced items. Each content target is assessed by items that have been carefully and intentionally designed to assess a range of ability and performance.

CAA for Science. This assessment is administered to eligible students in grades five, eight, and high school (i.e., grade ten, eleven, or twelve). All eligible students must take a science assessment by the end of grade twelve. It is recommended that students take the assessment when they are enrolled in their last high school science course.

This assessment is aligned with the Science Core Content Connectors (Science Connectors), which are derived from the CA NGSS. The CAA for Science represents a new assessment format for students in that students may be tested throughout the school year, and is designed to occur after instruction. Students may attempt each performance task only once, and the test examiner determines the best timing to administer the performance tasks, in relation to how performance tasks fit into the instructional calendar.

Alternate ELPAC. This assessment will be the required state test of ELP that must be given to students whose primary language is a language other than English and who have been found eligible for alternate assessments by their IEP team. State and federal laws require that local educational agencies (LEAs) administer a state test of ELP to eligible students in kindergarten through grade twelve. The Alternate ELPAC is aligned with the 2012 ELD Standards via the ELD Connectors. The test design anticipates one assessment for two purposes: (1) the initial identification of students as English learners (ELs) or initial fluent English proficient (IFEP); and (2) an annual assessment to measure a student’s progress in acquiring ELP and eligibility for reclassification. As with the CAAs, eligibility for the Alternate ELPAC is determined by the student’s IEP team.

ELPAC regulations require LEAs to administer the Alternate Initial ELPAC to all eligible students in kindergarten through twelve, ages three through twenty-one, whose primary language is a language other than English, to determine whether they are ELs, within 30 calendar days after they are first enrolled in a California public school or 60 calendar days prior to instruction, but not before July 1. If a student does not have an IEP in place by 30 days, the student will be administered the Initial ELPAC with appropriate Universal Tools and Designated Supports. If the student is then classified as EL, and later determined eligible for an Alternate Assessment, and it is listed in the student’s IEP, the student may be administered the Alternate Summative ELPAC.

LEAs are required to administer the Summative ELPAC annually to students identified as ELs until they are reclassified English language proficient (RFEP). The Alternate Summative ELPAC is administered to students in kindergarten through grade twelve, ages three through twenty-one, who have been identified as ELs.

Assessment Administration

CAAs for ELA and mathematics. These assessments are delivered via computer, with allowances for flexibility in administration (e.g., a student may respond to administrator-presented item stimuli rather than to the item stimuli on the computer). A trained test examiner familiar with the student (e.g., the student’s teacher) facilitates the administration in a one-on-one setting, presenting items via computer, paper, or manipulatives, as appropriate for the student. Items are administered to the student over the course of one or more testing sessions, as needed for the student to complete a content-area assessment. The CAAs for ELA and mathematics use a staged approach, meaning that each student receives items that have been determined to be at an appropriate level of challenge. Embedded-routing tests help determine the items a student encounters.

CAA for Science. Test examiners administer the online CAA for Science to students in a one-on-one setting. In 2019–20, eligible students will be administered four performance tasks. Three performance tasks will be operational, and one performance task will be field tested for future use on the assessment. Each performance task will assess two Science Connectors and consists of ten items—five items per Science Connector. Each performance task will assess one of the three science domains (i.e., Life Sciences, Earth and Space Sciences, and Physical Sciences). The performance tasks can be administered soon after the student has received instruction in the content areas. All items on a performance task may be individualized on the basis of the student’s IEP. As with other standardized assessments, the CAA for Science should be administered to each student in a consistent manner, according to the directions provided, with variations only as specified in each student’s IEP. However, to maximize engagement for all students, the CAA for Science offers some additional options for individualization in specific orienting activities and test questions. Through individualization, test examiners can use materials that the student is most comfortable using to access the science concept. Individualization does not change the standard being assessed.

Alternate ELPAC. This assessment is proposed to be delivered online in a one-on-one setting. The student will interact with a trained test examiner who will collect and record responses. The Alternate ELPAC is untimed; test items will be administered to the student over the course of one or more testing sessions, as needed, for the student to complete proficiency assessment in all domains (Reading, Writing, Speaking, and Listening). The proposed design of the Alternate ELPAC is linear (i.e., not adaptive). The Alternate ELPAC will assess a student’s proficiency in English while allowing for a range of receptive and expressive communication modes, including assistive devices, gestures, and so forth. The Alternate ELPAC will adopt a multitiered accessibility resources model so that the assessment will measure language proficiency, not technology ability.


IEP teams should use the Alternate Assessment Decision Confirmation Worksheet to determine whether a student is eligible to participate in the CAAs or Alternate ELPAC.

To participate in the CAAs or Alternate ELPAC, a student must meet all three of the following criteria:

  1. The student has a significant cognitive disability. Review of the student’s school records indicates a disability or multiple disabilities that significantly impact intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior essential for a person to live independently and to function safely in daily life. Having a significant cognitive disability is not determined by an IQ test score; rather, a holistic understanding of the student is required. IEP teams should be careful to consider the following:
  • Conceptual skills—language and literacy; money, time, and number concepts; and self-direction
  • Social skills—interpersonal skills, social responsibility, self-esteem, gullibility, naïveté (i.e., wariness), social problem solving, and the ability to follow rules/obey laws and to avoid being victimized
  • Practical skills—activities of daily living (personal care), occupational skills, health care, travel/transportation, schedules/routines, safety, use of money, use of the telephone As part of the IEP team decision, the team also should consider the following:

As part of the IEP team decision, the team also should consider the following:

  • Community environment typical of the student’s peers and culture
  • Linguistic diversity
  • Cultural differences in the way people communicate, move, and behave
  1. The student is learning content derived from the CA CCSS or the CA NGSS or is acquiring proficiency as identified in the 2012 ELD Standards. Goals and instruction listed in the IEP for the student are linked to the grade-level CA CCSS, CA NGSS, or 2012 ELD Standards and address knowledge and skills that are appropriate and set high expectations for this student.

    The student’s disability or multiple disabilities affect how instruction is presented and how the student accesses curriculum derived from the CA CCSS, CA NGSS, and/or 2012 ELD Standards. The content the student is learning is derived from the CA CCSS, CA NGSS, or 2012 CA ELD Standards, and appropriately breaks the standards into smaller achievable steps. The National Center and State Collaborative has derived these smaller steps from the CCSS to guide instruction, and they are called Core Content Connectors. Science Connectors also were derived from the CA NGSS standards. A Connector is a representation of the essential “core” content of a given state instructional standard. Each Connector was identified by examining learning progressions aligned with the CA CCSS or CA NGSS to determine the critical content for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

  2. The student needs extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains in the grade-level and age-appropriate curriculum, including the following:
  • Instruction and support that are not of a temporary or transient nature
  • Substantially adapted materials and individualized methods of accessing information in alternative ways to acquire, maintain, generalize, demonstrate, and transfer skills across multiple settings

The IEP team also should consider the following information to determine whether the CAAs are appropriate for an individual student:

  • Description of the student’s curriculum and instruction, including data on progress Classroom work samples and data
  • Examples of performance on assessment tasks to compare with classroom work
  • Results of districtwide assessments
  • Results of individualized reading assessments

IEP information, including:

  • Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, goals, and short-term objectives
  • Circumstances of a student with individualized and substantial communication needs or modes (from multiple data sources)
  • Circumstances of a student who may be learning English as a second or other language (i.e., an EL), which may interfere with an accurate assessment of the student’s academic, social, or adaptive abilities

Examples of inappropriate criteria: Some issues may affect a student’s learning experience and ability to learn but are not appropriate to consider during the decision-making process for the CAAs and the Alternate ELPAC . Do not use the following as criteria for participation/eligibility for alternate assessment decisions:

  • A disability category or label
  • Poor attendance or extended absences
  • Native language/social/cultural or economic difference
  • Expected poor performance on the general education assessment
  • Academic and other services the student receives
  • Educational environment or instructional setting
  • Percent of time the student receives special education
  • Student identification as an EL; as with the percent of time a student receives special education, this is a consideration of how the student’s English fluency may affect the student’s performance—as opposed to their disability
  • Low reading level/achievement level
  • Disruptive behavior
  • Impact of test scores on the accountability system
  • Administrator decision
  • Anticipated emotional distress
  • Need for accommodations (e.g., assistive technology/augmentative and alternative communication) to participate in assessment

For information about the CAAs or the Alternate ELPAC, contact the California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance Office by phone at 916-445-8765 or by email or the English Language Proficiency and Spanish Assessments Office by phone at 916-319-0784 or by email

Questions:   California Assessment of Student Progress and Performance Office | | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Wednesday, April 7, 2021
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