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Parent/Guardian's Guide to the CAA

Which test(s) should my child take?

As a member of your child’s individualized education program (IEP) team, you may need to consider whether an alternate assessment is appropriate for your child. Alternate assessments are designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are receiving instruction aligned with alternate achievement standards. Students identified by their IEP team for alternate assessment take the alternate version of all statewide summative assessments.

The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System includes the following assessments:

  • Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics. Students take these tests in grades three through eight and grade eleven.

  • California Alternate Assessments (CAAs) for ELA and mathematics. These tests are for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and provide an assessment for approximately 1 percent of the population of students identified for special education services. Students identified to take alternate assessments can take the alternate version for their grade level. These assessments can be taken with accommodations and designated supports to improve accessibility.
  • Science assessments. These tests include both the California Science Test (CAST) and the CAA for Science. Students take the science assessments in grades five and eight and once in high school. A student identified to take the CAAs for ELA and mathematics will also take the CAA for Science. The CAA for Science is designed to be given in a series of four performance tasks, each provided soon after the student has received related instruction.

Who is a student with significant cognitive disability?

This decision is made by the IEP team, and it involves more than the identification of a specific disability. The team should talk about the student’s ability to live independently and to function safely in daily life. An IQ score alone does not determine a significant cognitive disability; rather, an overall understanding of the student is required to make the determination. Students identified with a Specific Learning Disability do not meet the criteria for identification with a significant cognitive disability. Consideration of the student’s adaptive behavior is critical in identifying the need for an alternate assessment. Adaptive behavior is the collection of conceptual, social, and practical skills that are learned and performed by people in their everyday lives.

  • 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.

The IEP team should review the student’s work, school records, and other important information across several school years and settings (e.g., school, home, community), and then decide whether the student fits the criteria for an alternate assessment.

What should the IEP team consider?

To determine whether the Smarter Balanced and CAST or the CAAs are appropriate for a particular student, the IEP team should consider the following information:

  • The student's curriculum and instruction, including data on progress

  • Classroom work samples and information from parent conferences

  • Examples of performance on assessments to compare with classroom work

  • Results of districtwide assessments

  • Results of individualized reading assessments

  • IEP information from multiple sources, including:

    • Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance, IEP goals, and short-term objectives

    • Needs of a student with substantial communication issues

    • Needs of a student who may be learning English as a second or other language (i.e., an English learner), which may interfere with an accurate assessment of their abilities

CAAs for ELA/Math Fact Sheet(PDF) is a flyer with assessment facts about the CAAs for ELA and mathematics.

Parent Guides to Understanding are two-page flyers written in easy-to-understand language to answer key questions (what, why, who, how, and when) about California's assessment programs. Included is information about how parents can support their student's success.

Practice and training tests External link opens in new window or tab. provide you and your child with grade-specific testing experiences that are similar to the summative assessments.

Starting Smarter website External link opens in new window or tab. includes information on Student Score Reports, sample test questions, parent-teacher conferences, and other no-cost resources in English and Spanish.

Questions:   California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Office | | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Monday, January 22, 2024
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