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Parent/Guardian's Guide to the CAA


“The Decision To Participate”
(“What is the right test for my child?”)


Which test(s) should my child take?

As a member of the individualized education program (IEP) team, making a decision about which test will best meet your child’s needs can be hard. There are many things to think about in making that choice. The California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System provides four basic statewide assessments:

  • Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics—These tests are taken in grades three through eight and grade eleven and provide an assessment for approximately 99 percent of the student population, including most students with an IEP.

  • 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 student population.

  • Science assessments—These tests include both the California Science Test (CAST) and the CAA for Science, which is for students with an IEP designating an alternate assessment. Students take the science assessments in grades five and eight and once in high school.

  • Standards-based Tests in Spanish (STS) for reading/language arts—These tests are optional assessments in grades two through eleven). They will transition to the new California Spanish Assessment in 2021.

A student identified to take an alternate assessment must take all assessments in the alternate version (ELA, mathematics, and science) for their grade level. These assessments are given once annually to students and can be taken with accommodations and supports to improve accessibility.

Who is a student with a significant cognitive disability?

This decision is made by the IEP team, and it involves not only 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. A consideration of the student’s adaptive behavior is critical in identifying the need for 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 team should review your child’s work, school records, and important information across several school years and settings (e.g., school, home, community), and then decide whether your child fits the criteria for an alternate assessment.

What should the IEP team consider?

The IEP team should consider the following information to determine whether the Smarter Balanced and CAST or the CAA assessments are appropriate for a particular student:

  • 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

Alternate format: Parent/Guardian's Guide to the California Alternate Assessments (PDF)

Questions:   California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress Office | caaspp@cde.ca.gov | 916-445-8765
Last Reviewed: Monday, September 21, 2020
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