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Alternate Assessment

Alternate assessments are designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities (about one percent of the student population). The structures of alternate assessments are designed around the students’ physical and cognitive disabilities in a way that allows them to answer test questions and participate in the test as independently as possible. For example, a variety of accommodations are built into the test design in order to accommodate each student’s personal mode of communication (e.g., sign language, eye gaze, augmentative communication devices, etc.).



For information about the administration of Tennessee AA-AAS:

For assistance with instruction for students who participate in the AA-AAS:

Alison Gauld, Behavior and Low Incidence Disabilities Coordinator
(615) 770-6814

For assistance with eligibility criteria for students who participate in the AA-AAS:

Joanna Bivins, Director of School Psychology Services
(615) 741-9231

A student eligible to participate in the alternate assessment will be assessed on all four content areas—ELA, math, science, and social studies—with the exception of the optional Grade 2 TCAP-Alt, which only assesses ELA and math.

Tennessee currently offers the following alternate assessments:

  • [Required] The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) in ELA/writing and mathematics (Grades 3–8, 11)
  • [Required] The TCAP-Alt for Science and Social Studies (Grades 3–8,  Grade 10 Science)
  • [Optional] The TCAP-Alt for ELA and math (Grade 2)
Grade Level None  MSAA for ELA & Math TCAP-Alt for Math and ELA TCAP-Alt for Science TCAP-Alt for Social Studies
Grade 2     X (optional)    
Grades 3–8   X   X X
Grade 9 X        
Grade 10       X  
Grade 11   X      
Grade 12 X*        

*Unless student has not previously completed the alternate assessment.

The Tennessee Department of Education offers alternate assessments based on alternate achievement standards in compliance with the U.S. Department of Education federal regulations and guidance. A student must have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) and the primary disability must be recognized under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

The term “significant cognitive disability” is not a category of disability. It is a designation given to a small number of students with disabilities for purposes of their participation in the state assessment program. For a student to be determined as having a significant cognitive disability for the purpose of participation in the alternate assessment system, all of the follow statements must be true as determined by the student’s IEP team.

The three eligibility criteria that students must meet in order to be eligible for the alternate assessments are:

  1. Student has a disability, or disabilities, that significantly impacts cognitive function and adaptive behavior. Review of student records and other evidence indicate a disability or multiple disabilities that prevent the student from meaningful participation in the general academic core curriculum or achievement of the standards at their enrolled grade level. Additionally, the student’s disability causes dependence on others for many, and sometimes all, daily living needs, and the student is expected to require extensive ongoing support in adulthood.
  2. The student’s instruction is aligned to the Tennessee Academic Standards but is adapted to reflect the knowledge and skills in the Core Content Connectors (CCCs). Instruction in science and/or social studies is aligned to the Alternate Assessment Targets. Goals and instruction for the student are adapted to reflect the enrolled grade level CCS and/or alternate state standards for science and/or social studies. Life and job skills are also embedded and included as part of the student’s instruction and may provide the context for access to the standards.
  3. The student is unable to apply academic, life, and job skills in home, school, and community without intensive, frequent, and individualized instruction and supports in multiple settings. The student’s demonstrated cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior across these settings is significantly below age expectations, even with program modifications, adaptations, and accommodations. This covers the three aspects of learning:
    1. What the student needs in order to learn. In other words, the student requires extensive, repeated, individualized instruction and supports from teachers and other professionals.
    2. The types of materials required in order for the student to learn. Materials are significantly modified, customized, and adapted in order to facilitate understanding.
    3. How the student demonstrates their learning. Substantial supports to achieve gains in the grade appropriate curriculum requires substantially adapted materials and customized methods of accessing information in alternative ways to acquire, maintain, generalize, demonstrate, and transfer skills across multiple settings.

Criteria Not Appropriate for Decision-Making

  • Instructional setting
  • Disability category or label
  • Poor attendance or extended absences
  • Native language/social/cultural or economic difference
  • Expect poor performance on general education assessment
  • Academic and other services student receives
  • Percent of time in special education

Please note:

As with all assessments, the alternate assessments are a snapshot of student performance based on grade-level expectations, but they are just one data point to help understand a student's progress academically. The student’s IEP goals, alternate assessment score, and a variety of other progress monitoring tools should be used throughout the school year to help the IEP team plan for the most appropriate instructional program to ensure the student is provided with the most postsecondary opportunities.