MSAA Alternate Assessment

The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) are assessments in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities in grades 3–8 and grade 11. The MSAA measures student mastery of the Tennessee Academic Standards. While the MSAA covers grade-level content standards at a simplified level, it includes many built-in supports, modified materials, and accommodations.


The assessment is designed to be administered online; however, depending on students’ individual needs, some students will interact directly with the computer while others will interact with printed materials prepared by the test administrator. The test includes built-in supports to ensure students can respond as independently as possible.

Most of the items are selected response, but some items are constructed response. The assessment includes two mathematics sessions and four ELA sessions with approximately 35–40 total items.


The test must be administered by a Tennessee certified and licensed educator employed by the school district.

Timing and Length

The test may be administered over a two-month window.  Visit the Test Administration Window webpage for more information. We estimate it will take 1.5–2 hours total to administer each subject (math and ELA) for a total of 3–4 hours; however, students take the test at their own pace over the two-month window in small sessions determined by the test administrator. The test administrator will determine the length of each session based on individual student need.


IEPs are annually reviewed and updated to indicate participation in alternate assessments. Participation in an alternate assessment itself is considered an accommodation. However, MSAA has several additional accommodations that require specific documentation in a student’s IEP in order to be used for the MSAA. These include:

  • Assistive technology for presentation of items to students
  • Assistive technology for student response to items
  • Paper versions of items
  • Scribe/Transcription
  • Sign Language (e.g., ASL, PSE, SEE)

Most students who use an accommodation as defined in the list above require the accommodation on a daily basis. The vast majority of IEPs for students who participate in the alternate assessment will already include the accommodations as listed above. Accommodation use may be listed in multiple places in the IEP including:

  • Custom Classroom Accommodations (may be used to indicate paper use)
  • Communication needs under the Narratives page (could be used to include Scribe and/or paper)
  • Custom Supplementary Aides

Special Note Regarding Assistive Technology

Many students assessed on the alternate assessment require an assistive technology device to communicate. Students should continue to use the device during assessment. A variety of  assistive technology devices may be used to respond to both selected response and open response item types on the assessment. An alternate keyboard , eye gaze, switch devices, speech-to-text, and other similar input devices are examples of compatible assistive technology devices.

MSAA recommends testing Assistive Technology devices for compatibility using the sample items that are available on the MSAA Test Administration Portal. The MSAA online system allows a student or test administrator to use the shortcut keys on the keyboard to achieve basic functions when usage of a mouse is not an option. Students who require assistive technology to respond to test items must have the assistive technology need indicated in the IEP.

Test Blueprints

document which provides the test item percentages by domain is included to assist educators with a deeper understanding of the MSAA test design.

Curriculum and Instruction

The Core Content Connectors (CCCs) are alternate achievement standards aligned to the Tennessee Academic Standards and were developed to identify the big ideas in the standards that are important for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Instructional resources can be found on the NCSC wiki.

Sample Items

Sample items are located on the MSAA website (log-in required). They are available in an online and PDF format. ELA sample items are available for grades 4, 8, and 11. Math sample items are available for grades 3, 6, and 11. Available assessment features for the online sample items include alternate color themes, answer masking, audio player, line reader, and magnification.

In a continued effort to support students who participate in the alternate assessment system, the department has developed a PowerPoint, which highlights sample items and the connecting standards. The resource is intended to support educators when designing instruction and in preparation of the assessment.

Writing Rubrics

Contact Information

The MSAA Summative Assessment System houses the online assessment system, technology requirements, and sample items. The assessment system, technology requirements, and sample items can be accessed on the MSAA website: (log-in required). If technical support is needed, please contact the MSAA service center:

Phone: (866) 834-8879
The service center is open M–F from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET, with extended hours (until 8 p.m.) beginning February through May.

For all other MSAA questions, contact

Topic Tennessee Policy
Test Administrator Requirements Only a certified teacher or certified long-term substitute can administer the MSAA test. In extreme extraneous circumstances, contact state MSAA contact,
Paper Version of Test A paper version of the MSAA test is an accommodation. This accommodation must be documented in the student’s IEP. The test is printed by the test administrator.
Training for Test Administrators Training for all test administrators must be completed annually. Passing the final quiz with 80 percent accuracy is required before access to the test will be granted. Test administrators must be trained on test security.
Test Security Each year, all test administrators must sign the Test Administration and Security Agreement. These forms are held in the LEA for one year in case of a test security audit.
School Test Coordinator or District Test Coordinator Tennessee recognizes the term “Test Coordinator” as applicable at the school or district level. The person designated as the test coordinator will assume all roles and responsibilities indicated in the MSAA Test Administration Manual (TAM) for test coordinators. Each district will determine if the test coordinators will be identified at the school and/or district level.
Registration of Users and Students/Creating Classes The MSAA State Contact will upload all eligible students and users directly into the MSAA Assessment System. If a user or student was not registered during the TN registration window, the district-level test coordinators can add the user or contact the MSAA state contact,
Incident Reporting (Test Security Violations, Medical Exemption Requests) The Alternate Assessment test coordinator will follow the Tennessee-specific guidance regarding the use of EdTools to report any Reports of Test Irregularity.

The role of the intervener is to provide effective, deaf/blind-specific intervention for a child with deaf/blindness. The intervener works under the direction of the classroom teacher.

To prepare for intervener supports for a student with deaf/blindness, the intervener and/or additional certified support staff (i.e., Teacher for the Hearing Impaired) may review the Directions for Test Administration (DTA) prior to administration of the test. The DTA will need to be downloaded and all reviews must take place at the school with no students present and be coordinated with the test coordinator. Neither the additional certified support staff nor the intervener will be required to complete the MSAA online training modules. The test administrator will complete the online training modules and work collaboratively with the student’s team to prepare and administer the MSAA test. Any additional support staff and the intervener will be required to read and sign the Test Security Form and return it to the test coordinator.


  • Unpacking Alternate Instructional Framework was created in order to support educators with unpacking the standards in a meaningful way for students with significant cognitive disabilities participating in the alternate assessment.