MSAA Alternate Assessment

Unpacking Alternate Instructional Framework

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. This document provides considerations for students who may have significant communication needs as well as additional information to prepare for the MSAA administration this spring. Please distribute to all appropriate educators.

2016 Parent Information

The MSAAs in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics are aligned to the Tennessee State Standards for instruction through the Core Content Connectors (CCCs). The CCCs were developed to guide test development and alignment to the state standards. While the CCCs break down the state standards into smaller, more manageable chunks for students, they are not a downward extension like the previous alternate assessment standards (Alternate Performance Indicators). The MSAA includes grade level concepts, but at a very simplified level that includes many supports, modified materials, and accommodations. For more information on MSAA, please click on the MSAA tab.

MSAA Assessment Details

The MSAA summative assessment in ELA and mathematics is required for students in grades 3–8 and grade 11 who qualify for the alternate assessment. The assessment is designed to be administered online. 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 assessment has built in supports to ensure students can respond as independently as possible.

Most of the items are selected response; however, some are constructed response. The test must be administered by a Tennessee certified and licensed educator employed by the district. The operational test blueprints which describe the current design of the MSAA test blueprint for the summative assessment in Mathematics and ELA. These blueprints were first developed under the NCSC project and will continue to reflect the NCSC name until later this year. An additional document which provides the test item percentages by domain is also included to assist educators with a deeper understanding of the MSAA test design.

Timing and Length

The test may be administered over a two month window beginning March 6 through May 12, 2017. The summative assessment includes two mathematics sessions and four ELA sessions with approximately 35–40 total items.

The test administrator will determine the length of each session based on individual student need. The estimated time for the ELA and mathematics assessments will take 1.5–2 hours each to administer.

MSAA Accommodations

IEPs are annually reviewed and updated to indicate participation in the alternate assessment system. Participation in the alternate assessment itself is considered an accommodation. However, MSAA has several accommodations that require 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. If the accommodation required for access to the assessment is not currently included in the IEP, there are a few places which are appropriate to indicate accommodation use. Additional places to indicate use of accommodations for MSAA use could be:

  • 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

Assistive Technology

Students may use a variety of assistive technology devices to input responses, both selected responses and as text-based open responses. Input could occur through alternate keyboards, eye gaze, switch devices, or speech-to-text, and other similar input devices. Students are also expected to access text using AT devices (e.g., screen readers). Assistive Technology must be indicated on the “Narratives” page and a description of need is also required for use.

MSAA recommends testing Assistive Technology devices for compatibility using the sample items that are available on the MSAA Test Administration Portal. The MSAA 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. Most students who require assistive technology to respond to test items have the accommodation indicated in the IEP.

Getting Ready

Curriculum and Instruction

The Core Content Connectors (CCCs) are alternate achievement standards aligned to the Tennessee State Standards and were developed using the Learning Progression Frameworks to identify the big ideas in the standards that are essential for students with significant cognitive disabilities who participate in the alternate assessments.

Instructional resources can be found on the NCSC wiki. These include CCC and Curriculum Guides, Universal Design for Learning Units and guides, and Scripted Model Instructional Units and guides.

Sample Items

Sample items are located on the MSAA System website. 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.

Sample items may also be accessed via

In a continued effort to support students who participate in the alternate assessment system, the department has developed a power point with notes, which highlights sample items and the connecting standards. The resource is intended to support educators when designing instruction and in preparation of the assessment. To review highlights, sample items and the connecting standards, a power point file is available here.


The MSAA Summative Assessment System houses the online assessment system, technology requirements, and sample items. The system URL is Additional support may be accessed by the service center:

Phone: 866-834-8879
Technology requirements as well as the Test Administration Manual (when available) are posted on the site. 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.

MSAA Frequently Asked Questions

Who do I contact if I have questions or need support?

Please contact the MSAA Service Center at:

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 state specific guidance, please contact

How do I log-in to the system and how do I receive my log-in credentials?

The system URL is

When a new user account is created in the MSAA System, the user will receive an automated welcome email from that contains a temporary URL. If the test administrator or test coordinator account was created via the “Users File Upload” step, the system sends the start-up email automatically.

If the user account is created manually via the “Add User” button in the MSAA System, the test coordinator who creates the account will select the “Send Email” checkbox. The system sends the start-up email to the users for whom the checkbox has been selected.

Existing users who have forgotten their passwords can use the “Request New Password” feature on the log-in screen to reset their passwords. Additional communication regarding system availability for the 2017 spring administration will be sent via the Special Education Directors Update as well as the Commissioner’s Update for Directors.

If a student transfers within the testing window, what is the process to continue testing at the receiving school?

If a student transfers schools during the testing period and their test is “In Progress” (i.e., the test has been started and some answers have been saved), it is possible to switch from one organization to which a student is associated and keep the original test form assignment as well as all of the saved item responses. In order to accomplish this, a test administrator or test coordinator needs to have permissions to the student’s current school/class and the new school/class to which the student is moving. The test administrator at the new school/class will become the test administrator of record for the student when they select to resume the test from the “My Students/Actions” link.

If a student’s test has not yet been started, the student can be moved in the same way as described above.

If the student transfers out of the district and re-enrolls in another Tennessee school district, contact in order to transfer the student’s record.

If a test administrator closes one test (e.g., mathematics), due to the Early Stopping Rule because the student did not display an observable response during the Student Response Check, and the test administrator did not observe a student response to any of the first four items in the mathematics test, how does that “flag” the ELA test as closed?

When a test is closed for this reason, the “Closed” test status will automatically apply to the other test assigned to that same student in the “Not Yet Started” status.

What is the difference between “Submit Test” and “Close Test”?

The test administrator will SUBMIT the test when the administration of the content area is complete. There will be two test submissions: (1) mathematics and (2) ELA (reading and writing). For additional information, refer to the Test Administration Manual (TAM).

Closing a test should occur relatively infrequently; the test administrator will CLOSE the test only for one of the following reasons:

  • The student withdrew from the school and will not enroll in a Tennessee public school
  • The student is not eligible for the test (does not meet participation guidelines)
  • The student had no observable response during the Student Response Check and the test administrator did not observe a student response to any of the first four items of the test administered—either the mathematics or ELA test.

Note: TAs may not close a test because the student shows frustration, behavior concerns, or is not engaged. In these cases, TAs should pause the test and resume it at a more appropriate time for the student. For additional information, refer to the TAM.

Is the test administrator required to conduct a Student Response Check (SRC) for every student?

No. If the test administrator is familiar with the student’s mode of communication to a test item, the test administrator will not conduct an SRC. The test administrator will indicate all the modes by which the student communicates a response to a test item (eye gaze, gesture, mouse, computer, etc.) in the “Student Response” check tab.

If the test administrator is not familiar with the student’s mode of communication to test items, the TA will conduct an SRC and indicate all the modes by which the student communicates a response (e.g., eye gaze, gesture, mouse, computer, etc.). The SRC may be conducted online or in paper format.

After the test administrator conducts an SRC, what are the implications of the outcomes of the SRC?
  • Student Displays Observable Responses During the SRC - Administer all test items in both mathematics and ELA (reading and writing).
  • Student Does Not Display Observable Responses During the SRC - Administer the first 4 items in either mathematics or ELA
    • If the test administrator does not observe a student response to any of the first four items, the test administrator may close the test using the procedures described in the MSAA System User Guide for Test Administrators.
    • If the test administrator observes a student response to at least one of the first four items, the test administrator administers all test items in both mathematics and ELA.
If a student has a scribe accommodation and the test administrator/scribe records the student’s response to the CR writing item on paper, what does the test administrator/scribe do next?

If a student has a scribe accommodation and the test administrator/scribe recorded the student’s response to the Constructed-Response Writing item on paper, the test administrator/scribe must next transcribe (type) the student’s response directly into the online template before uploading the evidence as directed in the ELA directions for Test Administration (DTA): Writing.

What must the test administrator do after uploading a student’s written response to the CR writing item?

After uploading the student’s response to the CR writing item and before submitting the ELA test, TAs should review the uploaded response to ensure it is readable. For additional information, refer to the MSAA Assessment System User Guide for test administrators.

What can the test administrator do to permit a student to view all response options to a test item on one screen without scrolling?

The test administrator may “zoom out” which will decrease the text and image sizes and will show more content on the screen at one time. This is accomplished by holding down “CTRL” and pressing “-“ (minus sign) until the desired screen presentation is achieved. The test administrator may then “zoom in” to increase text and image sizes by holding down the “CTRL” key and pressing “+” (plus sign). On a Mac, the “Command” key is used in place of the “CTRL” key to perform this function.

Tennessee MSAA State Specific Guidance

Topic State Policy
Test Administrator Requirements Follows MSAA Policy: Only a certified teacher or certified long-term substitute can administer the MSAA test unless extreme extraneous circumstances, contact state MSAA contact listed above.
Paper Version of Test A paper version of the MSAA test is an accommodation. This accommodation must be documented in the student’s IEP and will be 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 Security Each year, all test administrators must sign the Acknowledgement of Test Security Form. 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 to 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 be uploading 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.

Intervener Support to Access to DTA

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.

State MSAA Contact

Lori Nixon,, (615) 741-5113