Alternate Assessment

All students can and should participate in daily core instruction. The annual assessment is the measure of how students perform based on grade level content. How a student will access grade level content will differ based on individual student needs. Students who participate in the alternate assessment system receive core instruction which is modified to provide students the opportunity to access and participate in rigorous instruction—based on a student’s Individualized Education Plan (IEP). That instruction may occur in any setting within the school based on the student's Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).

Note: A student’s Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) does not determine assessment eligibility. Students can participate in either assessment (general or alternate) regardless of their daily instructional setting.

Alternate assessments are designed for students with significant cognitive disabilities. 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. The alternate assessments were designed by teachers and professions most familiar with students with significant cognitive disabilities. A variety of accommodations are built in the test design and designed to accommodate each student’s personal mode of communication (sign language, eye gaze, augmentative communication devices, etc.).

Students participate in state assessments in one of three ways.

  1. The general assessment (TNReady, TCAP Science and TCAP Social Studies)
  2. The general assessment with accommodations (TNReady, TCAP Science and TCAP Social Studies)
  3. The alternate assessments (MSAA, TCAP Alternate Science and TCAP Alternate Social Studies)

Regardless of which assessment a student takes, all students are assessed on their mastery of grade level standards. As with all summative assessment, the alternate assessment is a snapshot of performance. It is just one data point for the student’s mastery of core curriculum. The student’s IEP goals, alternate assessment score, and a variety of other progress monitoring tools will be used throughout the year to help the team best plan for the most appropriate instructional program to ensure the student is provided with increased post-secondary opportunities.

While students eligible for alternate assessments make up approximately one percent of the student population, they are an important part of our student community. A student eligible to participate in the alternate assessment will participate in all four areas of the alternate with the exception of the TCAP Grade 2 Alternate which only assesses ELA and math. Tennessee currently offers three alternate assessments:

  1. The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) in ELA, writing, and mathematics (Grades 3-8, 11)
  2. The TCAP Alternate for Science and Social Studies. (Grades 3-8,  Grade 10 Science)
  3. The Alternate Assessment for Second Grade (TCAP Grade 2 Alternate)

Alternate Assessment Participation Guidelines and Eligibility Determination

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 State 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

  • 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
  • Educational environment or instr. Setting
  • Percent of time in Special Education
  • 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
  • Educational environment or instr. Setting
  • Percent of time in Special Education

IEP Teams will discuss and determine participation and eligibility using the alternate assessment participation guidance included in the IEP. Students who participate in the alternate assessment system will do so according to the grade enrollment of the student.

Grade None MSAA ELA/Math TCAP/Alternate Science TCAP/Alternate Social Studies
K, 1 X      
2   2nd Grade Alternate    
3–8   X X X
9 X      
10     X  
11   X    
12 X*      

*Unless student has not previously completed the ELA/Math/Science alternate assessment

TN Alt Participation Guidelines Flowchart

The purpose of this flowchart is to provide additional support to IEP teams when making decisions regarding alternate assessment participation. This document does not replace the current participation guideline requirement included in the IEP but is designed to provide additional guidance for teams when making this decision.

Alternate Assessment Test Security

Each year, all test administrators must sign the Acknowledgement of Test Security Policy. This form is filed in the school district for one year in case of a test security audit. This form is applicable for all TCAP assessments provided by TDOE which includes all alternate assessments (MSAA, TCAP Alternate Science and Social Studies, and 2nd Grade Alternate).

Alternate Assessment Overview

The department is pleased to announce a new resource designed to provide additional information to districts regarding the alternate assessment system for students with significant cognitive disabilities. A recorded webinar and a PowerPoint is available here. This resource is designed to provide information regarding MSAA, TCAP/Alt science and social studies, as well as the Grade 2 Alternate Assessment. If you have questions, please contact or