Accessibility for All

ELPA21 heard the state call for an alternate assessment for English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities, and we’re proud to announce the Alt ELPA is now operational. Funded by a 4-year Department of Education grant, the Alt ELPA was designed and developed by educators, states, and accessibility experts. The Alt ELPA is a standards-aligned assessment for this historically underserved and highly-deserving student population and the communities and schools that support them.


Design and Development

At long last—a standards-based assessment system for English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities. With the Alt ELPA, these students receive fair and personalized assessment. While large-scale standardized content tests for accountability purposes often place more constraints on new research and design adoption, the Alt ELPA has the potential of pushing the envelope further in terms of assessment design, reporting, and implementation.

The Alt ELPA was designed by the Collaborative for the Alternate Assessment of English Language Proficiency (CAAELP), an Iowa-led, grant-funded project tasked with designing a fair and reliable assessment for English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities. To develop the assessment, CAAELP collaborated with researchers at UCLA CRESST, several state departments of education, and a Technical Advisory Committee specializing in alternate assessment. Through their efforts, and those of many other specialized contributors, the Alt ELPA successfully completed its inaugural administration in school year 2022–2023.

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From its inception, accessibility has been the foremost priority driving the development of the Alt ELPA. The assessment includes a suite of innovative accessibility features and supports, all designed to promote equitable access to the assessment. When selecting supports for a given student, educators and IEP teams use a four-step considerations cycle accounting for language exposure, impact of disability, communication methods, and instructional experiences. By addressing not just the impact of a disability, but the student’s exposure, methods, and experiences using language, educators can provide appropriate supports and accurately measure what their student knows and can do with the English language. And with greater accessibility comes higher test completion rates. We’re proud to report the inaugural K-12 Alt ELPA average completion rate was above 90%.

For an overview of the accessibility supports and accommodations available to students, please see the Alt ELPA Accessibility and Accommodations Manual or the Accessibility section of the Alt ELPA FAQs.


Scoring and Reporting

English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities—a historically underserved subgroup of English learners—deserve a scoring system that accounts for their individual communication methods and experiences. To this end, we have designed a scoring model that is reliable, valid, and fair for this group of students.

The Alt ELPA results summarize two modalities: receptive skills (listening, reading) and productive communication (speaking, writing), with modality scores, domain scores, and an overall proficiency score. Proficiency is determined by the pattern and level of performance across the four domains, emphasizing how the language domains interact. Students can be proficient with multiple domain exemptions, allowing all students to demonstrate their skills using the English language.

Alt ELPA student reports summarize and clarify student performance in the receptive and productive modalities that represent the domains of listening, reading, speaking, and writing. These reports—available for districts, schools, and individual students—are used to inform instructional supports for students, as well as evaluate overall program effectiveness. Like the ELPA21 student reports, the Alt ELPA student reports feature user-friendly language and graphics, giving parents/guardians and educators a clear and meaningful overview of what students know and can do with the English language. Click here to view an example of the Alt ELPA student report. For more information on how to interpret Alt ELPA student reports, please see the Parent Guide to Alt ELPA Student Reports, available in 11 languages, or the Quick Guide to Understanding Alt ELPA Student Reports for Educators.


Alt ELPA Items

The Alt ELPA items, or test questions, were designed by a team of experts in partnership with Cognia and the National Center on Educational Outcomes, and allow students to demonstrate their full range of English language knowledge and skills. Items reflect deep consideration of students’ diverse communication experiences, application of Universal Design for Learning principles, and best practices related to item development, accessibility, and accommodations. All test items were initially crafted by assessment experts with a deep understanding of students with disabilities. Then, practicing educators with experience teaching English learners with the most significant cognitive disabilities reviewed the items for both difficulty and accessibility. After receiving additional reviews from educators, state personnel, and assessment researchers, the items were field tested. Each and every test item passes through this rigorous review process before being included as part of the Alt ELPA. To learn more about the design of the Alt ELPA test questions and scoring rubric, please see the Alt ELPA Test Questions Brief.