Alternate ACCESS for ELLs

About Alternate ACCESS for ELLs

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is secure large–scale English language proficiency (ELP) assessment administered to students in grades 1–12 identified as English learners (ELLs) with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are unable to meaningful participate in ACCESS for ELLs 2.0. This paper–based assessment is given annually in WIDA Consortium member states to monitor student's progress in acquiring academic English.

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs assesses each of the four language domains of Listening, Speaking, Reading and Writing.

Listening, Speaking, Reading, Writing


The test is aligned to four of WIDA's English Language Development Standards and associated Alternate Model Performance Indicators (AMPIs):

  • Social and Instructional Language
  • Language of Language Arts
  • Language of Mathematics
  • Language of Science

Test forms are divided into the following grade–level clusters:

  • Grades 1–2
  • Grades 3–5
  • Grades 6–8
  • Grades 9–12

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs expands upon Proficiency Level 1, by increasing the sensitivity of the measure for ELLs with the most significant cognitive disabilities. These alternate ELP levels provide students a chance to demonstrate progress within Level P1.



The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires states to develop and implement alternate assessments for students with significant cognitive disabilities who cannot participate in state and districtwide assessments, even with accommodations. State ELP assessments are included in this requirement. WIDA created the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs to meet federal accountability requirements and to provide educators with a measure sensitive to English language proficiency growth of ELs with significant cognitive disabilities.



  • Help students and families understand students' current level of English language proficiency along the developmental continuum.
  • Serve as one of multiple measures used to determine whether students are prepared to exit English language support programs.
  • Generate information that assists in determining whether ELLs have attained the language proficiency needed to participate meaningfully in content area classrooms without program support.
  • Provide teachers with information they can subsequently use to enhance instruction and learning in programs for their ELLs.
  • Provide districts with information that will help them evaluate the effectiveness of their ESL/bilingual programs.
  • Meet federal requirements for the monitoring and reporting of progress toward English language proficiency for ELLs with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires states to implement alternate assessments English language proficiency (ELP) assessments for ELLs with the most significant cognitive disabilities who cannot participate in the regular ELP assessment, even with accommodations. Designed to meet this requirement, Alternate ACCESS for ELLs measures English language proficiency for ELs with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

To ensure the language proficiency of ELLs with disabilities are validly and reliably assessed, the student's IEP Team must determine whether an ELL with a disability needs to received appropriate accommodation on the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0, or needs to take the alternate assessment. Students demonstrating academic difficulties due to learning disabilities, speech–language impairments, and emotional–behavioral disabilities, or other mild to moderate cognitive disabilities may be served more appropriately by taking ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 with accommodations. Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is appropriate for ELLs with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

WIDA provides participation guidance to consortia member states to help ensure administration of Alternate ACCESS for ELLs to students for whom it was developed. IEP teams must follow their state's specific alternate assessment participation criteria.

Participation Criteria:

IEP teams may use the following criteria to determine student eligibility for participation in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs:

  • The student is an ELL.
  • The student has a significant cognitive disability and receives special education services under IDEA (2004).
  • The student requires extensive direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains in the grade and age appropriate curriculum.
  • The student is or will be participating in his or her statewide alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards.

Preparation and Training

Preparing to administer Alternate ACCESS for ELLs entails two steps:

  1. Logistics
  2. Training

Section 7 of the Test Administrator Manual (TAM) provides detailed information related to Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.


Ordering Test Materials:

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is a paper-based assessment and test materials must be ordered from DRC. The Ordering and Managing Test Materials tutorial on the training site provides information on how materials are ordered through the WIDA AMS system.

Test administrators for the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs may need access to test materials prior to administration to adapt materials to meet the needs of specific students. Please see the Test Administrator Manual (TAM) for more information on allowable adaptations.


  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is individually administered.
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is not a timed test; however, for scheduling purposes, each language domain is estimated to take 20 minutes. Variation in timing is dependent on student's grade level, abilities, and behaviors.
  • It is recommended that each language domain is administered in a separate testing session.
  • All testing must be completed within the district ELP testing window.


Test administration training and certification is crucial for successful administration of Alternate ACCESS for ELLs. Answers to many frequently asked questions about test administration are answered during training. Online training is available through the Secure Portal. Please view specific state's page to review any applicable requirements.

Online Training Course (Secure Portal)

Alternate ACCESS Grades 1-12

WIDA provides an online training course for Alternate ACCESS for ELLs to consortia members through the Secure Portal.

Specific information on the administration of each language domain is available in Section 7 of the TAM, and under the Domains Tab of the training course.

Face-to-Face Training:

Face to Face Training

WIDA offers on–site training workshops for Alternate ACCESS for ELLs for Special Education and ELL teachers involved in administering the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.

Facilitator Toolkit (Login Required)

WIDA offers a set of presentation slides and practice tests for Test Administrators to support individuals responsible for sharing information about ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 in their school or district.


An Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Overview webinar is part of WIDAs annual free webinar series.

Semi-customized webinars for Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Administration are available to individual SEAs through the use of their PLUs.

Sample Items for Students:

These items are representative of the items a student will experience on the actual test. Sample items give students the opportunity to practice interacting with the test input and producing responses just as they will on the test.

Test Administration

  • The Listening and Reading Sections consist of multiple choice questions
  • The Writing and Speaking Sections prompt the student for a constructed response
  • Separate test forms are available for each grade level cluster
  • All sections are adaptive, meaning that test items are presented until the student reaches his/her performance “ceiling”
  • All test sections are hand scored by the test administrator; each item must be scored before moving on to the next item

Specific instructions on how to administer each section of the test can be found in the following resources:

  • Test Administration Manual
  • Test Administration Script
  • Administering Alternate ACCESS for ELLs webinars
  • Administering Alternate ACCESS for ELLs PowerPoint

Much like in any testing situation, please review and follow all state and local testing and security policies before administering the test.

Unique Features of the Test

The Alternate ACCESS for ELLs provides students with additional opportunities to demonstrate their English language proficiency through scripted cues in the Listening and Readings Sections and auxiliary questions in the Speaking Section. It also includes modeled tasks in the Writing Section to allow students to observe the test administrator perform the task before trying it. Other unique features of the test include simplified language, repetition of questions, increased graphic support, larger testing materials, and graphics.

Scripted Cues

The Listening and Reading Sections of the test include scripted cues and repetition to provide students with multiple opportunities to show what they know. The cuing system is comprised of three cues for each test item:

  • CUE A - initial prompt and question of the task
  • CUE B - simplified prompt of CUE A
  • CUE C - provides answer, restates prompt, and asks question again

The test administrator takes the following steps to administer each task in the Listening and the Reading Sections:

  • Administer CUE A
  • If student does not respond, test administrator repeats CUE A again
  • If student answers incorrectly or does not respond to CUE A, test administrator reads CUE B
  • If student responds incorrectly, or does not respond at all to CUE B, test administrator administers CUE C

Task Administration


Testing accommodations provide students with disabilities an opportunity to demonstrate their English language proficiency in a way that is similar to students without disabilities without changing what the test measures, thus invalidating the test results. In other words, appropriate accommodations level the playing field for students with disabilities, providing an equitable opportunity to demonstrate what they can do.

Considerations When Choosing Appropriate Accommodations

Does the accommodation address the student’s special need(s)?

Accommodations must be tailored to the specific needs of each student as outlined in the student’s IEP. Test administrators should use their professional judgment when applying accommodations to Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.  For example, when determining whether an accommodation is appropriate for use within certain sections or all sections of the test, test administrators should first determine whether the practices and/or procedures included in the accommodation will provide the student equitable opportunity to demonstrate their abilities. If the accommodation does not provide the student equitable opportunity to demonstrate what he or she knows, the accommodation is not appropriate and should not be used in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.

Does the student have experience with the given accommodation(s) on an ongoing basis in the classroom or testing situations?

The accommodations a student uses for Alternate ACCESS should be similar to accommodations the student uses during classroom instruction and/or other assessments.

Does the accommodation maintain the validity of the construct of what the test measures?

Before applying an accommodation to the test setting, test administrators must ensure that the nature of the accommodation does not alter the actual construct being assessed, which is knowledge of academic English language in the four language domains (listening, speaking, reading, and writing). For example, the test administrator reading text for the Reading Section would not maintain the construct of reading that is being tested.

Does the test administrator know the student and how to accurately apply the accommodation?

Test administrators should have experience working with the student and all accommodations included in the student’s IEP or become familiar with using them prior to administration.

Does the accommodation adhere to state policies for the accommodation of ELLs with disabilities on language proficiency tests?

Please refer to and abide by your state’s policies on appropriate accommodations for both English Language Learners and students with disabilities on language assessments as well as allowable test practices for all students.

WIDA provides guidelines for appropriate accommodations for the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 assessment suite (including Alternate ACCESS for ELLs) on the Accessibility and Accommodations page.

Scores & Reports

Scores and Reports
Uses for Alternate ACCESS for ELLs scores:

  • Monitor student’s English language proficiency progress on an annual basis
  • Inform classroom instruction
  • Aid in programmatic decision making
  • Guide IEP teams in determining English language acquisition supports

Types of Score Reports
Individual Student Report:

  • Scores for each language domain (Listening, Reading, Speaking, Writing)
  • Composite scores (combining one or more domain scores, such as Listening and Speaking scores to calculate Oral Language)
  • Brief descriptions of what students at each proficiency level are typically able to do.
  • Translations of these reports are available for printing from WIDA AMS.

Student Roster Report:

  • Domain and composite scores for all the students in a single school and grade.

School/District/State Frequency Report:

  • The number and percent of students tested at a school, district, or state who attained each proficiency level at each grade level.

Data Validation
Data validation is the process of reviewing student test records to identify errors and make corrections before production of score reports. Each state has unique policies related to data validation. Refer to your state’s ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 checklist to view your state’s guidance.

Accessing Score Reports
Testing sites receive Individual Student Reports, Student Roster Reports, as well as School Frequency Reports from DRC. These reports are also available for download in WIDA AMS. Each member state determines when score reports will become available. To view key dates for your state, please visit your state’s page on the WIDA website.