Alternate ACCESS for ELLs

Alternate ACCESS

  • Facilitator Toolkit Show
    • Introduction to Alternate ACCESS for ELLs
    • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Administration
    • Training Test Book
    • Training Student Response Book
    • Training Test Administrator Script
  • Technical Reports Show
    • Series 100 Development and Operational Field
      Test PDF
    • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Standard Setting
      Study PDF
    • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Series 100 Teacher
      Rating Worksheet PDF
    • Annual Technical Report No. 1 Series 101
  • 2017 Alternate ACCESS Interpretive Guide PDF
  • Test Administrator Manual
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Test Administration
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Sample Items PDF
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Writing Scoring Guide
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Participation
    Guidelines PDF
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Participation
    Criteria Decision Tree DOC
  • Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Participation

Assessment Purpose & Use

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is an assessment of English language proficiency (ELP) for students in grades 1 -12 who are classified as English language learners (ELLs) and have significant cognitive disabilities that prevent their meaningful participation in the ACCESS for ELLs assessment. The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB; 2001) requires that all students identified as ELLs be assessed annually for English language proficiency, including students who receive special education services. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA; 2004) also mandates that students with disabilities participate in state-wide and district-wide assessment programs, including alternate assessments with appropriate accommodations, when it is documented in their Individualized Education Programs (IEP). For this reason, 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 ELLs with significant cognitive disabilities.

Assessment Overview

Alternate Language Proficiency Levels

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs aligns with the WIDA Alternate English Language Proficiency levels. These levels were designed to expand upon Level P1 - Entering, by increasing the sensitivity of the measure for students who have significant cognitive disabilities. The alternate ELP levels give students a chance to demonstrate progress within Level P1.

Alternate Model Performance Indicators (AMPIs)

The test is based on Alternate Model Performance Indicators (AMPIs), which provide expectations of what students should be able to process and produce at a given Alternate ELP level. To accommodate the three Alternate ELP levels (i.e., Initiating, Exploring, Engaging), AMPIs were developed for each language domain, standard, and grade-level cluster.

  • language function (e.g., indicate, match, locate),
  • example topic (e.g., text elements), and
  • form of support (e.g., sensory, graphic, interactive).

9-12 Language of Science

Level A1

Level A2

Level A3



Attend to labeled pictures related to science

Match pictures with science vocabulary words

Locate single components of data from everyday sources represented in tables

Example Alternate Assessment Activities

Teacher presents student with labeled pictures of weather conditions. Student attends to the pictures by demonstrating eye gaze, making sounds, etc.

Teacher presents student with three pictures depicting weather conditions. Student matches the pictures to the correct words (e.g., sun, cloud, snow).

Teacher presents student with weather forecast from newspaper and asks “What day will it be rainy?” Student indicates correct day.

AMPIs for Grade-Level Cluster 9 -12 in the Standard of Language of Science in the Domain of Reading.

English Language Development Standards

Test items are written from AMPIs and MPIs from four of WIDA’s ELD standards:

  • Social & Instructional Language
  • Language of Language Arts
  • Language of Mathematics
  • Language of Science
Test Section Standards Number of Tasks Range of Levels
Listening SIL, LoMA, LoSC, LoLA 9 A1-A3 and P1-P2
Reading SIL, LoMA, LoSC, LoLA 9 A1-A3 and P1-P2
Speaking Part A LoMA, LoSC 8 A1-A3 and P1-P2
Part B
Writing Part A SIL, LoSC, LoLA 10 A1-A3 and P1-P3
Part B
Part C

Language Domains

Each test form assesses the four language domains of Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing.

Grade-Level Clusters

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

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

Sample Items

The Sample Items publication is intended to help Alternate ACCESS for ELLs test administrators become familiar with the new features of the assessment. Within this document, one sample item is provided for each domain (Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing) in the 3-5 grade level cluster so that test administrators can see how test items are formatted in each section.

Test Development

A field test version of Alternate ACCESS for ELLs was initially developed by a team led by Craig A. Albers, Ph.D., at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in collaboration with the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education (OSSE) with funds from USDE. The operational Series 100 assessment has undergone significant redevelopment at the Center for Applied Linguistics (CAL) in Washington, D.C., in collaboration with WIDA. States are currently using the Series 101 assessment which was developed in partnership with CAL and WIDA. For information about the grant research and outcomes, please visit the Alternate ACCESS grant’s archived website.

The Future of Alternate ACCESS for ELLs

The Alternate Model Performance Indicators are currently being revised to align with the Common Core Essential Elements and WIDA’s 2012 Amplification of the ELD Standards. Once the AMPIs are revised, the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs test forms will be modified to reflect the updated framework.

Technical Reports

Test results are reviewed annually by WIDA's Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).

The Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Technical Reports address the validity and reliability of the assessment.


Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is designed for ELLs with significant cognitive disabilities. Students demonstrating academic difficulties due to learning disabilities, speech–language impairments, and emotional–behavioral disabilities, or other mild to moderate cognitive disabilities may not necessarily qualify for participation in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs, and may be served more appropriately by taking ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 with accommodations.

Participation has to be decided by the student's IEP team. Check with your state education agency for your state’s specific participation criteria for the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs. For more information about federal guidance around Alternate ELP assessment decision-making and participation, see Questions and Answers Regarding Inclusion of English Learners with Disabilities in English Language Proficiency Assessments and Title III Annual Measurable Achievement Objectives

In addition to your state’s specific participation criteria, it is very important that only students who meet all criteria below participate in the assessment.

Participation Criteria:

  • IEP teams decide whether students who are classified as ELLs with significant cognitive disabilities participate in Alternate ACCESS for ELLs
  • The following criteria were designed to help IEP teams determine whether Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is an appropriate test for students

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

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

Test Materials

Alternate ACCESS can be ordered along with ACCESS for ELLs test materials from DRC via the established order process.

Test Scheduling

Unlike ACCESS for ELLs, the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs assessment is individually administered for all four sections (Listening, Reading, Writing, and Speaking) of the test.
WIDA recommends that each test section be administered in a separate testing session.
The different test sections can be administered on different days, with no minimum or maximum break between administrations, as long as the entire assessment is administered within your district’s allotted testing window. Each section of the test is estimated to take approximately 20 minutes.

Please see the Test Administration Manual for additional details on scheduling the test.

Test Administrator Preparation

Test administration training and certification is crucial for successful administration of Alternate ACCESS for ELLs, and answers to many frequently asked questions about test administration are answered in the training. Online and/or face-to-face training may be required by your state in order for you to become a test administrator (TA) for the first time. Some states also require annual training updates for certified TAs. Please view your state’s page to review any requirements that may apply to you.

Toolkit PowerPoints

Training materials related to the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs and WIDA ELP Standards are available in the Downloads & Products menu (on the right side of the screen) for local trainers (facilitators, coordinators, or Test Administrators). You may edit the PowerPoints, but do not post them publicly. Additional Alternate ACCESS for ELLs training materials include PowerPoint presentations that you can customize and use with other educators in your local context. The Introduction to Alternate ACCESS for ELLs PowerPoint is available to anyone; however, the Administering Alternate ACCESS for ELLs PowerPoint contains secure test information and therefore requires an online training course login.

Training Requirements

Test Administrators must complete online training and pass the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Administration Quiz prior to giving the test to students. To obtain an account for training purposes, please follow procedures outlined on your state’s page of this website.

It is the state or district’s responsibility to monitor whether Test Administrators have passed the quiz and are prepared to administer the assessment. District Test Coordinators can monitor their district educators’ test certification in the Account Management & Training Status section of this website’s secure portal.

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.