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

Wondering how to get trained for Alt ACCESS?

Download the Alternate ACCESS Let's Get Going Infographic. This handy guide helps you navigate the Alternate ACCESS training process, showing you where to start, what steps you need to take, and which helpful links are available.

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.

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.

Alternate ACCESS for ELLs FAQs

The IEP team for an ELL with a significant cognitive disability may consider participation in the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs, if the student meets all of the participation criteria.  Even though a student is identified with a significant cognitive disability, the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs may not provide enough rigor to show the full extent of the student’s English language skills. The IEP team should also consider participation in the ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 with appropriate accommodations.  Someone with expertise in second language acquisition and who is able to differentiate between a disability and limited English proficiency is a critical component of the IEP team. 

Each state provides participation criteria, and on the process for making that determination.  Check your state’s page on the WIDA website at

No.  Federal law requires all students identified as an English language learner be assessed annually in the language domains of Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening.  IEP and 504 teams may make determinations on how a student will participate, not if the student will participate.

Alternate ELP assessments are included in the IDEA requirement for states to develop and implement alternate assessments.  The Alternate ACCESS for ELLs sensitive enough to measure English language development skills for ELs with significant cognitive disabilities who may have limited communication in any language.

IEP teams must follow the SEA policy. Check your state’s page on the WIDA website at

Developed for ELs with significant cognitive disabilities, Alternate ACCESS for ELLs allows for a variety of communication approaches.  The expectation is students will communicate how they typically would during classroom instruction.

Reading and Listening are multiple choice.  The student can use eye gaze, gross motor skills, point,  etc. to indicate their choice. Writing and Speaking are constructed response items. Students use their preferred writing instrument (e.g., pencil, pen, white board, alternative pencil, etc.) to complete writing tasks.  Students use their typical mode of communication to complete speaking tasks; thus if a student uses a picture exchange system or augmentative communication, the expectation is this is what they will use to respond to items.

As a note, American Sign Language (ASL) is not allowed the Alternate ACCESS for ELLs.  ASL is a language, and is considered a translation on English language proficiency (ELP) assessment. Translation of the ELP assessment does not provide valid results.

Guidelines can be found in ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 Accessibility and Accommodations Supplement. A one-page checklist of the accommodations is available for IEP teams in Appendix E of the Accessibility and Accommodations Supplement.  Remember many accommodations on other assessments are embedded in the testing procedures for this assessment, so accommodations may not be required.

Test Administrators may adapt the Listening, Reading and Speaking Test booklet to support student’s needs.  For example, the cut apart the answer choices and attached to an eye gaze board, or outline shapes in puff paint to add a tactile component.  Test Administrators must ensure all answer choices are adapted similarly so to not cue a right or wrong answer. (See Section 7.3 of the Test Administrator Manual.)
Every effort should be made to provide ELLs an opportunity to demonstrate their English skills. Test Administrators should be attentive to their student’s attitude while testing.  If it appears the student is having a bad day, or is refusing to test, the test administrator may suspend testing of that domain and re-administer from where they left off later that day, or on another day during the state testing window.  (See Section 7.4 of the Test Administrator Manual.)

Re-designation (exit from services) criteria is determined by each State.  Check with your SEA.
Proficiency levels on Alternate ACCESS for ELLs range from A1 – P3. Proficiency levels are interpretations of scale scores.  Alternate ACCESS for ELLs and ACCESS for ELLs 2.0 are on different scales.  Proficiency level P1 on Alternate ACCESS for ELLs is not equivalent to proficiency level P1 on ACCESS for ELLs 2.0. (See the 2017 Alternate ACCESS for ELLs Interpretive Guide.)

There is a WIDA research report titled Examining Relationships between Alternate ACCESS and State Alternate Assessments available in the download library.  On page 14 it states, “Cook et al. (2012) argued that English language proficiency is the language proficiency level where students are equally likely to be proficient on state content assessments... it is prudent for each individual state to establish English language proficiency on Alt ACCESS independently, taking their unique alternate assessments into account.”
Follow your State communication process.  Usually, this means contacting your local Test Coordinator or State Education Agency.