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Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System

Participation Guidelines

Which Students Should Take the WIDA Alternate ACCESS?

Students with the most significant cognitive disabilities should be recommended to take the WIDA Alternate ACCESS if they are classified and reported to the state as an English learner and meet the following additional criteria:


Massachusetts defines "students with the most significant cognitive disabilities" as students who:

  • have cognitive disabilities evidenced by significant delays in attaining age-level academic achievement standards, even with systematic, extensive individually designed instruction, related services, and modifications; and
  • have cognitive disabilities that significantly impact their educational performance and ability to apply learning from one setting to another; and
  • require extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains on the challenging State academic content standards for the grade in which the student is enrolled; and
  • perform significantly below average in general cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior. This is defined as a student functioning two or more standard deviations below the mean on commonly accepted norm-referenced assessments in both cognitive functioning and adaptive behavior (e.g., two or more adaptive skill areas such as daily living skills, communication, self-care, social skills, and academic skills).

In addition to meeting all of the criteria in the definition of having the most significant cognitive disabilities, students being considered for the WIDA Alternate ACCESS:

  • have a Home Language Survey indicating there is a language other than English in the home and WIDA screener results indicating the student is an English learner

  • have been determined by the student's IEP team* to be eligible to take the state's alternate academic assessment (MCAS-Alt), or would be eligible if the MCAS-Alt were available in the student's grade; and

  • have an IEP team which annually revisits the decision to assign the student to take the WIDA Alternate ACCESS.

A student should not be assigned to take the WIDA Alternate ACCESS solely because he or she:

  • has previously scored at the lowest achievement level on the standard ACCESS or MCAS test(s), or requires accommodations to take the standard test;

  • has taken an alternate assessment previously (since this is an annual decision);

  • has been excluded from general curriculum instruction;

  • has had excessive absence from school;

  • has not received adequate instruction in English language development (either by an ESL teacher or someone trained/endorsed to address the student's English language development);

  • has a specific disability (e.g., all students with intellectual disabilities should not automatically be assigned to take an alternate assessment);

  • attends a program where it is expected that students will take an alternate assessment;

  • is economically disadvantaged or a child in foster care;

  • requires, but does not currently have access to, an alternative augmentative communication system or device.

*IEP teams should include an ESL and/or communication specialist. IEP teams should carefully consider whether to recommend an EL student for the WIDA Alternate ACCESS, since this may ultimately make it difficult for the student to exit EL status.

Last Updated: November 21, 2023

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