Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD)

Future of Alternate Assessment

Wisconsin is participating in a consortium comprised of 13 states, called the Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) Consortium. Funded by a four-year IDEA grant, the DLM consortium is tasked with creating an online adaptive system similar to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. This system will help guide the instruction and assessment for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Wisconsin educators worked with other states to develop Essential Elements of the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics. The Common Core Essential Elements will serve as the foundation of the new alternate assessment which is expected to be completed by 2014-15. The current WAA-SwD will continue to be administered until another assessment is available. More information about this grant can be found at: http://dynamiclearningmaps.org/.




The Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities (WAA-SwD) is administered to any student with significant cognitive disabilities when the Individualized Education Program (IEP) team determines that the student is unable to participate in the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Examination (WKCE), even with accommodations. The WAA-SwD is administered to students in grades 3 through 8 and 10 in reading and mathematics, and grades 4, 8 and 10 in science. The reading, mathematics and science WAA-SwD test forms and administration guidelines were initially developed for the 2007-08 administration and the assessment is now scheduled to be administered in the fall of each school year.

Purpose of the WAA-SwD

The purpose of the WAA-SwD is to provide information about student achievement and to allow school district staff to use test results to improve educational programs. The WAA-SwD is designed to meet the requirements of the NCLB accountability goals, IDEA, Wisconsin Statutes, and to provide students, parents, teachers, and schools with information about how students are progressing in relation to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards through the Wisconsin Extended Grade Band Standards.

WAA-SwD results are used by the Department of Public Instruction in order to:

  • meet its legal requirement of identifying low-performing schools as determined by s.115.38(4), Wisconsin Statutes;
  • meet the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) requirements of using high-quality assessments to determine how well students are learning;
  • meet the federal Title I (NCLB) requirement to determine adequate progress in Title I schools; and
  • determine the extent to which schools and districts across the state meet the Wisconsin proficiency standards.

In February 2009, Wisconsin educators further developed the performance level descriptors (PLDs) located within the Extended Grade Band Standards. Detailed descriptions of each performance level on the WAA-SwD are provided to help parents, educators, and others understand what students performing at a given level are expected to know and be able to do at the time of testing. Additional information for parents can be found in the WAA-SwD Student/Parent Pre-Test Brochure .

Use of the Assessment Information

The WAA-SwD provides individual and school-level achievement information to districts, schools, and students. In addition to providing results for use in state and federal accountability programs, WAA-SwD results may be used as one of many tools to provide parents and guardians with information about the academic performance of their children, to help inform district and school-level decision making related to student learning, to identify grade level curricular strengths and weaknesses, and to identify curricular areas where additional diagnoses are indicated in order to prescribe a course of intervention or enhancement, corrective instruction, or specialized services.


Students assessed with the WAA-SwD typically have significant limitations in cognitive functioning, in adaptive behavior, and in academic functioning expressed in conceptual, social, and practical adaptive skills. Often, these students are identified as having a Cognitive Disability; however, students with some other types of disabilities (e.g., Autism, Traumatic Brain Injury, etc.) may also satisfy the criteria for participation on the WAA-SwD.

Student Eligibility Criteria

When determining whether a student who is eligible for special education services should participate in the WAA-SwD or the WKCE, the student’s IEP team must determine whether the student meets the following criteria.

Participation Criteria:

  1. The student’s curriculum and daily instruction focuses on knowledge and skills specified in all achievement standards (Extended Grade Band Standards or Common Core Essential Elements.)
  2. The student’s present level of academic and functional performance significantly impedes participation and completion of the general education curriculum even with significant program modifications.
  3. The student requires extensive direct instruction to accomplish the acquisition, application, and transfer of knowledge and skills.
  4. The student’s difficulty with the regular curriculum demands is primarily due to the disability, and is not due to excessive absences unrelated to the disability, or to social, cultural, or environmental factors.

When the IEP team concurs that all four criteria accurately characterize a student’s current educational situation, then the WAA-SwD should be administered in order to provide a meaningful evaluation of the student’s current academic achievement.

IEP Teams utilize the Wisconsin Alternate Assessment for Students with Disabilities Participation Checklist (Form I-7-A) and the Individualized Education Program: Participation in Statewide Assessments Form (Form I-7) to document their decisions.

Test Administration

The WAA-SwD is designed to be administered one-on-one to students with significant disabilities who are unable to take the WKCE even with accommodations. The reading, mathematics, and science assessments are administered with test administrators marking each student response in the answer document provided with the assessment materials. Test administrators receive a complete set of books for each student (one teacher book with the test items and one student book with graphics and answer choices). This procedure allows the administrator to make approved accommodations for each student and allows each student to view and to manipulate answer choices with no distraction from item text and response rubrics.

For all content areas, the test administration is permitted to occur over multiple days to accommodate students and to minimize fatigue; in addition, test administration is not timed. It is expected that all students are to be presented with and will attempt all items in each content area.

For students in grades 4, 8, and 10, test administrators will also need to download and complete teacher rater forms for the content areas of language arts/writing and social studies. These checklists are aligned to the Wisconsin Model Academic Standards and should be completed before the end of the testing window. Results from these rater forms should be recorded on the back of the student Answer Document to be returned for scoring.

Test Administrator Qualifications and Training

Test administrators are required to be licensed professionals familiar with the response style of each student for whom the test is being administered. Test administrators are also required to be trained through the DPI provided Mediasite or through a district provided training.

These training materials serve as the primary guidance for District Assessment Coordinators and for test administrators, while the DPI staff served as secondary resources for answering questions about the test administration.

Administration Schedule

The WAA-SwD is administered during the same fall test window as the WKCE. However, test administrators are allowed to schedule the assessment for any time during the administration window. Administrators are advised that testing sessions should occur at times when the students are the most alert and responsive and that students are to be given as much time as needed to complete the test. The OEA calendar lists important assessment dates for each school year.


Accommodations are allowed for individual students participating in the WAA-SwD. Accommodations provided to a student must be documented in a current IEP and must be used during routine instruction. IEP teams are directed to refer to the Assessment Matrix when making decisions on accommodations for the WAA-SwD. Test administrators are to indicate on the Student Assessment Report, located on the back cover of the student Answer Document, which accommodations are used by each student. The following accommodation information is collected on the Student Assessment Report:

Type of Accommodation

  • Used translation
  • Signed test questions and content to student
  • Used Braille
  • Used assistive device (e.g., text-talker, adaptive keyboard, picture symbols)
  • Used objects or manipulatives
  • Used another DPI-approved accommodation

Test Design Format

The Wisconsin Extended Grade Band Standards are designed so that students in grade levels 3 and 4 (referred to as a grade band) share one set of common standards, students in grade levels 5 and 6 share a second set of common standards, and students in grade levels 7 and 8 share a third set of common standards.

All items in mathematics and science were designed to be read by the teacher, in order to target the specific content outlined in the Extended Grade Band Standards (rather than a student’s ability to read). In contrast, the reading portion of the test was designed to assess a student’s ability to read and to understand text in addition to other content. To achieve this goal, passages were developed at each grade, and items were differentiated into two categories (read-by-teacher and read-by-student). The student-read items were distributed between different standards and objectives, as well as different levels of difficulty. The forms at each grade level were comprised of approximately one-third read-by-student, and two-thirds read-by teacher items.


The test items appear in a single form for each grade level. The operational design (incorporating scored items only) is such that there are 28 items in reading for every grade level, 31 items in mathematics for every grade level, and 36 items in science for every grade level. The number of operational (scored) items allows for sufficient coverage of the standards at each grade level, as well as allowing for some degree of commonality in structure across grade levels within a content area.


A scoring rubric is applied to all student responses in the reading, mathematics, and science content areas. The rubric differs for Selected Response (SR) and Constructed Response (CR) items. For SR items, responses are classified as either correct (1 point) or incorrect (0 points). For CR items, each item is classified with either 2 or 3 maximum points for a correct response. For 3-point CR items, there is one correct response (3 points), one response that is partially correct but contains some error (2 points), one response that is less partially correct and contains more error (1 point), and an incorrect response (0 points). For 2-point CR items, there is one correct response (2 points), one response that is partially correct but contains some error (1 point), and an incorrect response (0 points).

For all items, test administrators record student responses on a scannable answer document. The documents are then sent to be scanned, and the scoring system utilizes the scanned data to score each item. All answer documents for students who participate in the administration are scored and specific validation and logic rules are applied to the data to assure each student’s score (and the overall reporting) is based on valid item responses. There are a few reasons why answer documents may be deemed invalid for reporting. The answer document can be marked as invalid in two ways: 1) if the parent opts out by requesting that a bubble be marked on the student’s answer document, or 2) if the test administrator multiple marks all five of the first five items in a content area. Answer documents are also deemed to be invalid when there are no valid responses for any of the items within a content area. Any item with a single answer clearly marked is deemed to be valid; invalid responses occur when no response option is marked or multiple response options are marked for the same item. WAA-SwD score ranges can be found at: http://oea.dpi.wi.gov/files/oea/pdf/waacut-scores.pdf.

Additional information regarding the technical quality of the WAA-SwD including alignment and annual technical reports, can be found at: http://oea.dpi.wi.gov/oea_publications.


More Information

  • Statewide testing for Wisconsin students with disabilities attending an educational program out of state.
    • For educational purposes, some Wisconsin students with disabilities have a placement in schools out-of-state. For a student placed out of state in the grades where state testing is required, districts have asked if the student is to take the WKCE or the WAA-SwD or the state academic test of the state where they receive their education. DPI has issued a memo in response to this inquiry.
  • Including Students with Special Needs in State Assessments - The purpose of this document is to provide guidelines for facilitating the participation of students with special needs in WSAS assessments (WKCE and WAA-SwD). As such, this document is intended to update and replace previously published DPI guidelines regarding the participation of students with special needs in the WSAS. Although the rationale for participating in WSAS assessments is the same for all students with special needs, there are different laws which affect participation decisions for each group.

For additional information contact, Kristen.burton@dpi.wi.gov or at 608-267-3164.














For questions about this information, contact osamail@dpi.wi.gov