The Individuals with Disabilities Act of 2004 (IDEA) requires that States and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) ensure that all children with disabilities are included in all general state and district-wide assessment programs, including assessments used for purposes of satisfying the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). If necessary, a state or LEA may create an alternate assessment. The Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA) was developed in accordance with this allowance to meet the needs of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities who are not able to participate in the general assessment even with accommodations. According to the Pennsylvania Department of the Education (PDE), the PASA is supposed to align with Pennsylvania's academic content standards with a reduction in depth and breadth evidenced by the Alternate Eligible Content, and aims to measure the attainment of knowledge and skills of children with significant cognitive disabilities through performance tasks.

The ESSA, which supposedly believes that all children have unique needs, requires 99% of all students to be treated as though they have identical needs. It requires states, including Pennsylvania, to ensure that the total number of students assessed across the state in each subject using an alternate exam (like the PASA) does not exceed one percent of the total number of all students in the state assessed on the statewide assessments. This requirement gets passed on to local school districts by PDE, which in turn requires school districts to administer the PASA to no more than 1% of the number of students taking the PSSAs in the district. A process has been enacted by PDE to determine whether students are eligible to take the PASA. An explanation of that process is provided here.

To help parents whose children may be eligible to take the PASA exam learn more about the test, PaTTAN has produced a guide. You can view the Parent Guide to the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment here.