Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA): Important Information for Families

PEAL News Fall/Winter 2018

PSSA and Keystone tests may be familiar to most parents because most students, including students with disabilities, participate in these statewide assessments. It is also important for families of students with disabilities to be aware of another statewide assessment, the Pennsylvania Alternate System of Assessment (PASA).

It is critical that parents/guardians are meaningfully involved in the IEP team discussion when a decision is made about whether the student should take the PASA.

Which students should take the PASA?

The PASA is an alternate statewide assessment designed for students described as having the “most significant cognitive disabilities.” Students who take the PASA should be those who are unable to participate meaningfully in the PSSA or Keystone Exams, even with accommodations.

The IEP team decides each year if a student is eligible take the PASA. Parents/guardians participate in this decision-making so it is important to understand the guidelines for making the decision so that they are making an informed decision.

This is an important decision—the IEP team is required to provide a written explanation of the reasons why:

  • • the student cannot participate in the PSSA, and
  • • the PASA is an appropriate assessment for the student.


On the IEP form, the information about assessment is documented in Section IV. Participation in State and Local Assessments:

PASA Article

In order to decide if the PASA is the appropriate statewide assessment for a student, the IEP team should discuss six (6) questions and decide whether it applies to the student. Prior to the next IEP meeting, parents/guardians may want to review these questions and consider your answers in order to be prepared to be informed decision-makers.

PASA Eligibility Criteria for IEP Teams

IEP teams must answer “yes” to all six of these questions in order for the student to be eligible to take the PASA. A brief annotation that may provide additional information for consideration is included.

1. First Criteria: “By September 1 of the school year in which this IEP will be operative, will the student be in grade 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, or 11?”

→ This question is actually for any student who is taking state standardized assessments.

2. Second Criteria: “Does the student have significant cognitive disabilities?”

→ Consider whether a student has a “significant cognitive disability;” Having a significant cognitive disability is determined by a holistic understanding of a student, NOT by an IQ test score or a disability category (e.g. intellectual disability, learning disability, etc.)

3. Third Criteria: “Does the student require intensive instruction to learn?”

→ Consider the instructional needs of the individual student as compared to other students who receive special education.

4. Fourth Criteria: “Does the student require extensive adaptation and support in order to perform and/or participate meaningfully and productively in the everyday life activities of integrated school, home, community, and work environments?”

→ Note the phrase “extensive adaptation and support.” Many students who receive special education services have work that is adapted and supported, but it is not all “extensive.”

5. Fifth Criteria: “Does the student require substantial modifications of the general education curriculum?”

→ Consider the word “substantial” in light of other students whose instruction may be adapted and modified.

6. Sixth Criteria: “Does the student’s participation in the general education curriculum differ substantially in form and/or substance from that of most other students (i.e., different objectives, materials, or activities)?”

→ Consider differences in the instruction and content that the individual student receives compared to that of most other students who receive special education.

The IEP team should not take the decision to have the student take the PASA lightly. This decision needs to be thoughtful and must consider the needs and abilities of the student. The PEAL Center can provide individual assistance to a family to support their understanding of this decision.

Note: Per PA School Code, a parent can opt their child out of the state assessment if they feel the assessment conflicts with their religious beliefs. However, this not an IEP team decision. If a parent feels the state assessment conflicts with their religious beliefs, they must follow the process for religious exemption with their school district officials. In cases of religious exemptions, the IEP team still addresses the state assessment section of the IEP.

For additional information, you can visit Pennsylvania Department of Education website at and Accountability/Pages/PASA.aspx or

Read the full Fall/Winter 2018 Newsletter here.

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