About DLM Tests

Dynamic Learning Maps® (DLM®) assessments are designed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities for whom general state assessments are not appropriate, even with accommodations. DLM assessments offer these students a way to show what they know and can do in mathematics, English language arts, and science.

DLM assessments also help parents and educators establish high academic expectations for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Results from DLM assessments support interpretations about what students know and can do. Results can inform teachers’ instructional decisions while also meeting statutory requirements for reporting student achievement as required by state accountability programs.


DLM tests are designed to maximize accessibility for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Tests are built to allow multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and understandings. Test design also incorporates current research on communication in such forms as the DLM core vocabulary, a list of words that have been determined to be highly useful for communicating in both social and academic contexts. At multiple points during the assessment development process, educators from DLM partner states who have expertise in accessibility review the assessments to ensure instructional relevance and minimize barriers for students with specific needs.

During assessment administration, students have access to unique accessibility tools and supports to fit each student’s needs and preferences. Some of these tools and supports are delivered through the online assessment system while others are provided outside the system, by the teacher. Decisions about the use of these tools and supports are made for each student, typically with input from an Individualized Education Program (IEP) team.


The Dynamic Learning Maps team uses a cyclical, multi-step process to develop assessments. DLM assessments are delivered as “testlets” – short, instructionally relevant groups of items that share a common context. DLM testlets are developed using principles of evidence-centered design by subject-matter experts with additional expertise in instruction for students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Test items go through multiple rounds of review by DLM staff; internal item reviewers; editors; and educators in DLM states, who serve as external reviewers. Reviewers are carefully trained to look for potential problems with the items’ academic content and accessibility, as well as to identify potential bias or sensitive topics in the items. After testlets are reviewed, they are field tested in DLM states. Testlets that meet certain standards after field testing can then be included in DLM assessments.


The DLM Alternate Assessment System helps educators facilitate student success by illustrating the interrelation among the knowledge, skills, and understandings necessary to meet academic content standards in a learning map model. The learning map model plots out individual concepts in nodes, and the connections among these nodes show the multiple ways that students’ knowledge, skills, and understandings develop over time.

By examining the learning map model and the relationships between its nodes, educators can better uncover reasons a student may be struggling with a particular concept and also see paths ahead for that student to continue to expand their knowledge and skills.

To connect the model’s extensive content to real-world expectations for students, certain nodes within the model are associated with Essential Elements (EEs). EEs are specific statements about what students should know and be able to do. They are linked to grade-level-specific expectations described in college- and career-readiness standards for students in the general population, and they provide a bridge between those standards and academic expectations for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

» Read more about Essential Elements and the dynamic learning map model


Dynamic Learning Maps assessments are delivered online through KITE™ Client. Member states may choose from one of two models of assessment: integrated and year-end.

In the integrated assessment model, educators have some choice of which Essential Elements are taught and assessed. Instructionally embedded assessment is required, but the timing and frequency of assessment varies by state. Each spring, all students are retested on a small number of Essential Elements they were taught and assessed on earlier in the year. Scores for accountability are based on students’ cumulative assessment results throughout the year.

In the year-end model, all students are assessed each spring, with all students in a particular grade being assessed on the same Essential Elements. Additionally, educators have the option to use instructionally embedded assessments during the year. Scores used for accountability are based only on the spring assessment.

Both models of assessment employ adaptive testlets in the spring. In adaptive testing, students receive testlets of varying difficulty depending on their previous answers.

Learn More

Visit your state’s webpage to learn more about your state’s testing model.

Information for Parents

Parents can access additional resources to support their child’s learning on our professional development site, which is facilitated by our partners at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. This site includes 50 instructional modules, a variety of instructional resources including books you can read with your child, writing tools if your child cannot use a standard pencil or computer keyboard, and communication supports if your child struggles to use speech to communicate. You can also join a virtual community of practice to interact with other families and post questions to the Dynamic Learning Maps professional development team.

Parents of students in Iowa, Kansas Missouri, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, or Vermont may read more information about DLM assessment results and individual student reports in our Parent Interpretive Guide for Integrated Model States. (También disponible en Español.)

Parents of students in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Miccosukee, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, or West Virginia should instead refer to our Parent Interpretive Guide for Year-End Model States. (También disponible en Español.)

Visit your state’s webpage to learn more about how DLM assessments are implemented in your state.