DLM Assessments

student with an alternate pencil

Dynamic Learning Maps® (DLM®) assessments are 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 English language arts, mathematics, and science.

DLM assessments also help parents and educators set high academic expectations for their students. Results from DLM assessments are used to inform instruction and meet accountability requirements for reporting student achievement.


DLM assessments are designed to maximize accessibility for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Assessments are built to allow multiple ways for students to demonstrate their knowledge, skills, and understandings. Assessment design also incorporates current research on communication in such forms as the DLM core vocabulary. The DLM core vocabulary is a list of words that have been determined to be highly useful for communicating in both social and academic contexts.

Additionally, educators from DLM partner states review the assessments at multiple points during assessment development. These reviews help minimize barriers for students with specific needs.

Students taking DLM assessments have access to unique accessibility tools and supports that meet their needs and preferences. Some of these tools and supports are built into the online assessment system while others are provided by the teacher. Educators and Individualized Education Program teams decide which tools and supports students need.

Learn More about DLM Accessibility

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Dynamic Learning Maps assessments are developed using a cyclical, multi-step process. The 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, editors, and educators from DLM states. 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 are then included in DLM assessments.

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

Using the learning map model and the relationships among nodes, educators can uncover reasons a student may be struggling with a particular concept. Educators can also find possible pathways for students to expand their knowledge and skills.

Connecting the learning map model’s content to the appropriate expectations for these students is important. To make this connection, certain nodes within the learning map model are associated with Essential Elements. Essential Elements are statements about what students should know and be able to do. The Essential Elements are linked to grade-level expectations. Those expectations are described in college and career readiness standards for general education students. Essential Elements are a bridge between general education standards and academic expectations for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities.

  • ATLAS and DLM: A Road Map for Student Learning

    DLM staff collaborated with the Ruby Van Meter School and partners at the Iowa Department of Education to create this video. Featured at the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) convention, the video highlights the significance of map-based assessments like ours.

Read more about Essential Elements and the dynamic learning map model

See What DLM Tests are Really About

  • Released Testlets
    Released testlets are examples of testlets students might take. These testlets feature the same rigor, design, and quality of current DLM testlets. The released testlet documents show what appears on-screen when students are taking a testlet.

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DLM assessments are delivered online in Kite® Student Portal. Two models of the assessment are available: Instructionally Embedded (IE) or Year-End (YE). A state decides which model will be used in addition to which subjects and grades will be assessed. The assessment for both models and all subjects is made up of a set of short assessments called testlets.

More specific information about each model is provided below as well as a table that shows which model each state uses.

The IE model has two assessment windows, fall and spring. Educators have some choice as to which English language arts (ELA) and mathematics Essential Elements are taught and assessed. Scores for accountability are based on students’ cumulative ELA and mathematics assessment results throughout the year.

The YE model has one spring assessment window. All students in a particular grade are assessed on the same ELA and mathematics Essential Elements. The Kite system delivers testlets one at a time and adapts the linkage level of each testlet based on the student's performance on the previous testlet. Additionally, educators have the option to use instructionally embedded assessments prior to the spring assessment. However, scores used for accountability are based only on the spring assessment.

Regardless of the model, states that assess science are only required to do so in the spring. The science assessment is delivered like the YE model.  

Learn More

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

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Information for Parents

Find additional resources to support your child’s learning on our professional development site. The site is managed by our partners at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The professional development site includes 50+ instructional modules and other resources. A few key resources available on the site are books to read with your child, writing tools for children who cannot use a standard pencil or computer keyboard, and communication supports for children struggling to use speech to communicate.

Learn More

The following guides include information about DLM assessment results and individual student reports.

Read this guide if your student takes assessments in Arkansas, Delaware, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, or North Dakota 
Parent Interpretive Guide for Instructionally Embedded Model States. (También disponible en Español.)

Read this guide if your student takes assessments in Alaska, Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, West Virginia, or Wisconsin.
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.

Resources for Parents

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