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Essential Elements (EE) Frequently Asked Questions

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Essential Elements:

Q. Whose instruction should be based on the alternate academic achievement standards (Essential Elements)?

Students who will participate in alternate academic achievement standards (Essential Elements) are students with the most significant cognitive disabilities:

  • Typically characterized as functioning at least two and a half to three standard deviations below the norm in both adaptive and intellectual functioning; and
  • Performs substantially below grade level expectations on the academic content standards for the grade in which they are enrolled, even with the use of adaptions and accommodations; and
  • A student who requires extensive, direct individualized instruction and substantial supports to achieve measurable gains, across all content areas and settings.

The IEP team is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the student receives academic instruction that is the most appropriate and challenging based on the student's individual needs. The determination is not based on a categorical disability label.

Q. What are Linkage Levels?

DLM assessments are aligned to the Essential Elements, DLM tests are tailored to measure each student’s academic achievement with the help of linkage levels.

Each Essential Element’s target linkage level is most closely aligned with the knowledge, skills, and understandings described by that EE; the target level, therefore, is the standard linkage level for assessment. However, students who have not yet reached the target may instead be assessed at a precursor linkage level, which precedes the target. In addition to an initial level, each EE for ELA and math includes two additional precursor linkage levels: the distal and proximal precursors, respectively. Science EEs condense these two additional precursors into one precursor linkage level. Each ELA and math EE also defines a successor linkage level, which represents a step beyond the target expectations, for testing students who have mastered the target. Science EEs do not define successor levels.


What are Performance Level Descriptors?


Performance level descriptors provide an overview of the knowledge, skills, and understandings demonstrated by students at specific levels of performance on DLM assessments. Not every student will demonstrate the skills described in each level. Rather, the performance level descriptors provide descriptions of the types of knowledge, skills, and understandings that are typically demonstrated on DLM assessments by students at each level.

DLM student reports provide results related to a student’s overall performance level for the subject. Additionally, DLM student reports summarize results related to each student’s performance on groups of related Essential Elements in English Language Arts and mathematics. Student results are reported using the four performance levels approved by the partner states:

  • The student demonstrates emerging understanding of and ability to apply content knowledge and skills represented by the Essential Elements.
  • The student’s understanding of and ability to apply targeted content knowledge and skills represented by the Essential Elements is approaching the target.
  • The student’s understanding of and ability to apply content knowledge and skills represented by the Essential Elements is at target.
  • The student demonstrates advanced understanding of and ability to apply targeted content knowledge and skills represented by the Essential Elements.

For more information on the Performance Levels please visit the DLM website.

Q. Do teachers need to know all of the standards for all grades in both English Language Arts (ELA), science and mathematics?

It is important for teachers to fully understand and develop curriculum using the standards for the grades in which they teach. In order to develop curriculum for a grade level it is important to understand what was expected of students in the prior grade level and what will be expected in the next grade level.


When should teachers start using the Essential Elements (EE)?

A. The Essential Elements are specific statements of the content and skills that are linked to the College and Career Readiness grade level standards. They detail specific expectations for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. Once a student’s IEP team determines the student is a student with the most significant cognitive disability, their teacher(s) should begin aligning their curriculum and materials to the Essential Elements.
Q. How do teachers determine a student’s current level of performance in ELA, Science, and Math?

Students who previously took the Dynamic Learning Maps will receive a Student Learning Profile and Performance Profile Report that will provide important information about how the student is performing in relation to grade level Essential Elements. For more information on DLM data and reporting you can visit the DPI DLM Data and Reports webpage. Additionally, the Department of Public Instruction has created the Essential Elements Baseline Checklists for English Language Arts and mathematics, to assist teachers in determining student performance.

*Please note that we are currently in the process of updating the Essential Baseline Checklists.

Q. Do we need to address all standards at each grade level?

It is important to address all of the standards at each grade level. To provide maximum coverage of all of the standards, teachers could take a thematic or unit approach to address standards in ELA, mathematics, and science. When working with a purchased curriculum, it is important to ensure that the appropriate curriculum mapping has taken place to make certain that all Essential Elements are addressed over the course of the academic year.

Q. Can a student’s instruction be based on Essential Elements (EE) for one content area and the State Standards for another content area?

No, a student’s instruction must be based on either the Essential Element or the Wisconsin Academic Standards. The Essential Elements have been developed for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities and provide a foundation for students to achieve skills related to academic content. IEP teams determine which set of standards a student’s instruction is based upon.

Q. How do teachers address both Essential Elements (EE) and functional/adaptive skills for students?

Both academic and functional/adaptive skills are important for students to learn. Functional/adaptive skills, depending on each student’s IEP, can be infused in the curriculum based on the Essential Elements. It is important to recognize that functional/adaptive skills should be infused in academic skills rather than academic skills infused into the functional/adaptive skills.

Q. Can the Essential Elements be used in any way to modify the Wisconsin Academic Standards for students with specific learning disabilities?

No. Curriculum developed using the Wisconsin Academic Standards should be adapted to meet the student’s needs. The Essential Elements are alternate academic achievement standards and do not provide the depth of knowledge that is in the Wisconsin Academic Standards.

It is important to practice caution when making determinations about which set of standards a student will access. Except for the very few students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (about 1%), students with disabilities will access the general education curriculum through the Wisconsin Academic Standards. The decision to pursue the Essential Elements should be made only after careful consideration of potential long-term impacts. When a student is appropriately identified to have their curriculum aligned to the Essential Elements, the standards provide for rigorous content. But, depending on an individual LEA's graduation policy, this may limit a student’s opportunity to earn a high school diploma.

Q. How does the IEP team decide whether to follow the Wisconsin Model Early Learning Standards, the Wisconsin Academic Standards, or the Essential Elements for students in early childhood?
A. IEP teams will need to make decisions about which standards to follow in Kindergarten. This may be very challenging for the IEP team. If an IEP team is uncertain whether to follow the Wisconsin Academic Standards or the Essential Elements, the IEP team should opt for following the Wisconsin Academic Standards. This will give the team more time to evaluate the student’s performance of the knowledge and skills in ELA, mathematics, and science before determining whether the student should be following an alternate set of standards (Essential Elements). Once the team has determined that a student should be engaged in curriculum developed based on the Essential Elements, it will be very difficult to switch back to the curriculum based on the state standards. See Question: Whose instruction should be based on the alternate academic achievement standards (Essential Elements)?
Q. How do educators address grade-level instruction in multi-grade classrooms?
A. It is important to understand the Essential Element concepts and skills address in each of the grade levels that you’re teaching. There will be a need to individualize instruction based on the grade level standards knowing that the skills and concepts in the Essential Elements build upon one another as a student progresses through the grades.
Q. How do prescribed curricula align with the Essential Elements?
A. LEAs should exercise caution when choosing curriculum. Even when choosing a curriculum that states it is aligned to Wisconsin Academic Standards and/or the Essential Elements, it is up to the district to complete this alignment to determine if you have gaps that may need to be filled with additional curriculum and materials.
Q. How do educators align current materials/curriculum to the Essential Elements?
A. Educators should review their curriculum and see where it matches the concepts and skills found in the Essential Elements. Educators need to determine the gaps between current materials/curriculum and the grade level Essential Elements. A crosswalk or matrix could assist educators in the process. Once gaps have been identified, areas of curriculum with little to no alignment to the Essential Elements will become the basis for curriculum development.
Q. Are alternate Social Studies standards being developed?
A. Currently, there are no plans for developing alternate social studies standards. A checklist will continue to be used for alternate assessment for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities engaged in alternate standards. Social Studies will continue to be assessed at 4th, 8th, and 10th grades.

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Information for Parents:

Q. Is there information that educators can share with parents about the Essential Elements?

DPI has developed a brochure for parents that explain the Essential Elements and where to find additional information. There is a parent brochure on the alternate assessment and more information on the Essential Elements can be found on the Essential Elements website.

Q. How do educators explain the importance of both functional skills and academic skills when the parents’ priorities are focused only on functional skills?

Academic skills and standards are intended for all students. The development of both academic skills and functional skills (e.g., self-care, recreation and leisure, and independent living skills) helps to ensure that students reach their maximum potential. Additionally, the development of both academic and functional skills helps to prepare students for a more independent life after high school. Educators should infuse functional skills into the academic lessons in order to help students make real-life connections.

Q. How do educators assist parents in understanding the range of ability level within an Essential Element compared to the State Standards?

It is important for parents to understand the relationship between the Essential Element and the grade level standards. Grade level materials are modified and changed to meet the needs of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities. There is a distinct difference in the rigor of the two sets of standards. A student’s proficiency is relative to their grade level and the standards to which they are being instructed.

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