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What is the DLM? – Simply Special Ed

Dynamic Learning Maps (DLM) are an alternate set of standards and assessments for students with significant special needs. Currently, 20 states plus the District of Columbia are part of the DLM consortium. However, even if your state does not use Dynamic Learning Maps, there are still some great resources that you can utilize! Keep reading to find out more about it!

DLM Standards

Photograph of the printed out DLM standards.
The DLM Essential Elements are alternative standards for students with special needs.

The Essential Elements are alternative standards for students with special needs. There are Essential Elements for ELA, math, and science. Each Essential Element corresponds to a Common Core standard. The Essential Element is the target; but there is also an initial precursor, distal precursor, and proximal precursor for each standard. This allows students to access the standards at their ability level. And, if a student masters the target standard there is then a successor for them to work on next.

DLM Assessment for Upper Grades

A computer screen that says "Welcome back, Lisa 40!" Under the text are two buttons that say take a test, and practice first.
Students take the DLM assessment online.

In the United States, students in grades 3 and up are required to take standardized tests. For students with significant intellectual disabilities, the DLM Alternate Assessment is one of the options for assessing students during the school year. The assessment is available in two formats: the instructionally embedded model and the year end model. Each test involves administering 8 or 9 short “testlets” to students in ELA, math, and science (if applicable).

Instructionally Embedded Assessment

Students take the Instructionally Embedded Assessment in the fall and spring. Before giving this assessment, teachers will select specific essential elements and levels that a student needs to work on. Then, after competing instruction on the selected standard, the student will complete the related testlet. The results of the test inform future instruction for the student.

Year End Assessment

Students take the Year End Assessment at the end of the school year. For this assessment, students take testlets that are based on the Essential Elements standards for their grade level. After each testlet, the next task that is assigned based on the student’s performance results. Results will be available to view several months after the test is complete. Then, that information can help teachers plan instruction for the next school year.

Resources from the DLM

On the DLM website, you can find many resources that can be helpful for planning instruction for self-contained students. Additionally, there are free professional development videos to help you learn more about special education, the alternate standards, and the assessment.

DLM Linkage Maps

A copy of a DLM linkage map for ELA, with the distal precursor highlighted.
Linkage maps can help you make goals for your students.

Essential Element Linkage Maps are available for each of the DLM standards. They define the target standard, and provide precursors for students who are not yet at the target level. For example, a reading target may be for students to answer who and what questions about a story. A distal precursor to that target is for students to identify familiar representations of people or objects. Linkage maps help teachers to provide individualized standards-based instruction to students.

Adapted Texts

A copy of the book "Ramona Quimby, Age 8" is shown in front of a computer screen, where an adapted version of the book is shown. Both book covers show a little girl.
The DLM Familiar Texts are adapted books that pair with grade-level novels.

The DLM uses familiar grade-level appropriate texts in its reading testlets. You can access adapted versions of chapter books and paired nonfiction texts to utilize with your class. I like to incorporate these books into my instruction in order to acquaint students with them before they take the DLM assessment.

Learn how to prepare your students for the DLM here.

Do you utilize the DLM standards and/or DLM assessment in your classroom? Let me know if you have any questions about how to utilize the Dynamic Learning Maps resource!


Use a (free) visual self assessment to encourage students to assess their own learning. Many teachers are required to provide self-assessments for student work in state testing portfolios. Use these all year long to build that skill! Grab the free visual self-assessment sheets here.

Learn more about self-assessment here.



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