Universal Design for Learning, widely known as UDL, is a framework for creating flexible curriculum and pedagogy that provides access for all students, giving the opportunity to build from their strengths. First introduced in 1998, UDL is centered on three principles: (a) provide multiple means of engagement, (b) provide multiple means of representation, and (c) provide multiple means of action and expression. In applying the framework in K–12 or postsecondary schools, educators first consider the diversity of students, their assets and needs, the barriers that interfere with their success, and then plan lessons that are widely accessible. UDL has close relationship with technology as it provides various ways to present content, engage students, and demonstrate their learning. Research and policy, largely in the United States, support the growth of UDL. Research has created UDL tools like the Strategic Reader, produced recommendations for implementation, and measured efficacy. The National UDL Task Force, a coalition of stakeholder organizations has worked for the integration of UDL principles into local, state, and federal policies. Critiques of the framework note a dearth of empirical evidence and inconsistency in the research. They also help identify a path forward in designing new research and attending to complications in the framework that might better address diversity and bring students to the center.
Meagan Karvonen, Neal M. Kingston, Michael L. Wehmeyer, and W. Jake Thompson
Historically pervasive models of disability as a deficit negatively impacted thinking about the accessibility of educational assessments and how this issue should be addressed. In a deficit-based model, assessments are designed without consideration of individual differences and students with disabilities receive accommodations as an exception to the typical administration. With the shift to social models of disability, the assessment field has concomitantly adopted new approaches to designing and administering assessments that recognize variability in how individuals interact with assessments. Inclusive assessment requires that conditions are in place to support the validity of score inferences for their intended uses—for all students. Inclusive assessment requires moving past a deficit-based model and designing for examinee variability. An inclusive model requires knowledge of student characteristics and new ways of thinking about student-item interactions. Computer-based testing and other technologies such as alternative or augmentative communication devices provide support for flexible assessment administration. One way to ensure inclusive assessments meet professional standards for quality is to blend evidence-centered design and universal design principles. Evidence-centered design has five stages that span from construct definition to inferences made from test scores: domain analysis, domain modeling, conceptual assessment framework, assessment implementation, and assessment delivery. Assessment developers can use universal design principles to minimize construct-irrelevant variance by attending to the student’s engagement when presented with assessment stimuli and items, articulating the information the student needs to know in order to respond correctly, and providing multiple means to communicate responses. When evidence-centered design and universal design are blended, these approaches support inclusive assessment design, administration, and scoring, as well as evidence for validity and technical adequacy. Shifts in policy and educational practice are also necessary to support inclusive assessment.
In educational systems, schools, and classrooms, the interface among professional learning approaches and the translation and sustained uptake of research-led inclusive practices needs systematic and sustained attention. A range of variables exist with respect to the complexity of adopting leading, evidence-led practices in actual classroom and school settings. These may include teacher effects, diverse student needs, and limited opportunity for the meaningful analysis of relevant research to practice literature. Similarly, in the larger context of educational systems and processes of change, inhibitors and facilitators are encountered when introducing and sustaining innovative professional learning and changed practices in typical diverse schools. An aspirational model of professional learning for inclusive practices that is informed by the tenets of modern implementation science and cross-cultural perspectives will assist in defining future directions in this area from both an empirical and a heuristic perspective.
Spencer Salend and Catharine Whittaker
In light of the need to prepare reflective and effective teachers who can differentiate their instruction to support the learning of all students in inclusive classrooms, this article describes the collaborative process faculty have used to incorporate universal design for learning (UDL) and evidence-based practice (EBP) into an inclusive teacher education program’s curriculum and practicum experiences. Initially, faculty mapped the curriculum by agreeing upon a common definition of UDL and EBP, reviewing the research to create EBP documentation charts, which were used to constructing self-assessment tools known as innovation configurations (IC). Faculty used the IC to identify and address the strengths and gaps within the program’s courses and clinical experiences and align courses with online interactive instructional resources related to UDL and EBP. To bridge the gap between research and practice and guide educators in making evidence-informed decisions, faculty developed a 10-step practice-based evidence assessment and instructional model to collect and analyze classroom-based data about the efficacy, acceptability, and fidelity of one’s instructional practices and use of UDL and EBP. Faculty revised and field-tested a lesson plan template that prompted educators to personalize their instruction and make it more explicit by addressing such factors as student diversity and collaboration, and employing UDL, EBP, instructional and assistive technology and formative and summative assessment. Faculty also redesigned the program’s lesson observation form used to better evaluate preservice teachers working in inclusive classrooms and provide them with feedback related to their effective use of EBP, UDL, instructional and assistive technology, and assessment and classroom management strategies. The lesson observation form also was revised to make it more reflective of the program’s curriculum reform efforts related to the use of UDL and EBP, and to align it with the national teacher education accreditation standards, national and statewide teacher evaluation, curriculum and teacher education certification standards.
A number of different pedagogical approaches have been presented as being helpful for teachers working with students in inclusive learning environments. These approaches were developed in the late 20th century and were largely derived from models of special education. Many of them are still evident in classrooms around the world today. Based on approaches that appear to have been effective, a set of principles for the development and implementation of inclusive education pedagogy, as identified in the academic literature, can be discerned. These principles, however, are best viewed through a critical lens that highlights cautions for teachers engaged in inclusive teaching. Examples of inclusive approaches that align with some basic principles of inclusive pedagogy include but are not limited to Differentiated Instruction, Universal Design for Learning, and Florian and Spratt’s (2013) Inclusive Pedagogical Approach in Action framework.
Michael Arthur-Kelly and Phil Foreman
Australian public education systems have developed policies since the 1980s and 1990s which have placed a major focus on inclusive educational practices. Despite this progress, Australia has witnessed the growth of parallel and sometimes competing systems of support for students with additional learning needs. It is helpful to view these approaches across one unified continuum of assistance for students. At one end of the continuum there are special schools which provide intensive and specialized learning support, coming within the traditional definition of “special education.” At the other end of the continuum is the full inclusion of students within regular classrooms, complemented by appropriate personalized learning supports. The inclusive approach is based on a philosophical platform that emphasizes the role of the local school in providing for the needs of all students in its community, regardless of diverse needs or disability. A unified view of educational provisions needs to consider the entire range of approaches from full inclusion through to specialized and alternative models of educational services and support, guided by one simple question: What is best for this learner? Principles such as universal design for learning (UDL) lead to an argument for a focus on individual needs and parental empowerment and choice, rather than an outdated dichotomous or settings-based model of educational support. By focusing attention on learning needs through the lens of curriculum, instruction, and contextual supports, the central goal of maximized outcomes for individual students can be realized.
April B. Coughlin
The Disability Studies in Education framework offers the best practices for working with, listening to, and addressing the strengths and needs of students with physical disabilities in schools. Areas covered include reducing barriers to physical and social access, utilizing expertise of students with disabilities to inform practice, reducing stigma while creating disability culture in the classroom, and assisting students with physical disabilities in building self-advocacy skills.