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UDL in the ESSA

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Date:
Wednesday, February 17, 2016

This past December, Congress passed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces No Child Left Behind. And for the first time, the nation’s general K-12 education law defines and endorses Universal Design for Learning.  As CAST’s friends at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) point out—

UDL is referenced numerous times throughout the ESSA bill, and states are encouraged to design assessments using UDL principles, to award grants to local education agencies who use UDL, and to adopt technology that aligns with UDL.

National Down Syndrome Society

NDSS and the 45+ fellow members of the National UDL Task Force, which was formed in 2006, have played a critical role in raising awareness on Capitol Hill of UDL’s potential to support better teaching and learning with high expectations for all students, including those with disabilities. In fact, the Task Force was instrumental in helping Congress write a definition of UDL for the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, the definition now embedded in ESSA.

What follows are references to UDL in the ESSA and other federal policy documents. Use the links below to jump to specific sections.

UDL in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015

For the first time, federal education law governing general K-12 education includes a definition and endorsement of Universal Design for Learning (UDL).

The new law, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), is the seventh reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, which was originally passed to address the need for greater equity and opportunity in public schools.

ESSA appropriates the UDL definition found in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that — (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.

Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008

Specific references to UDL in ESSA are as follows:

SEC. 1005. STATE PLANS
States need to show that they have, in consultation with local education agencies, “implemented a set of high-quality student academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science.” These assessments shall “be developed, to the extent practicable, using the principles of universal design for learning.” In addition, “for students with the most significant cognitive disabilities,” States may provide for alternate assessments aligned to standards. They should describe in their plan “the steps the State has taken to incorporate universal design for learning, to the extent feasible, in alternate assessments…”

SEC. 1204. INNOVATIVE ASSESSMENT AND ACCOUNTABILITY
State educational agencies may establish an innovative assessment system. Those that do must demonstrate in their applications that the system will “be accessible to all students, such as by incorporating the principles of universal design for learning …”

SEC. 2221(b)(1). COMPREHENSIVE LITERACY INSTRUCTION
“The term ‘comprehensive literacy instruction’ means instruction that— ‘‘includes developmentally appropriate, contextually explicit, and systematic instruction, and frequent practice, in reading and writing across content areas; … ‘ … incorporates the principles of universal design for learning; ‘‘… depends on teachers’ collaboration in planning, instruction, and assessing a child’s progress and on continuous professional learning …” etc.  

SEC. 4104. STATE USE OF FUNDS [for Student Support and Academic Enrichments]
Funds shall be used to support “local education agencies in providing programs that increase access to personalized, rigorous learning experiences supported by technology by … providing technical assistance to local educational agencies to improve the ability of local educational agencies to use technology, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, to support the learning needs of all students, including children with disabilities and English learners …”

UDL in the 2016 National Education Technology Plan

Titled “Future Ready Learning,” the National Education Technology Plan emphasizes the importance of Universal Design for Learning as a means of personalizing learning and as a framework for designing and deploying educational technologies in effective, meaningful ways. After quoting the three UDL principles articulated by CAST, the plan states:

Education stakeholders should develop a born accessible standard of learning resource design to help educators select and evaluate learning resources for accessibility and equity of learning experience. … Using the principles and research-base of UD and UDL, this standard would serve as a commonly accepted framework and language around design for accessibility and offer guidance to vendors and third-party technology developers in interactions with states, districts, and institutions of higher education.

National Education Technology Plan, 2016

The plan also highlights to district-wide UDL initiative of Bartholomew Consolidated Schools in Columbus, Indiana, where practitioners have implemented UDL for nearly a decade.

UDL in the US ED Ed Tech Developer’s Guide (2015)

In 2015, the US Department of Education’s Office of Technology issued The Ed Tech Developer’s Guide for software designers and developers to encourage them “to create impactful tools for teachers, school leaders, students, and their families.” Aimed at developers, startups and entrepreneurs, the Guide includes a call-out box about Universal Design for Learning that encourages the tech industry to employ UDL principles when creating learning tools and environments—and points to helpful resources for accomplishing this, including the CAST website.

UDL in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008

The Higher Education Opportunity Act (HEOA) was the first federal legislation to define and endorse UDL. The HEOA spelled out a number of ways that UDL should be incorporated into preservice preparation of teachers, in-service teacher training, and in postsecondary instruction.
UDL is defined as follows:

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that —(A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.

Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008

Specific references to UDL in the HEOA are as follows:

SEC. 202. TEACHER QUALITY PARTNERSHIP GRANTS
Students preparing to be teachers in pre-baccalaureate programs should “understand … the effective use of technology, instructional techniques, and strategies consistent with the principles of universal design for learning …”

SEC. 204. ACCOUNTABILITY AND EVALUATION
Partnerships applying for grants should include a plan for evaluating the degree to which teachers are trained “… to integrate technology effectively into curricula and instruction, including technology consistent with the principles of universal design for learning …”

SEC. 205. ACCOUNTABILITY FOR PROGRAMS THAT PREPARE TEACHERS
Institutional and program report cards on the quality of teacher preparation should describe “… activities, including activities consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, that prepare teachers to integrate technology effectively into curricula and instruction …”

SEC. 231. ENHANCING TEACHER EDUCATION
The Secretary of Education is authorized to award grants to “assess the effectiveness of departments, schools, and colleges of education … in preparing teacher candidates for successful implementation of technology-rich teaching and learning environments, including environments consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, that enable kindergarten through grade 12 students to develop learning skills to succeed in higher education and to enter the workforce.”

SEC. 232. USES OF FUNDS
Recipients of grants or contracts are encouraged to use funds to “transform the way departments, schools, and colleges of education teach classroom technology integration, including the principles of universal design, to teacher candidates ....”

SEC. 251. TEACH TO REACH GRANTS
“An eligible partnership that receives a grant under this section shall use the grant funds to develop or strengthen an undergraduate, post-baccalaureate, or master's teacher preparation program by … [providing] teacher candidates participating in the program with skills related to … universal design for learning …”

SEC. 762. GRANTS, CONTRACTS, AND COOPERATIVE AGREEMENTS
“A grant, contract, or cooperative agreement awarded under this subpart shall be used to carry out one or more of the following activities: The development of innovative, effective, and efficient teaching methods and strategies, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning, to provide postsecondary faculty, staff, and administrators with the skills and supports necessary to teach and meet the academic and programmatic needs of students .... Such methods and strategies may include in-service training, professional development, customized and general technical assistance, workshops, summer institutes, distance learning, and training in the use of assistive and educational technology.”

SEC. 777. NATIONAL TECHNICAL ASSISTANCE CENTER
“The duties of the National Center shall include … development and provision of training modules for higher education faculty on exemplary practices for accommodating and supporting postsecondary students with disabilities across a range of academic fields, which may include universal design for learning ...”

UDL in the 2010 National Education Technology Plan

The 2010 National Education Technology Plan, “Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology,” placed a significant emphasis on Universal Design for Learning:

The always-on nature of the Internet and mobile access devices provides our education system with the opportunity to create learning experiences that are available anytime and anywhere. When combined with design principles for personalized learning and Universal Design for Learning, these experiences also can be accessed by learners who have been marginalized in many educational settings: students from low-income communities and minorities, English language learners, students with disabilities, students who are gifted and talented, students from diverse cultures and linguistic backgrounds, and students in rural areas.

National Education Technology Plan, 2010

The report featured several recommendations for using UDL to inform educational research, to improve classroom teaching, to design more equitable assessments, and to make better learning tools and products.

(Note: Bold emphasis throughout is added by CAST.)