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Universal Design for Learning: The next big thing in school reform?

A new report suggests most states are already implementing UDL without a federal mandate

Universal Design for Learning: The next big thing in school reform?

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. has seen an 11-percent increase in the number of students with disabilities passing standardized tests since implementing UDL two years ago.

As educators brace for new reforms, what will these changes look like? How will assessments and curriculum differ from previous versions? How can all students get the best education possible? The answer, some experts believe, lies partially in Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a framework that’s quickly gaining momentum across the U.S.

A new report indicates that many states and school districts have implemented UDL with support from Race to the Top monies or federal stimulus funds as they move forward with their education reform efforts. The report was discussed during a May 15 webinar held by the Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST) and the National Center on Universal Design for Learning.

UDL, according to CAST, is an educational framework based on research in the learning sciences, including cognitive neuroscience, that guides the development of flexible learning environments that can accommodate individual learning differences.

Recognizing that the way each student learns can be unique, the UDL framework, first defined by CAST in the 1990s, calls for creating curriculum that provides:

  • Multiple means of representation to give learners various ways of acquiring information and knowledge;
  • Multiple means of expression to give learners alternatives for demonstrating what they know; and
  • Multiple means of engagement to tap into learners’ interests, challenge them appropriately, and motivate them to learn.

“Across the country, many educators, school districts, and states have discovered that UDL is not only a great way to improve daily classroom instruction while personalizing learning for each student, but also an effective way to implement Common Core State Standards, Race to the Top-funded initiatives, and other education reforms,” said the National Center on UDL in a statement.

According to the new two-part study, conducted with the support of the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation and titled “Universal Design for Learning (UDL): Initiatives on the Move,” all states now have UDL initiatives, and more than 150 school districts report using federal funding for UDL activities.

At the federal level, UDL has been incorporated into the Higher Education Opportunity Act, the National Educational Technology Plan, Race to the Top (RTTT), the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), and legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

The report—described as the first comprehensive examination of UDL implementation at the state and local school district levels—examined the ways in which state and local policies and initiatives address UDL, and whether RTTT and ARRA funds have been effective in supporting UDL initiatives at the state and district levels.

The conclusion: UDL is “becoming more widely accepted as an educational framework within the national policy landscape,” said the report.

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