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

“We know that students have a wide range of strengths and needs, but when they are given a variety of flexible ways to meet high expectations, they can,” said David Rose, founder and CEO of CAST, one of two independent research teams that conducted the study, along with Thomas Hehir and Associates. “This report reaffirms the growing recognition among educators, school officials, and policy makers that the UDL approach can guide them in using new technologies and innovative methods to help all students reach their full potential.”

Specific findings of the report include:

  • All 50 states plus D.C. reference UDL in their preK-12 or postsecondary activities, and a growing number of school districts and states are infusing UDL principles into all of their instructional practices and their Common Core State Standards implementation work.
  • Education leaders from states that mentioned UDL in their RTTT applications reported a high familiarity with UDL principles; perceived a strong connection between UDL and the use of technology, teaching 21st-century skills, and standards-based education initiatives; and reported using RTTT funds for a wide variety of activities that support UDL implementation.
  • Local leaders also reported familiarity with UDL principles and said their ARRA funds had been used to purchase computers and curricular materials, support professional development for general and special-education teachers, and purchase technology for UDL implementation.

Despite the growing implementation of UDL, the study also revealed there is still much work to be done to spread the word about what UDL is, how it differs from other general education initiatives such as differentiated instruction and Response to Intervention, and how it can benefit students, educators, and schools. In addition, several obstacles to effective implementation of UDL by districts were identified, including insufficient staffing, time for implementation, and funding for the purchase of technology.

“Many state and local personnel, as well as educators on the ground, have yet to be provided the necessary information to fully understand the UDL approach and its enormous advantages, or the guidance and training to implement it effectively,” said Ricki Sabia, associate director of the National Down Syndrome Society Policy Center and chair of the National UDL Task Force. “Educators and policy makers in Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Kentucky, Ohio, and other states are leading the way in demonstrating that UDL can actually make schools and districts smarter and more efficient about what technology they purchase and how they use it in the classroom.”

Maryland has begun an initiative to fully implement UDL as a teaching and learning framework.

The effort includes ongoing UDL professional development (both face-to-face and online), UDL guidelines and principles incorporated into Requests for Proposals from the Maryland State Department of Education for vendors and resources, the integration of UDL principles in Maryland’s Common Core state curriculum, a proposed code of Maryland regulations for UDL, and the ongoing development of web-based resources for UDL.

Meris Stansbury

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