Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Bringing UDL into traditional assessments

Some teachers have content standards, where they can offer choices in assessment because they have to assess content knowledge, rather than doing something by a certain method.  (See my blog post on types of standards for information about figuring out your standards.)


Other teachers, like myself, teach standards that are primarily method standards, where we have to hold our students to performing tasks in a certain way.  For example, if the standard says to sing, students have to sing.  If the standard says to solve an equation, students have to be able to show–consistently and accurately–that they can solve equations using acceptable processes.  I really can’t have my students do an interpretive dance about how to solve 3x -2 = 47 + x!

So, when the standards limit my assessment choices, how can I still implement the Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?  In her book, UDL Now!, Dr. Katie Novak writes that “Methods standards, on the other hand, have a definite end product in mind.  Because you can’t be so flexible with the task, you have to provide options for scaffolding so all students will be able to complete the task with proficiency”  (UDL Now!, pg. 101).  What do some of those options look like?

Key Vocabulary

One of the first changes we introduced to our traditional mathematics assessments was to include key vocabulary terms on the front page.  The example below is from our Module Assessment (“Unit Test”) on percents.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.13.42 PM.jpg

Why did we start putting vocabulary on our assessments?  Because, as Dr. Novak pushed us to consider, we wanted to measure the students’ understanding of the math concepts and not knowing the key terms here creates a barrier and leaves us with questions–did a student get the problem wrong because he/she didn’t understand percent or because he/she didn’t understand the vocabulary term(s)?  Providing these key terms allows us to focus on the material we are really attempting to assess.


My colleague, Irene Witt, and I started creating templates (graphic organizers) for specific math content in the middle of last year.  The feedback from the students was consistently positive, so we challenged ourselves to create ones for every major concept in our 7th grade curriculum, such as the Rational Numbers template below.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.19.18 PM.jpgAs seen in the example above, the templates themselves don’t provide students with formulas or answers; instead, they provide structure and organization that allows students to focus on the application of the material asked in the question without getting lost in the management of the information (3.2 Highlight Patterns).  We use the templates in our modeling and encourage students to use them on all assessments and all daily work.

Notes for pre-requisite skills



By 7th grade, students are expected to be fluent with fraction operations.

Most of them aren’t.

The lack of fluency creates a barrier for assessing grade-level material that builds on those skills, such as simplifying complex fractions and working with unit rates with fractions, both of which are 7th grade Common Core standards.  This year, we have started providing students with notes on fraction operations (see image below) that we make available to students for use on all assessments that do not assess only fraction operations.

Screen Shot 2017-10-14 at 1.30.44 PM.jpg

For example, students cannot use these notes on a quiz that focuses on review material (operations with fractions), but they can use the notes on a Module Assessment that includes grade-level work with fractions within unit rates.  Our goal, in the spirit of UDL, is to remove the barrier of lack of fluency with pre-requisite skills so we can focus on assessing the material we are interested in at this grade level.


As always, my thanks to Irene Witt for letting me use our practice and materials in this blog.




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