How can educators identify and address potential barriers when designing instruction?
Page 5: Assessments
After establishing a clear goal that allows for multiple means, the educator determines how to assess learners’ progress toward and mastery of the goal. To gain useful information, educators must align assessments with the learning goal—that is, assessments need to measure the knowledge or skills that the learning experience is designed to teach. Assessment results help:
- Educators monitor students’ learning
- Students monitor their own learning process
- Educators know if their instruction is effective
The third UDL principle—provide multiple means of action and expression—reminds educators that learners need multiple ways to “show what they know.” Expecting all students to demonstrate knowledge or skills in the same manner can become a barrier to learning. For instance, imagine that an educator administers a written exam. While reviewing one student’s exam, the educator thinks, “This student really seemed to understand the content during class. It seems like the writing got in the way of her expressing it.” In this reflection, the educator has identified a barrier—the inflexibility of the assessment.
Assessments occur throughout the learning process, not just at the end of a lesson, unit, or course. A combination of assessments should be used to help educators and students monitor learning during instruction and evaluate that learning after the learning experience. The following are three types of common assessments, all of which should be designed with the principles of UDL in mind.
Formative assessment is the ongoing evaluation of student learning during instruction. This type of assessment can be used to:
Formative Assessment Examples
- Informal teacher questioning
- Student polls
- Low-stakes quizzes
- Exit tickets
- Provide continuous feedback about student learning to educators: Educators use formative assessments to check for understanding, identify misconceptions, and monitor students’ progress.
- Inform or guide instruction: Educators use information gathered from formative assessments to make informed instructional decisions to better meet students’ learning needs (e.g., review or reteach information, go deeper into the content, use a different instructional strategy).
- Provide continuous feedback to learners: Educators should provide every student with frequent, timely, and constructive feedback. Feedback is much more than marking items as correct or incorrect or assigning a grade. Feedback should:
- Inform students about their progress
- Guide students toward new strategies or tools to support their mastery of the goal
- Acknowledge individual and group effort
- Help students persist through challenges and strengthen their learner agency
Summative assessment is the evaluation of student learning after instruction has occurred. This type of assessment can be used to:
Summative Assessment Examples
- Unit tests
- Final exams
- Culminating projects
- Measure and evaluate students’ mastery of content or skills: Educators should use the results of summative assessments to determine if students met the learning goal.
- Inform or guide future design: As with formative assessments, educators should use the results of summative assessments to reflect on the effectiveness of the design and make adjustments for the future.
Assessment is often thought of as a purely teacher-led activity in which educators design, administer, and evaluate measurements of student learning. However, students should also play an active role in assessing their own learning. Educators should provide instruction and support to foster students’ skills in self-assessment—a strategy in which students evaluate their own learning both during and after instruction. Using this type of assessment, students can:
- Mark off tasks on a checklist to visualize their progress
- Respond to reflection questions after a lesson to identify what they learned
- Reflect on what they are still confused about
- Rate criteria on a rubric to evaluate their understanding
- Monitor and reflect on their progress toward and mastery of the learning goal: Students learn to self-monitor their own progress and use that information to guide their learning process. Educators should provide instruction, tools, and feedback to help them do so.
- Develop learner agency: As they become expert learners, students learn to think about their choices and the impact of those choices on their success. Educators should support learners’ development of these skills by explicitly teaching strategies for reflection and providing supports that foster students’ metacognition, or awareness of their own thinking.
Addressing Barriers in Assessments
For Your Information
Educators may be tempted to believe that assessments are only fair if they are the same for all students. To the contrary, fairness results when all students can show that they have mastered the learning goal without encountering barriers from the assessment design. Accessible and flexible assessments, therefore, promote equity and equal opportunity.
Recall from the previous page the importance of separating the goal from the means of learning. This practice makes it possible to provide options for assessments. A goal with the means embedded will offer only one way for students to demonstrate mastery of the learning goal, while a flexible goal offers a variety of ways to do so. Further, many assessments require additional knowledge or skills simply to access or engage with the assessment (e.g., reading skills, time management). Such requirements act as barriers when they hinder students’ ability to demonstrate their learning. To more accurately assess students’ progress toward and mastery of the learning goal, educators should apply the UDL principles to anticipate and remove such barriers. Below are examples of barriers in assessments and ways that educators might remove them.
|Assessment Barriers||Removing Barriers|
|An assessment requires all students to use a single mode of response (i.e., give an oral presentation).||The educator provides all students various options to demonstrate their learning (e.g., give an oral presentation, record a video, write a paper).|
|A mathematics quiz requires all students to read word problems.||The educator provides all students the option of having the word problems read aloud.|
|A writing assessment requires all students to respond to the same prompt.||The educator provides three options of prompts from which all students may choose.|
|An exit ticket requires all students to write their responses using paper and pencil.||The educator provides all students options for completing the exit ticket (e.g., writing, drawing, typing, oral response).|
|An end-of-unit exam requires all students to prepare and study independently.||The educator provides options of practice assessments and study guides to all students in advance of the exam.|
In this interview, Shauntā Singer shares how educators can apply the UDL framework to assessments to build learner agency and to better understand student learning.
Shauntā Singer, PhD
Research & Development/Professional Learning Research Scientist
Keep in Mind
As educators design assessments using a UDL lens, they should ask themselves the following questions:
- Do my assessments reflect and measure the learning goal?
- What barriers exist in my assessments that may impact learners’ abilities to show what they know?
- How will I use formative assessments to make ongoing instructional decisions and adaptations?
- What are the summative assessments measuring and how will I use that data to inform future instruction?
- Do students have opportunities to assess their own progress and process?
These questions have been adapted from the following handout.
After Mr. Hughes, Ms. Tong, and Mrs. Rios have developed their goals, they are ready to reflect on and adapt the assessments they use to measure students’ learning. Below, consider how you would address the barriers in their assessments and then discover how the educators intend to do so.
Elementary mathematics lesson goal:
Students will represent numerical data on a bar graph and use the graph to answer questions.
Middle school language arts unit goal:
Students will be able to identify a theme in a grade-level piece of fiction and locate supporting details in the text.
High school biology lesson goal:
Students will be able to model and explain the process of mitosis.