To meet the needs of the widest range of students, what should teachers consider when planning their instruction?

Page 7: Assessment

udl_page07_girlWritingThe final curricular component that the Sycamore Middle team needs to address using the UDL approach is assessment. They learn that, just as with the other curricular components, they need to use multiple means to assess student learning (e.g., oral presentations, visual display, skit). To evaluate whether the students have mastered the content and to assign grades, teachers at Sycamore Middle School typically rely on the chapter test provided by the book publisher, a few homework assignments, and an occasional project. For the chapter on ancient Egypt, the sixth-grade teachers at Sycamore traditionally use the assessments listed in the table below.

Sycamore Middle School Traditional Assessments
(independent work)
Chapter review exercises
A 500-word written report about burial customs A chapter test

These traditional assessment materials:

  • Confound the learning goal with the manner in which students are required to demonstrate their learning (e.g., students are required to demonstrate their knowledge by handwriting an essay)
  • Rely on printed text, ignoring the needs of students who have difficulty decoding and comprehending text and those who have visual impairments
  • Rely on writing, ignoring the needs of students who have difficulty with fine motor skills and in some cases those who have difficulty with organizing thoughts
  • Result in a disconnect between the learning context and the testing context, which may impede a student’s ability to demonstrate his or her knowledge. For example, if a student learned the content through tactile instructional methods, he could be allowed to demonstrate his knowledge through tactile means.
  • Preclude the use of some instructional supports (e.g., calculator, text-to-speech reader)
  • Use a single format (e.g., multiple choice) and testing environment (e.g., timed test) that impede some student’s abilities to demonstrate their knowledge
  • Do not yield information that can be used to guide instruction. Summative assessments are rarely used to guide instruction.

UDL Assessment

The Sycamore team learns that by applying UDL principles to assessments, teachers can reduce the barriers posed by a test format or medium that may have little to do with the skill or knowledge being evaluated. When teachers apply the UDL approach, assessments should:


To effectively assess students’ learning, teachers must identify the knowledge or skill they want the students to learn (i.e., the learning goal). For example, Mrs. Chin, a fifth-grade social studies teacher at Sycamore Middle School, wants to measure her students’ knowledge of pilgrims. She is considering assigning an oral presentation about the subject; however, in order to effectively assess her students’ learning, she must first decide whether she is assessing oral presentation skills, knowledge of the early settlers, or both.

Allowing students to create a diorama about pilgrims is aligned with the learning goal.

girl with camera

Because students have different learning needs or preferences and varied interests, their knowledge should be assessed using their preferred medium or method. This gets at their knowledge of the content instead of their knowledge of how to use a particular medium. For example, Mrs. Chin decides that the learning goal is to gain knowledge about pilgrims. Therefore, in order to assess her students’ learning, she allows them to demonstrate their knowledge in a variety of ways (e.g., oral presentation, diorama, video).

For some projects, students could be allowed to create a video to demonstrate their knowledge.

student with computer

Once they know the goal, teachers can provide scaffolds to eliminate or reduce barriers that are related to the assessment materials or media. For example, in Mrs. Chin’s class, one student who struggles with spelling would like to demonstrate her knowledge of pilgrims by writing a report. Mrs. Chin allows the student to use a word processor with a spellchecker to correctly spell the words in her paper.

Teachers may support students by allowing them to use assistive technology.

teacher with students

By using formative assessment, teachers can evaluate student understanding and progress on an ongoing basis. Doing so allows teachers to identify content that their students are having difficulty with as well as the factors that contribute to their struggle, allowing them to adjust their instruction as needed. One way to conduct formative assessments is to use embedded text, evaluations embedded in the materials with which students are working and that provide ongoing monitoring and feedback or allow self-reflection. For example, in some of the reading materials that Mrs. Chin uses with her students, questions such as “Why did the Pilgrims create the Mayflower Compact?” are embedded in the text. Keep in mind that even though teachers might engage in formative assessment, they still often give an assessment at the end of a chapter or unit (i.e., a summative assessment) to assess mastery of the content or skill.

Teachers can monitor student understanding by asking questions during instruction.

udl_page07_girlAtComuterMany teachers might consider some of the UDL assessment characteristics to be unfair. Their perception is that, by providing students with flexible opportunities to demonstrate knowledge and by allowing scaffolds and supports, they are giving some students an advantage over others. In fact, this is not the case. Rather, UDL assessments allow all students to show what they really know about the content or skill. For example, Ms. Newhouse gives her students a short-answer test on ancient Egypt. She allows all of her students the option of taking the test on the computer and using the text-to-speech converter. This support allows Neeraja, who reads significantly below grade level, to access the test questions and to demonstrate her knowledge about ancient Egypt. Without this support, the test format would create an insurmountable barrier (i.e., requirement to decode text) to the assessment of Neeraja’s knowledge. This option also eliminates barriers for students with other learning needs or preferences, such as those common among auditory learners.

David Rose discusses why it is important to use universally designed assessments, and Grace Meo describes the importance of using summative and formative assessments.

David Rose
CAST founder; Chief Scientist,
Cognition & Learning

(time: 0:51)

View Transcript

Grace Meo
Former CAST Director of Professional
Development & Outreach Services

(time: 0:47)

View Transcript

Sycamore Middle School UDL Assessments
Barriers of Traditional Assessments
(worksheets, chapter review exercises, a 500-word written report about burial customs, a chapter test)
UDL Solutions
(paper or digital versions of worksheets, chapter review exercises, and chapter test; a project about burial customs)
Confounds the learning goal Reflect the learning goal
Requires students to:

  • See
  • Decode and comprehend written text
  • Process visual information
  • Be physically able to write responses
  • Organize thoughts
  • Demonstrate learning in a given format
  • Demonstrate learning in a given testing environment

Results in a disconnect between the learning context and the testing context

Provide flexible opportunities to demonstrate knowledge or a skill

  • Choice of paper or digital version of materials
  • Choice of format and medium of presentation about burial customs
Preclude the use of appropriate instructional supports (e.g., spell checker, text-to-speech reader) Allow scaffolds and supports

  • Online supports for activity
  • Digital version of test is compatible with supports (e.g., text-to-speech translator)
Do not yield information that can be used to guide instruction (i.e., summative in nature) Be conducted in an ongoing manner

  • Embedded assessments in activity (e.g., online activity with hyperlinks for vocabulary and background knowledge)
  • Corrective feedback for chapter review exercises

Administering UDL Assessments

Initially, the Sycamore team was concerned about its ability to effectively create assessments that are accessible by all students. They quickly learn that digital versions of textbook assessments are often available for many new or recent curricula. To inquire about the availability of these materials, teachers or designated school representatives should contact the textbook publisher. If a digital version of a test is not available from the publisher, teachers can create tests that can be accessed on the computer. The CAST Website ( provides information, techniques, and software tools related to UDL assessment.

Research Shows

  • Taking tests using technology, as opposed to pen and paper, can be a more motivating and successful experience for students.
    (Ozden, Erturk, & Sanli, 2004; Stock, Davies, & Wehmeyer, 2004)
  • Taking tests administered via computer can serve as practice for students who may encounter online assessments later in life.
    (Bouck, 2006)

Grading UDL Assessments

Although the Sycamore team liked the idea of allowing students to demonstrate their knowledge in a format and medium that best met their learning preferences, they had questions about how to grade the variety of assessments equitably and fairly. They learn that rubrics are one way to address this concern. A rubric is an objective set of guidelines that defines the criteria used to score or grade an assignment. It describes the requirements of the assignment and outlines the points the student will receive based on the quality of his or her work. The teacher can give students the rubric in advance to help them to understand the requirements and expectations for the assignment. Click here for general procedures for developing a rubric.

David Rose
CAST founder; Chief Scientist,
Cognition & Learning

Listen as David Rose discusses grading universally designed assessments (time: 0:50).

View Transcript


Recall that some of the teachers at Sycamore Middle School wanted their students to learn about the Holocaust. After applying the UDL principles to the traditional goal, they developed the following UDL learning goal:

The students will access a novel about a child’s experience during the Holocaust through their preferred medium and will complete a project to summarize what happens to the main character.

Teacher instructing two studentsThe students in Ms. Alvarez’s class will be allowed to choose one of the following methods to demonstrate their knowledge:

  • Create a PowerPoint file
  • Create a poster
  • Write a paper
  • Design a model illustrating a pivotal scene
  • Deliver an oral presentation

Help Ms. Alvarez develop a rubric to grade her students’ projects.

Answers may vary but should include the following steps:

  1. Define the learning objective.
  2. Identify the concepts or skills students need to demonstrate.
  3. Identify the levels of performance and their point values.
  4. Identify the criteria for each level of performance and create table.
  5. Create a grading system based on possible points earned.


  1. The students will access a novel about a child’s experience during the Holocaust through their preferred medium and will complete a project to summarize what happens to the main character.
  2. For their projects, the students will need to demonstrate:
    • Organization (e.g., logical)
    • Knowledge of the main point of the novel
    • Level of detail (e.g., detailed descriptions)
  3. For these projects, the levels of performance are:
    1 = inadequate 2 = adequate 3 = outstanding
  4. Rubric
    Project on Holocaust
    1 = inadequate 2 = adequate 3 = outstanding
    Organization Student presents information in an illogical and uninteresting way. Student presents information in a logical
    or interesting way.
    Student presents information in a logical
    and interesting way.
    Knowledge of the main point of the novel Student does not summarize main point; may summarize a minor point. Student summarizes the main point of the novel. Student summarizes the main point of the novel
    and expands by including extra points (e.g., how it relates to own life, what was learned).
    Level of detail Student presents basic facts of subject knowledge items with little detail. Student presents some detailed descriptions or representations of subject knowledge items. Student presents very detailed descriptions or representations of subject knowledge items.
  5. For this project, the grading system is:
    Points Grade
    9 A+
    8 A
    7 B
    6 C
    5 D
    3–4 F

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