Some assessment designs make it difficult for students with disabilities, English learners (ELs), and ELs with disabilities to show what they know. The goal of universal design principles is to improve access to assessments for all students.

NCEO developed seven elements of universally designed assessments based on a review of the literature on universal design, assessment, and instructional design. Test developers have used many of these elements to increase assessment validity and accessibility.

The seven elements are:

  • Inclusive assessment population
  • Precisely defined constructs
  • Accessible, non-biased items
  • Amenable to accommodations
  • Simple, clear, and intuitive instructions and procedures
  • Maximum readability and comprehensibility
  • Maximum legibility

Applying universal design principles can improve tests in a variety of ways. For example, more accessible tests may provide a more accurate understanding of what students know and can do. In addition, universally designed general assessments may reduce the need for alternate assessments.

Work on this topic is ongoing. Some studies have examined the effects of universal design features on assessments for students with disabilities and ELs.  The Every Student Succeeds Act refers to universal design for learning (UDL) in the development and improvement of assessments. It uses the UDL definition that is in the Higher Education Opportunity Act of 2008:  

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) means a scientifically valid framework for guiding educational practice that — (A) provides flexibility in the ways information is presented, in the ways students respond or demonstrate knowledge and skills, and in the ways students are engaged; and (B) reduces barriers in instruction, provides appropriate accommodations, supports, and challenges, and maintains high achievement expectations for all students, including students with disabilities and students who are limited English proficient.

 

Related Publications

NCEO Reports: Principios y Características de Sistemas Inclusivos de Evaluación en un Escenario de Evaluación Cambiante (#400 Spanish)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Reports: Principles and Characteristics of Inclusive Assessment Systems in a Changing Assessment Landscape (#400)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Brief: Including Students with Disabilities in Common Non-Summative Assessments (#6)

Formats: Online , PDF

Universal Design Online Manual

Formats: Online

A State Guide to the Development of Universally Designed Assessments

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Technical Reports: Considerations for the Development and Review of Universally Designed Assessments (#42)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Technical Reports: Analyzing Results of Large-Scale Assessments to Ensure Universal Design (#41)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Technical Reports: Improving Validity of Large-Scale Tests: Universal Design and Student Performance (#37)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Policy Directions: Universally Designed Assessments - Better Tests for Everyone! (#14)

Formats: Online , PDF

NCEO Synthesis Reports: Universal Design Applied to Large Scale Assessments (#44)

Formats: Online , PDF