Assessment Design: Perspectives and Examples Informed by Universal Design for Learning

Section 1.3: UDL-Informed Assessment

A UDL approach to assessment asks that we reconsider the purpose and function of assessment. It asks us to think ahead and proactively plan how the assessment is inclusive of multiple means of engagement, representation, and demonstration of learning. UDL also asks us to consider potential barriers in assessment. Barriers can take a number of forms, oriented around ability, skill set, timing, pacing, and medium. According to UDL on Campus, assessments in courses are meant to determine how well students are meeting goal. Measurable outcomes from assessment should align with course goals. When they don’t, we run the risk of creating barriers. Greater transparency to the learning process means that it is easier to align assessments with activities and content. In UDL framework, assessment can be tied to goal setting and engagement as much as it is tied to checking whether the student’s understanding “matches” the instructor’s. With UDL framework, we can ask some new questions:

  • Can we assess prior knowledge as students come into the course?
  • Can we assess how meaningful the course is likely to be to students?
  • Can we support students in assessing their own or their peers’ engagement?
  • Can we offer assessments in different formats and at different challenge levels?
  • Can students choose an assessment format that may translate to better learning and reflection over time?
  • How can assessment focus on both process and outcome?
  • Are there grading alternatives, e.g., ungraded assessments or holistic rubrics?

Recall the concept of jaggedness (Rose, 2016) – the variation in knowledge, learning, skills, interests, and abilities in all learners – and how important it is to develop a lens that accounts for that jaggedness in order to plan and design proactively. It asks us to take into account the differing ways that students come to the learning setting, the ways they construct understanding, and the way that they can most accurately and meaningfully demonstrate the ways that they have learned the content.  It’s important to be mindful that Universal Design for Learning is a framework that focuses on developing expert learners – learners who are able to reflect on their learning, set goals, persist in the face of difficulty, acknowledge the role of flexibility in using learning strategies, and to understand the aspects of their jaggedness and how it is best met in a learning environment. In supporting expert learners, assessments can be designed so that there is a clear rationale, a sense of how the assessment is tied to the learning goals, and how meaningful it is in terms of the course, the program learning outcomes, even skill and career goals.

You may also review the UDL guidelines for a quick refresher. Now that we are familiar with how UDL framework may inform assessment design, the next question we can ask is, where do we start? In the next section, we will introduce five key factors for consideration when designing assessment and provide some UDL-informed examples.


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A Comprehensive Guide to Applying Universal Design for Learning by Dr. Seanna Takacs; Junsong Zhang; Helen Lee; Lynn Truong; and David Smulders is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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