UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts is the story of four school districts taking the journey into the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) implementation process. Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland, Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation in Indiana, Cecil County Public Schools in Maryland and Chelmsford Public Schools in Massachusetts participated in the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded project to explore and pilot processes and tools developed to support UDL Implementation within their own unique districts. The story is told primarily through the voices of the dedicated educator leaders from these districts and the UDL facilitators who supported them. During the one-year grant, the districts worked with CAST, Inc. to develop and implement an effective and sustainable district plan to support the integration of Universal Design for Learning.
For those who are unfamiliar with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), it is a set of principles and guidelines that serve as a framework for curriculum design and educational decision-making. These principles provide a blueprint for creating instructional goals, methods, materials, and assessments that work--not a single, one-size-fits-all solution but rather flexible approaches that can be customized and adjusted to address the variability of all learners. To learn more about Universal Design for Learning visit the National Center on UDL http://www.udlcenter.org/ or watch this video: UDL at a Glance.
UDL implementation is a process of change that tends to occur in a recursive, continuously improving cycle of learning and progressing. The process is designed in a UDL way, uniquely customized to support change in each district. Researchers at CAST believed that by integrating systems change research with the UDL principles they could provide school staff with a customized, cascading, series of professional learning opportunities, professional coaching, facilitation, supports, resources and tools needed to assist districts throughout the UDL implementation. This is an important distinction that makes UDL implementation different from other initiatives that attempt to hold participants to a specific, regimented implementation approach. The UDL implementation process isn’t a set of protocols that everyone does in exactly the same way. The four participating districts were as varied and complex as the students in their classrooms, so each district’s approach to UDL implementation was different. Each district identified the structures within their system and anticipated different paths and plans for scaffolds and supports that would meet the needs of their own unique system to move forward toward scaling and optimizing UDL implementation.
Even though five phases of UDL implementation have been identified, it is also recognized that each school, district or higher education institution will approach the UDL implementation process in a unique manner.
The five phases within an integrated dynamic process of UDL implementation, adapted from Fixsen, Naoom, Blase’, Friedman, and Wallace (2005), are: (1) Explore, (2) Prepare, (3) Integrate, (4) Scale, and (5) Optimize. These are not rigid stages but instead are fluid and recursive in nature. The UDL Principles are purposefully infused throughout the process. For example, each phase includes three focused goal areas aligned with the three UDL principles.
Implementation phases may exist as discretely separate, sequential periods of focus for some schools or districts or they may overlap or repeat in an iterative manner.
The graphic below offers another way of thinking about the UDL implementation process that highlights its iterative, continuously improving aspects.
Each district started at a different place in the process, one had been exploring, planning and integrating UDL practices for several years while another was just starting to explore the possibilities of using UDL as a framework to guide curriculum development. Yet the goal for all four districts was to develop and implement an effective and sustainable plan for integrating UDL systemically into its district. One of the first things any district needs to do when investigating UDL as a framework is to consider what their needs are. Then, they determine if using the UDL framework can address those needs.
The work included building block activities such as, identifying district goals that align with UDL Implementation, assessing knowledge, practice and beliefs, working with a UDL facilitator to develop Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) that would support teachers’ use of the UDL instructional practices, collaboration in planning curriculum and instruction, and incorporating professional coaching specifically related to applying UDL to instructional strategies.
CAST developed tools and services to support UDL Implementation at the district level including, professional development, interest and self-assessment surveys, technical assistance, a UDL Implementation Strategy Guide and a UDL facilitator’s guide. Enabling resources included a web-based tool, UDL Exchange, which assists educators in applying UDL to lesson planning and supports sharing of lesson plans, resources and collections of information.
Through our work with these four districts, we learned that the following elements are critically important to successful implementation of the UDL framework as a process of change:
Many successful strategies were apparent across the four districts, including:
These stories are not intended to prescribe. Rather, they are designed to showcase the work of four districts moving through the UDL Implementation process. These stories inform others of the experiences of these four districts as they grappled with issues of school improvement, curriculum redesign and systemic change. They may also serve as an impetus for individuals at all levels to examine district or school readiness for UDL implementation. While these stories and examples are limited to the districts featured, it should be noted that these districts share many of the same demographics and characteristics of districts across the country.
Whether your school or district is considering UDL implementation for the first time or has been engaged in UDL implementation for a period of time, we hope these stories can serve as useful exemplars.
To find out more about UDL Implementation watch UDL Implementation, a part of the UDL Series.
Ganley, P. & Ralabate, P. (2013). UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts. National Center on Universal Design for Learning. Retrieved [date] from [insert full URL]..
Last Updated: 06/11/2014