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Baltimore County Public Schools logo

Baltimore County Public Schools

BCPS Student Demographics
26th largest school system in the U.S., 3rd largest in Maryland
$1.5 billion budget, FY 2013
105,315 students (9/30/11)
54.8% minority enrollment (9/30/11)
3.8% English language learner (10/31/11)
44.8% eligible for free/reduced price meals (10/31/11)
174 schools, programs, and centers
17,000 employees, including 8,850 classroom teachers


Baltimore County Public School (BCPS) district is the 26th largest school system in the U.S. It is a geographically and demographically large district that surrounds the city of Baltimore, Maryland. Like most school districts, BCPS is constantly undergoing change. During the year of the project the district hired a new superintendent who brought a different management style, background knowledge and new priorities.

An important factor to consider when looking at school districts in Maryland is that the Maryland Department of Education proposed and the Maryland State Board of Education adopted regulations in June 2012 that require all local districts to use Universal Design for Learning in the development of curriculum and selection of instructional materials beginning in the 2014-2015 school year.

BCPS was prepared for this legislation. Since the mid-1990s, UDL has been part of professional development provided through the Office of Assistive Technology. By collaborating with content offices and instructional technologists, the Assistive Technology (AT) team worked to demonstrate that UDL benefited all students, not only students with disabilities.

Baltimore County had originally introduced UDL through the Special Education department. The framework was not embraced fully by general classroom teachers in part because it was incorrectly believed to focus on the needs of students receiving special education services. To be successfully implemented at scale, district leaders now believe that a UDL initiative should come from an identified district level need to serve all its students.

Some of the activities that BCPS initiated during the Explore Phase of UDL implementation were: 1) curriculum and instruction staff participated in UDL symposiums, 2) teacher and instructional leaders participated in UDL book studies, 3) all curriculum writers received UDL professional development, 4) school administrators participated in UDL awareness activities and all principals attended a UDL workshop. The Aspiring Leaders Program, a requirement of entering the administrative pool at BCPS, added UDL professional development to its offerings as well.

UDL Implementation Aligns to District Goals

BCPS had a clear goal for making a change in their district. Dr. Roger Plunkett, former Assistant Superintendent, stated that the district needed to change their curriculum to align with the Common Core State Standards, move toward a 21st century curriculum and meet the needs of all learners.

William BurkeAt this writing, the foundational curriculum documents are being rewritten to accommodate the Common Core Standards. William Burke, Director of Professional Development for the district, whose responsibilities include curriculum development, remarks, “There is a convergence of factors that supports UDL implementation in Baltimore County right now. We are rewriting the district curriculum to adopt Common Core standards and are including UDL language and being guided by the UDL framework. It is essential to take this opportunity because it is the most authentic time to make a change to embed UDL.” He continues “Rewriting curriculum guides and lesson development guides and developing rubrics to evaluate if UDL has been embedded in the curriculum guides and lesson development will allow the district to scale UDL.”

Leadership Cultivates an Environment for Continuous Improvement

Two middle school principals knowledgeable about UDL were chosen to participate in the UDL Implementation Project. Sandra Reid, principal of Pine Grove Middle School, has cultivated an environment where there is an expectation for continuous for improvement. She believes that the UDL framework helps promote growth and effectiveness for both teachers and students in a seamless way because of the school’s culture.

Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) Are Instrumental

Professional learning communities at BCPSPrincipals at both schools worked with interested teachers to select and create PLCs. At one of the schools, a strong instructional leadership team helped choose the members of the PLC from different content areas. They were given time to meet during the school day, opportunities to work with UDL coaches and the UDL facilitator and they met regularly with educators from the other school.

According to Burke, the development of PLCs at the schools was instrumental in supporting the implementation of UDL. Having a UDL facilitator who had previously been a consultant and teacher at BCPS was a unique and positive factor in the success of the PLCs at BCPS. She was a trusted member of the community of district leaders which allowed her to get started immediately embedding support structures and procedures for smooth communication between the district leaders, the PLCs, and UDL Implementation district team members. Another key action – professional development for curriculum content chair people – ensured that they understood the UDL principles enough to create an environment for the teachers in the PLC to experiment and take risks during the new initiative.

Video: William Burke on developing Professional Learning Communities

A challenge for UDL Implementation involved introducing it as a new initiative. It was necessary to convince educators that the district was committed to using UDL as a framework and that it was here to stay. One way that the principals worked to solve this challenge was through the work of the PLCs. The members of the PLCs were excited by their own professional growth and the growth in their students. They communicated their enthusiasm for the change to the other educators at their school. Cross-curricular teachers worked together to develop and share lessons with each other. As part of the “Something Fabulous” activity, initiated by the UDL facilitator, they created a “documentary” video to share their discovery of UDL and their professional development journey with educators throughout the district. They filmed their visits to each others' classrooms, and their reflections on their lessons to show the process. The video is a model and instructional tool for everyone and an example of teachers driving their own professional development.

Nicole Norris“The ownership and pride in the work they are doing together and for each other has created momentum for embracing UDL in their school,” reports Nicole Norris, principal at Lansdowne Middle School.

The success of the PLCs during the UDL Implementation Project stemmed from several changes that were made in their focus and make up. Previously PLCs were team meetings aggregated by content or grade level. For this project the PLCs were cross-curricular groups centered on an investigation of the UDL framework. They had an agreed-upon vision for their work and were mutually accountable for its success. Supported by UDL coaches, members of the PLCs shared lessons planning, observed each other’s classrooms and provided feedback to each other. Because the PLCs were cross-curricular they were not focused on building content level expertise, but rather on enhancing teaching practice expertise.

Video: Nicole Norris on supporting Professional Learning Communities

Professional Development Must Be a Model of UDL

Although BCPS had offered UDL professional development for many years, they felt something was holding them back from successful implementation. “We’ve been doing UDL in PD for years, but we never get past the initial phase, we never get to implementation,” states Burke. A key learning for district leadership was the realization that professional development needed to change so that it modeled the UDL principles. As Burke explains, “Our approach was wrong. We thought we were embedding it, but we were really just layering it on top of what already existed. During the Gates Implementation project the schools have learned how to embed UDL in their everyday practice and we are learning from that as a model.”

Video: William Burke on Professional Development

Advice from Baltimore County Public Schools:

  • The needs of the district should form the drivers for UDL implementation.
  • UDL needs to be embedded in the thought process at every level of decision making, from district level to student level.
  • Create time for professional development, UDL planning and purposeful sharing.
  • Build PLCs by giving teachers leadership roles.
  • Research best practices for establishing and supporting PLCs.
  • An embedded UDL coach on site to support educators is essential to successfully implementing UDL. They should be embedded in the community at each school to model, answer questions, find resources and support teachers. This was critical to the success of the PLCs.
  • Give enough time for the UDL implementation initiative to grow. It takes time to integrate UDL thinking into instructional practice. “Let teachers grow, take baby steps and take risks.”

What’s Next?

Mr. Burke observes, “One of the biggest challenges will be to take the successful-built on model of coaching and intimate PLCs that were created in two schools during the UDL Implementation Project and bring the same resources to scale in one hundred and seventy-four schools.” It is a daunting task indeed, but BCPS has initiated several activities to ensure that UDL work in the district continues.

Baltimore PLCBCPS has secured funding to support UDL implementation and to expand UDL PLCs into nine additional schools in their district. Also, they have a 3 credit continuing education course on UDL that is open to any district staff member. They plan to leverage information and resources from the UDL Implementation Project to support this effort.

A survey taken by teachers indicated that finding time to share lesson plans and lessons learned was considered “most valuable.” BCPS district leaders are committed to creating PLCs and structuring the time needed to support this kind of activity. They also hope PLC members will eventually take on the UDL facilitator and leadership roles in the district.

A partnership with Towson University is in the works. The former state superintendent approached the district with a partnership proposition to create a lab school based on UDL as a demonstration school in conjunction with the university’s teacher preparation program.

The groundwork for Baltimore County’s success is a combination of an authentic need to revise the district curriculum, successfully embedded Professional Learning Communities, informed and enthusiastic district leaders who created opportunities to support building educators’ expertise, and the commitment to fund a UDL facilitator. With this great foundation, Baltimore County is posed to continue successfully through the Integration and Scale phases of UDL Implementation.

UDL Implementation: Case Stories

Baltimore County Public Schools Case Story
Baltimore County Public Schools

Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation Case Story
Bartholomew Consolidated School Corporation

Cecil County Public Schools Case Story
Cecil County Public Schools

Chelmsford Case Story
Chelmsford Public Schools

A Tale of Four Districts

UDL Implementation: A Tale of Four DistrictsUDL Implementation: A Tale of Four Districts is the story of four school districts taking the journey into the UDL implementation process.

Published as:

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: 06/14/2013

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