ESSA & UDL sittin' in a tree

For the first time, federal education law addresses Universal Design for Learning

In passing ESSA, UDL (Universal Design for Learning) was addressed in federal law for the first time in our country’s history.

(Spoiler: UDL essentially means providing content that is accessible and conducive to multiple learning styles and that reduces barriers for all students, including students with disabilities.)

This marked a major win for advocacy groups such as the National Down Syndrome Society and the National UDL Task Force who have worked for years to raise awareness in Washington about the need for improved teaching and learning practices and expectations for all students, including students with disabilities.


Download the ESSA guide

ESSA addresses UDL in four different ways:

  • State plans - In crafting their assessments states need to ensure that these “are developed, to the extent practicable, using the principles of universal design for learning. Additionally, as we’ve pointed out before, students with severe cognitive disabilities can opt out of state assessments. The state also has a responsibility with these alternative assessments to show “the steps the State has taken to incorporate universal design for learning, to the extent feasible, in alternate assessments…”
  • Assessment & Accountability - The theme of requiring states to design and create innovative assessments continues. States that choose to undertake the task of reworking their assessments must show that it “will be accessible to all students, such as by incorporating the principles of universal design for learning…”
  • Comprehensive Literacy Instruction - “The term ‘comprehensive literacy instruction’ means instruction that— ‘‘includes developmentally appropriate, contextually explicit, systematic instruction, and frequent practice, in reading and writing across content areas; … ‘ … incorporates the principles of universal design for learning; ‘‘… depends on teachers’ collaboration in planning, instruction, and assessing a child’s progress and on continuous professional learning …”
  • Use of funds - States must use their allocated funds to support local education agencies (LEA) that provide access to personalized learning. States must also use their funds to provide technical support to these same agencies in order to increase the LEA’s capacity to “use technology, consistent with the principles of universal design for learning to support the learning needs of all students…”

Again, we feel this is a great thing, as that is a core value here at Thrivist. Helping learners everywhere thrive. Pushing states to adopt the principles of UDL is a strong way to ensure that learners across the country have the best chance at success.


Learn more about ESSA: Download the ESSA guide


Matt Phillip Senior Marketing Manager at Thrivist, LLC