The National Alternate Assessment Center (NAAC) created this tool to assist in the evaluation of alternate assessments with regard to implementation or application of the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL ). The goal of this tool is for states to be better equipped to evaluate their preparedness to meet requirements of NCLB and IDEA for evidence of universal design for learning in their state Alternate Assessment on Alternate Achievement Standards (AA-AAS). It is further hoped that the incorporation of UDL will result in improvements in accuracy and effectiveness of state assessment systems in determining what students have learned. The application of this evaluation tool is on assessments for students who qualify for AA-AAS and who represent less than 1% of the total student population. Such students come from a variety of disability categories, but represent those with the most significant cognitive disabilities .

The UDL AA-AAS Evaluation Tool was designed using CAST 's research-based Guidelines for Universal Design for Learning (http://www.udlcenter.org/aboutudl/udlguidelines), developed for teachers, administrators, publishers and policymakers. Tool developers from NAAC worked directly with three member states to apply the tool to each state’s current AA-AAS documents. The three participating states provided the NAAC team with access to their current alternate assessment materials, each using one of the three major types of alternate assessment: checklist , portfolio, and performance event. This tool was shaped and designed based on feedback from the states, NAAC partners, and related staff.

Please note, since alternate assessment practices are constantly evolving, this UDL AA-AAS Evaluation Tool is viewed as a living document. Therefore, new research outcomes and assessment standards should be considered as they emerge

The IDEA Reauthorization of 2004 states, “[T]he state educational agency shall, to the extent feasible, use universal design principles in developing and administering any assessments under this paragraph” (20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(16)(E)). Under IDEA, the term “universal design” has the same meaning given the term under the Assistive Technology Act of 1998 and is defined as “a concept or philosophy for designing and delivering products and services that are usable by people with the widest possible range of functional capabilities, which include products and services that are directly accessible (without requiring assistive technologies) and products and services that are inter-operable with assistive technologies.” (29 U.S.C. 3002). However, beyond this general conceptual definition the legislation provides neither a clear applied definition for “universal design” nor an explanation of how these principles are to guide the development and implementation of assessment materials. In particular, there has been little consideration of what universal design means for alternate assessments based on alternate academic achievement standards (AA-AAS), those large-scale assessments designed to evaluate the performance of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (Kleinert & Thurlow, 2001). While universal design has been directly applied to general assessment design by adapting the original principles of universal design as applied to physical spaces and elements (Thompson, Johnstone & Thurlow, 2002), this work had not previously been extended to AA-AAS.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is a framework for designing curricula, materials, standards, and assessments that enable all learners to gain knowledge, skills, and enthusiasm for learning (Rose & Meyer, 2002) (for more information, see attached Brief Introduction to Universal Design for Learning). UDL provides rich supports for learning and reduces barriers to the curriculum while maintaining high achievement standards for all, and as such should be applicable to the development and administration of AA-AAS. This approach has a positive impact on student learning because teachers can ask the right questions at the right time to inform instruction, a feature advocates have sought for students without disabilities. As Lorrie Shepard (2001) points out, “[T]he uniform nature of external assessments [i.e., standardized state tests] and their infrequency means that they will rarely ask the right questions at the right time to be an effective part of an ongoing learning process” (p. 1080). In contrast, some alternate assessments—especially in the form of checklists and portfolios—allow teachers to align and blend instruction and assessment. A reality, however, is that use of external or standardized assessments appear to be increasing as a means of assessing students with more significant cognitive disabilities. Such trends though should not limit or discourage consideration of ways to make even standardized assessments more accessible to facilitate accuracy in determining what students have learned.

In Universal Design for Learning, the focus on learning includes the entire instructional episode: goals, methods, assessment, and materials. Accommodations , scaffolds, and supports should not be exclusive to the instructional environment but should be a part of the whole instructional episode including assessment. The preservation of the distinction between what is construct relevant and what is construct irrelevant is essential when making decisions about accommodations, scaffolds, and supports in the assessment environment. When there are construct irrelevant impediments, distractions, or barriers in the assessment methods it is essential to provide scaffolds, supports or accommodations in order to improve accuracy and validity, especially for individuals with disabilities. On the other hand, using those same scaffolds, supports or accommodations inappropriately – where they affect the construct relevant demands of the assessment – is likely to invalidate the measure. In addition to maintaining the integrity of the distinction between what is construct relevant and irrelevant, any accommodations, scaffolds and supports utilized should be checked for consistency with respective state policies and regulations.

Central to UDL is the notion that during assessment students must be provided with (1) multiple means of recognition of assessment directions and stimuli , (2) multiple means of interaction and expression within the assessment tasks, and (3) multiple means of engagement during the assessment process. With proper planning and allowances, these principles can constructively guide the AA-AAS development and administration. This implies, first of all, utilizing instructional methods that embrace or apply the principles of UDL . In this way, these methods also become central to task presentation in the assessment arena, as assessment administration conditions and accommodations should be based on the mode of instruction. This is not to say that any and all instructional supports should be allowed during an assessment event. Clearly some accommodations used in instruction (e.g., content specific prompts) cannot be provided during assessment without changing the assessment construct. While UDL when applied to a learning environment implies need for broad flexibility, nothing presented here is intended in any way to violate the integrity of assessment administration. As a result, application of the principles of UDL to alternate assessments represents a delicate balancing of two competing demands: 1) meeting the need for flexibility in accommodating barriers to ALL students’ access and response to tasks during instruction and assessment; and 2) the need for standardization of assessments, and the subsequent inferences about student performance that will be made as a result of that assessment (Kearns, J., Lewis, P., Hall, T. & Kleinert, H., 2007).