Meeting the Needs of Students with Disabilities: Characteristics of Universal Design of Instruction in Odds-Beating Middle Schools

Heather Kurto, M.S. Ed.

University at Albany


Kristen C. Wilcox, Ph.D.

University at Albany


Kristie Asaro-Saddler, Ph.D.

University at Albany


In this multiple case study we examined six middle schools with above predicted student achievement outcomes on Common Core State Standards (CCSS) assessments in mathematics and English language arts.  We drew upon the Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) framework to characterize the nature of teachers’ practices with particular attention to how they approach instruction for students with disabilities (SWD). Through analysis of focus group interviews and observational field notes we 1) identified shared characteristics of UDI practices across all schools and 2) noted two schools with exemplary attention to three UDI principles: community of learners; flexibility in use; and tolerance for error. The exemplars provide evidence of how educators have shifted from a dichotomous understanding of abled/disabled to all-enabled through the use of UDI practices. This research offers implications for policy and practice by providing empirically-grounded findings regarding the nature of teachers’ instruction for SWD in odds-beating schools. 

Keywords. Universal Design for Instruction, Common Core State Standards, instructional practices, diversity

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