Once Ms. Donaldson has planned her goals, instructional materials and instructional methods, she still has to determine how she can bring the UDL approach to her assessments. In the past, she has typically used written tests (multiple choice and essay) and short typed papers as her main assessment tools. Given all of the other changes she has already made to her curriculum, though, it is obvious that she is no longer going to limit herself (and her students) to these tools.

In fact, Ms. Donaldson began to develop her formative assessments that incorporated UDL principles when she modified her goal.  Her formative assessments were used to adjust teaching and learning while instruction was occurring.

No matter which educational approach a teacher uses, assessments should always reflect the learning goal. When Ms. Donaldson reshaped her learning goal, she purposely allowed for the possibility that her students could express what they had learned through a variety of options that could measure student goal attainment.  With the new learning goal, Ms. Donaldson is not focused on measuring how her students learned and expressed what they learned; but she is focused on measuring what the students learned, regardless of how they learned it.

What does this mean? It means that Ms. Donaldson – and other teachers using the UDL approach – use assessment tools that give students multiple ways to show what they have learned.  Digital texts with scaffolding are not just for presenting material, but can be used for assessments, too.  Various kinds of projects – like oral presentations and multimedia projects – give diverse learners the opportunity to show what they have learned, even if they are not particularly good at taking multiple choice tests or writing papers.

  • Representation
    • Provide digital formats of assessments (allows text to be manipulated, text-to-speech software to be used)
    • Allow students to utilize resources (ex. “open-book” assessment)
  • Action and Expression
    • Allow alternatives for students to express or demonstrate their learning (written and oral assessments, recorded responses, illustrations, diagrams, etc.)
    • Provide untimed assessments
  • Strategic
    • Offer choices of assessment
    • Provide adjustable levels of challenge in type of assessments provided

One of the keys to using alternative assessment tools, Ms. Donaldson now understands, is that the teacher has to have established a well-defined rubric for how to measure what the students have learned. And, the teacher has to have shared this rubric with the students so they can have a clear understanding of what is expected of them.

Finally, there are three other ideas that Ms. Donaldson will work to include in her UDL assessments:


Most educators have a history of doing well with the most traditional types of assessment tools – they’re good at answering multiple choice and essay questions and they’re good at writing papers (that’s part of the reason they did well enough in school to become teachers!).

What are some of the tools you use to assess your students now?  What could you add to this toolbox to give all of your students the greatest opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned?
If she has allowed a student to use any kinds of supports or scaffolding to learn content, she must also allow the student to use those supports or scaffolding during assessments.

Likewise, if a student has been able to learn content via a particular learning preference (say, visual), then that student must be allowed to demonstrate their learning via that same learning preference.

While some educators believe that the ideas in the first two bullet points – and in many of the other elements of UDL – give certain students an unfair advantage, the fact is that these ideas bring more fairness to the curriculum. Removing educational barriers – even ones that were created unintentionally – gives all students the chance to focus on the ultimate goal of education… learning.