The long wait for a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act is over.  Just before the New Year, President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which replaces the widely criticized No Child Left Behind. And for the first time, the nation’s general K-12 education law defines and endorses Universal Design for Learning.

As CAST’s friends at the National Down Syndrome Society (NDSS) point out, “UDL is referenced numerous times throughout the ESSA bill, and states are encouraged to design assessments using UDL principles, to award grants to local education agencies who use UDL, and to adopt technology that aligns with UDL.”  

Our friends at the National Center on Learning Disabilities celebrate ESSA’s “many provisions to expand innovative practices in states and school districts, including expanding personalized learning, multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS), and universal design for learning, and integrating technology and competency-based education initiatives.”

NDSS, NCLD, and the 45+ fellow members of the National UDL Task Force, formed in 2006, have played a critical role in raising awareness on Capitol Hill of UDL’s potential to support better teaching and learning with high expectations for all students, including those with disabilities. In fact, the Task Force was instrumental in helping Congress write a definition of UDL for the 2008 Higher Education Opportunity Act, the definition now embedded in ESSA.

As Dennis van Roeckel, former president of National Education Association, a UDL Task Force member organization, wrote some years ago (PDF link): “In today’s dynamic, diverse classrooms, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) offers all educators and students an exciting opportunity to use strategies and technologies that bridge the gap in learner skills, interests, and needs. … UDL is able to transform instruction into a more engaging, meaningful experience.”

For background on UDL policy work, check out A Policy Reader in Universal Design for Learning from Harvard Education Press.