UDL and DI were designed to help to eliminate the inequities among students in inclusive learning environments. These frameworks were implemented in districts, nationwide, with varying degrees of fidelity. On the surface, it appeared that there was great success and increased social justice, especially for students with disabilities.
Schools that provided professional development to teachers on the UDL or DI frameworks saw far fewer separate programs because students were given options to personalize their learning. Unfortunately, there wasn’t any nationwide data to let us know if what we were doing was effective. Students were taking standardized tests, but these scores were averaged, so it wasn’t clear if inclusion was beneficial for all students.
I obviously wasn’t in on the conversations in the White House at the time, but I imagine they went something like this:
“We have made a lot of progress in moving schools toward a model of inclusion. X% of schools are reporting that special education students are being included with their peers for at least part of the day. That’s a significant increase.”
“That’s fantastic! Now all students have access to content area specialists, rigorous standards, and the opportunity to collaborate with their peers. Their achievement must be soaring.”
A lot of very important people shuffle around papers and ultimately someone says, “Well, nationwide, we don’t know that for sure. The scores aren’t broken down like that.” At this point, you can hear crickets.
Ultimately, officials came up with a proposal that would require transparency from all states, impose sanctions for lack of performance, and endeavor to have all students in the country, regardless of variability, proficient or higher by 2014.[i] Enter, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
NCLB, signed by President George Bush, was an update to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965. Although schools were moving toward inclusion under IDEA, there was no evidence of any increased achievement for special populations of students. Additionally, because of the reporting requirements of the time, states were not held accountable for achievement results.
To increase transparency, states were required to report performance for student sub groups, including English language learners and students with disabilities. Before NCLB, subgroups of students could be falling behind, but that wasn’t clear to the public because the scores of those students were averaged with all students. The intent was to make schools, districts, and states more aware of the performance of students at risk of failing and ensure that all groups make adequate yearly progress (AYP) (there are those acronyms we educators love!).
If schools did not meet AYP two years in a row, they faced sanctions, or punishments that eventually resulted in being forced to restructure, replace the majority of staff, and/or submit to state takeover if student achievement did not improve. [ii]
Let’s take a step back for a second. Pre-Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), students were segregated and provided with different learning opportunities based on their perceived ability. IDEA was like a tidal wave that began to pound against the shore of traditional education and put cracks in a “one-size-fits all” approach to teaching and learning. Although IDEA brought students together, using both UDL and DI, the outcomes for all these students were the same. NCLB shed light on the unequal outcomes of an inclusive education and sought to remedy the achievement gap between subgroups of students and their peers.
This brought on a whole new set of initiatives to provide remediation to the students who were falling behind to ensure that equal access to the same classroom also meant equal access to growth.
[i]American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. (2015). A Policymaker’s Guide to No Child Left Behind Reauthorization.
[ii]American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research. (2015). A Policymaker’s Guide to No Child Left Behind Reauthorization.