Abstract

Young adults with intellectual disability (ID) continue to experience the least successful postschool outcomes among transition-aged youth (Sanford et al., 2011). Experts disagree on the most effective approach to improve outcomes such as employment, postsecondary education, and community living. In 2015, the National Goals Conference brought together educational researchers to set an agenda to guide the field in terms of research, practice, and policy (Thoma, Cain, & Walther-Thomas, 2015). One of their recommendations, based on promising research and practices, urged the field to identify effective personnel preparation and professional development practices that ensure general and special educators can implement a UDL framework (Thoma, Cain, et al., 2015). This study surveyed program coordinators at accredited universities to determine what is currently being done to prepare educators to implement a Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework, the extent to which a UDL framework is being incorporated into preservice courses in higher education, and how a UDL framework is being used to improve postschool outcomes for youth with ID.

The education of youth with intellectual disability (ID) has faced a number of policy changes since passage of the Education of All Handicapped Children Act (1975) guaranteeing all students with disabilities (SWDs) a free and appropriate public education based on their individual needs. For youth with ID, that education focused on addressing both academic as well as functional skills. In 1997, passage of Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) amendments (P.L. 105-17) added a requirement that the education of all SWDs be provided with access to the general education curriculum, and its reauthorization in 2004 (P.L. 108-446) re-focused the education of SWDs to align with academic standards of the general education curriculum. Most recently, the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015 added a number of requirements that specifically called for the use of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) in both assessment and instruction. States must define in their plan, for students taking alternate assessments, the steps taken to incorporate UDL in assessments to the students with the most significant cognitive disabilities (114 U.S.C. §1005). Through the use of UDL in the development of assessments, states are ensuring their innovative assessment plan is accessible by all students (114 U.S.C. §1204). ESSA also requires states to develop a comprehensive literacy plan incorporating the UDL principles. In particular, this comprehensive plan should be developmentally appropriate, contextually explicit, and systematic, and include frequent practice in reading and writing, across content areas. The focus is on the teacher's collaborative practices for planning, instructing, and assessing student's progress (114 U.S.C. §2221(b)(1)). Last, ESSA requires states to use funds that increase access to personalize rigorous learning experiences supported by technology. The use of technology in schools is consistent with the principles of UDL to support the learning needs of all students, including children with disabilities and English language learners (ELLs; 114 U.S.C. §4104).

These changes in educational policy have implications for the preparation of teachers. Not only must they have sufficient knowledge of the general education curriculum, they also must be able to address the other needs of students with ID, which could include teaching activities of daily living, social and self-determination skills, and transition goals such as vocational education, independent living skills, and community living skills. These are just examples of the range of educational and transition goals that might be needed by youth with ID. Special educators must be prepared to not only help students with ID meet high academic standards, they must also address these more functional, concrete skills that youth with ID need to meet their postschool goals (Kochhar-Bryant & Bassett, 2002).

Universal Design for Transition

Thoma, Bartholomew, & Scott (2009) proposed a new strategy to help teachers and educational planners meet these diverse goals through the implementation of what they call Universal Design for Transition or UDT. A UDT approach is designed to provide a framework for special education teachers, transition specialists, and administrators who want to make changes in instructional design and delivery of instruction so that they not only meet legal requirements, but also better prepare SWDs for a successful transition to adult life. This model builds upon the principles of UDL (CAST, 2008), assuring that instructional practices are designed to meet the needs of diverse learners through the use of multiple means of engagement, expression, and representation. UDT assures that instruction include multiple transition domains, multiple transition assessments, multiple resources/perspectives, and student self-determination to support academic achievement and the transition to adult life. It recognizes that all students are best prepared for adult lives when they have a solid academic foundation and they exit high school with an understanding of and plan for their lives. Additionally, adding these components strengthens the multiple means of engagement component of a UDL framework in that it builds on interests that students have to help them better learn academic content and learn how it is connected with and contributes to their goals for adult life.

UDL has been identified as a framework that can help with ensuring access to the general education curriculum for SWDs, including students with ID (Wehmeyer, 2002). UDL offers options for all students, including those with disabilities, while drawing on individual strengths, minimizing the impact of potential challenges, and learning content in the most effective manner (Spooner, Baker, Harris, Ahlgrim-Delzell, & Browder, 2007). It was also described as a strategy that could make it possible to design education that is based on standards and the rights of SWDs to an individualized education and transition plan (Kochhar-Bryant & Bassett, 2002). Thoma et al. (2009) explicitly incorporated effective, evidenced-based practices for transition education into their UDT model and found that it was an effective approach for helping students with ID meet both academic and transition goals (Scott et al., 2011). In addition, a survey of special educators regarding their challenges in meeting both academic and transition goals, found that a UDT framework would address many of the instructional planning and delivery concerns they identified (Thoma, Scott, & Best, 2015).

Research in Personnel Prep and UDL

In 2015, the National Goals for Research, Policy, and Practice for ID brought together researchers, policy advocates, practitioners, individuals with ID, and family members to discuss the current status of education and develop a national agenda for the future. The Education group's goals included one that urged the field to identify effective personnel preparation and professional development practices that ensure general and special educators can implement a UDL framework (Thoma, Cain, et al., 2015). Much of the literature in the field of UDL and UDT has focused on the principles of UDL and implementation techniques. However, it is important to understand to what extent teachers are able to implement UDL and UDT into their practices and how universities are preparing them to do so. For example, Spooner et al. (2007) found that instruction in the use of UDL to develop lesson plans resulted in both general and special educators feeling more confident in their ability to provide instruction to SWDs in their classrooms. After a 1-hour training session, preservice teachers were able to design a lesson plan that was appropriate for all students. Similarly, Courey, Tappe, Siker, and LePage (2013) found that after receiving UDL training, special educators were able to collaborate with general educators in the development of inclusive lessons for students with disabilities included in a general education setting. Last, Scott et al. (2011) investigated the impact the UDL and UDT frameworks had on student achievement and engagement in a secondary special education classroom and found that gains were made when either framework was incorporated in the implementation of lessons. It is clear that when teachers are given instruction on UDL, they are more likely and able to design a lesson plan that adapts and adjusts for all learners needs, rather than needing to do so afterwards (Hitchcock, 2001).

Institutions of higher education are also following the trend of not only preparing future educators to use UDL in practice, but rather are embedding the UDL framework into their own practice. The University of Connecticut Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability seeks to train faculty on Universal Design for Instruction (UDI) to allow for delivery of appropriate instruction and evaluation of student learning (Jimenez, Graf, & Rose, 2007). Researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University use the UDL framework with their online preservice special education program (Scott, Temple, & Marshall, 2015). The University of Utah restructured their teacher preparation programs (TPPs) to develop the skills to create instruction programs and environments that work for all students (Hardman, 2009). The restructuring of the program seeks to integrate the three tiers of the UDL framework to prepare teachers to be inclusive and able to teach to the needs of all learners.

Despite these studies and policies that call for the infusion of a UDL framework into TPPs, there is little information available about the degree to which UDL is infused into preservice coursework, and even less about whether it is being applied as a strategy to link academic and transition/functional education goals (UDT) for youth with ID. This study will seek to answer these questions by surveying university faculty who coordinate accredited preservice programs in Special Education across the United States. In particular, we were interested in answering the following research questions:

  • 1.

    To what extent are special education personnel preparation (SEPP) programs incorporating a UDL framework in preservice courses?

  • 2.

    What tools, resources, and activities are SEPP programs incorporating in courses to help prepare preservice teachers in utilizing a UDL framework?

  • 3.

    To what extent are SEPP programs helping preservice teachers identify strategies to link academic and transition instruction to improve postschool outcomes for youth with ID?

Method

Survey Development

In order to answer the research questions, a 23-question survey was designed to gather data for analysis. Initial survey questions were developed based on the Innovation Configuration matrices for Universal Design for Learning (IC UDL; Israel, Ribuffo, & Smith, 2014), with some modifications (explained next). The authors chose this IC to adapt into a survey due to its focus on assisting teacher preparation professionals in identifying and describing the major components of UDL practices within their programs (Israel et al., 2014). The tool analyzes two particular dimensions of UDL; the essential components and degree of implementation within the participants' respective TPPs. Respondents are asked to rate the implementation level of each item from 0 to 3. A detailed description of the rating and implementation levels can be found in Table 1. Although the matrices worked when simply asking about how the essential components of the UDL framework were implemented, the authors also needed to know more information about the courses discussed in each implementation level. Specifically, the authors included questions asking how many courses within the respondent's program met implementation levels 1 to 3. Additionally, the authors also wanted to know whether or not the courses under consideration for UDL review were primarily focused on linking academics to transition planning (UDT) for SWDs (in a Yes/No format).

Table 1

Respondent Ratings of Extent of Implementation of UDL Essential Component

Respondent Ratings of Extent of Implementation of UDL Essential Component
Respondent Ratings of Extent of Implementation of UDL Essential Component

Note. Level 0 (there is no evidence that the component is included in the syllabus, or the syllabus only mentions the component); Level 1 (Must contain at least one of the following: reading, test, lecture/presentation, discussion, modeling/demonstration, or quiz.); Level 2 (Must contain at least one item from Level 1, plus at least one of the following: observation, project/activity, case study, or lesson plan study); and Level 3 (Must contain at least one item from Level 1 as well as at least one item from Level 2, plus at least one of the following: tutoring, small group student teaching, or whole group internship). (Israel, Ribuffo, & Smith, 2014). UDL = Universal Design for Learning; EBPs = evidence-based practices.

We also developed three open-ended questions to address the programs viewpoint on linking academics and transition and the types of activities programs incorporated that allowed practice and application of UDL and UDT: (a) What types of activities are incorporated in your program that allows teachers to practice application of UDL? (b) What is your program's viewpoint on requiring special education teachers to be prepared with linking academic goals to transition goals in order to educate SWDs? and (c) What types of activities are incorporated in your program that allows teachers to practice linking academic and transition standards in educating SWDs? The survey was sent to two expert reviewers and several doctoral students in the field to help establish content validity. Clarification changes were made to four questions, whereas five additional questions were deleted from the initial survey based on their feedback.

Procedures

The survey was sent to approved SEPP programs listed on the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) web site. The NCATE site catalogs all the accredited institutions by both state and specialized professional association. The authors selected the special education option (the Council for Exceptional Children), then selected the “every state” option. This compiled a list of every university and college within the United States that has special education accreditation. With this list, the researchers went university by university accessing their web sites, specifically seeking contact information for program directors and coordinators, chairs, deans, or whichever title seemed to best fit the role of “program coordinator.” “Program coordinators” were targeted by the authors based on the belief that these individuals would have the most direct knowledge about program and course information. The online survey was submitted to a final list of 188 potential respondents between June and July 2016 using Google Forms survey software program. The final sample consisted of 41 SEPP programs representing an estimated 21.8% response rate.

Data Analysis

Descriptive methods were used to analyze the survey responses. First, the calculation of percentages, means, and standard deviations were analyzed for the quantitative data. For the open-ended questions, the responses were analyzed for themes and sorted by programs within each state.

Results

Demographics

Program respondents were asked, “What is your primary role in your department?” The majority of respondents (n = 16, 39%) indicated that their primary role was program coordinator or director, followed closely by general program faculty (n = 14, 34.1%), department chair (n = 8, 19.5%), dean (n = 1, 2.4%) and “others” (n = 2, 4.9%).

When asked which endorsement category teachers earn after program completion, the majority (n = 29, 70.7%) indicated high incidence. Elementary general education (n = 19, 46.3%), early childhood education (n = 41.5%), low incidence (n = 16, 39%), secondary general education (n = 14, 34.1%), dual licensure (n = 14, 34.1%), and both high- and low-incidence disabilities (n = 15, 36.6%) were reported. Respondents were able to select more than one category which is why percentages do not total 100.

Respondents were asked to identify the IDEA disability category teachers are most prepared to instruct after program completion. Respondents reported intellectual disability (n = 38, 95%) and specific learning disability (n = 38, 95%) as the highest categories. The next most frequent responses were autism (n = 32, 80%) and emotional disturbance (n = 32, 80%), followed by other health impairment (n = 22, 55%), multiple disability (n = 28, 70%), orthopedic impairment (n = 22, 55%), traumatic brain impairment (n = 22, 55%), speech and language impairment (n = 20, 50%), hearing impairment (n = 7, 17.5%), deafness (n = 6, 15%), visual impairment (n = 6, 15%), and deaf-blindness (n = 5, 12.5%).

Knowledge of UDL Principles

Program respondents were asked to report the extent their program prepares teachers to be knowledgeable and skilled to apply the UDL principles (i.e., multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement). Though these results varied, all programs reported some form of preparation in one or more of the UDL principles: multiple means of representation (n = 21, 51.2%) to a great extent versus 36.6% (n = 15) somewhat, and 12.2% (n = 5) very little; multiple means of expression (n = 19, 46.3%) to a great extent versus 41.5% (n = 17) somewhat, and 12.2% (n = 5) very little; and for engagement (n = 18, 43.9%) to a great extent vs. 43.9% (n = 18) somewhat, and 12.2% (n = 5) very little.

Research Question 1: Extent Programs Are Incorporating a UDL Framework

General understanding of UDL

Program respondents were asked whether their SEPP integrated content would prepare teachers with a general understanding of how to use the UDL framework for planning instruction for diverse learners. Table 2 displays the four general descriptions of strategies that fall under this category, along with the means and standard deviations. The analysis indicated that a majority of course syllabi implemented these strategies at levels 1 and 2. In descending order, the components averages were “three principles of the UDL…” (M = 1.77), how the “UDL framework reduces barriers…” (M = 1.75), the “four curricular pillars of UDL implementation…” (M = 1.64), and “nine UDL guidelines…” (M = 1.51). Respondents were also asked the number of course syllabi within their program that had evidence of any of these strategies. Overall, respondents indicated that the general understanding of the UDL framework strategies were evident in approximately two to three courses.

Table 2

Respondent Ratings Planning Instruction Using the UDL Framework

Respondent Ratings Planning Instruction Using the UDL Framework
Respondent Ratings Planning Instruction Using the UDL Framework

Note. Level 0 (there is no evidence that the component is included in the syllabus, or the syllabus only mentions the component); Level 1 (Must contain at least one of the following: reading, test, lecture/presentation, discussion, modeling/demonstration, or quiz.); Level 2 (Must contain at least one item from Level 1, plus at least one of the following: observation, project/activity, case study, or lesson plan study); and Level 3 (Must contain at least one item from Level 1 as well as at least one item from Level 2, plus at least one of the following: tutoring, small group student teaching, or whole group internship). (Israel, Ribuffo, & Smith, 2014). UDL = Universal Design for Learning; EBPs = evidence-based practices.

Planning instruction using the UDL framework

The IC UDL provides recommendations for effective UDL implementation and strategies for programs to integrate content that would prepare teachers to plan instruction using the UDL framework. In descending order, the strategies under this category ranking were “uses progress monitoring…” (M = 1.85), “proactively plan instruction…” (M = 1.72), “strategically integrate EBP's…” (M = 1.72), “identify and strategically use materials…” (M = 1.59), and “create and evaluate learning environments….” (M = 1.44). Slightly lower than the previous category, respondents reported evidence of this category in approximately two courses.

Research Question 2: UDL Tools and Resources in Programs

Program respondents were asked to identify the common UDL tools and resources utilized in their programs. They were given the options of the Center for Applied Science Technology (CAST) web site, The NCUDL web site, and IDEA 2004 and Research for Inclusive Settings (IRIS) center UDL module. Results indicated that 65.9% (n = 27) utilized each individual tool/resource. Approximately 35% (n = 14) of respondents reported that they did not utilize any of the previous resources and did not report an alternative tool or resource utilized in their program.

Open-Ended Questions

Respondents were asked the types of activities that are incorporated in their SEPP program that would allow teachers to practice applying UDL. Analysis of this question produced common themes reported by respondents: (a) field work that incorporates UDL activities, (b) coursework across the SEPP program that scaffolds UDL activities (e.g., case studies, lesson planning, UDL modules), and (c) programs that indicate the incapability to incorporate UDL activities. Table 3 offers examples of the types of replies from program respondents that supported each theme.

Table 3

Selected Responses to Open-Ended Questions by Academic Theme

Selected Responses to Open-Ended Questions by Academic Theme
Selected Responses to Open-Ended Questions by Academic Theme

Note. UDL = Universal Design for Learning; UDT = Universal Design for Transition.

Research Question 3: Extent Programs Use a UDT Framework

Linking UDL and transition goals

Respondents were asked whether any of the courses under consideration during completion of the survey also had a focus on transition standards for SWDs. Overwhelmingly, respondents indicated that the courses did not include a focus on transition standards for SWDs (n = 40, 90.15%). Following this, respondents were asked two open-ended questions regarding linking academics to transition standards for SWDs. The first question asked respondents to discuss the program's viewpoint on requiring special education teachers to be prepared to link academic goals to transition goals in order to educate SWDs. This analysis suggested that many of the program respondents were in favor of this concept; however, most programs identified barriers in implementing this practice in programming. Respondents primarily indicated that (a) program faculty required more preparation on this topic in order to meet state requirements and student needs, and (b) lack of resources within programming to teach the skill.

The second open-ended question asked respondents to identify activities incorporated in their programs that would allow teachers to practice linking academic and transition standards to educate SWDs. Many programs listed that they do not incorporate any activities that links academic and transition standards. This is consistent with respondents reporting that 90.15% of course syllabi did not focus on transition. Respondents identified activities that were transition focused, but these activities did not also include a link to practice academic and transition standards to educate SWDs. Examples of replies are found in Table 3.

Discussion

Limitations of the Study

There were several notable limitations within this study. First, the response rate (21.8%) for this survey was low. There could have been many reasons for the low response rate, including difficulties with updated contact information from the public university web sites that resulted in undelivered requests which resulted in 37 contacts being removed from the original pool of 225 potential participants. Additionally, the sample that did respond was not necessarily representative of teacher preparation programs in the United States. The use of the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) master list did not include colleges and universities from 12 states.

The last notable limitation was in the design of the study itself. As a self-report survey, it comes with bias. Credibility of self-reports is often in question. Accuracy is not the only motive in shaping self-perceptions (Sedikides & Strube, 1995), as consistency-seeking, self-enhancement, and self-presentation may also alter how people respond (Swann, Chang-Schneider, & McClarty, 2008).

It is important to note that a 21.8% response rate is far from uncommon in research reported in professional journals. One meta-analysis comparing web surveys to other survey modes found online surveys receive 11% fewer responses than other means (Manfreda et al., 2008). Yet despite having fewer responses, online and electric surveys are generally as accurate as other traditional survey methods (Baruch & Holtom, 2008). Despite these limitations, this is the largest and most geographically diverse data that have been collected on this topic and therefore it represents a reasonable starting point for future research. Although it cannot be claimed with certainty due to the limitations of the response rate and the nature of self-report, we believe it is more likely that generally dismal findings regarding UDL preparation in teacher preparation in the United States. revealed through our survey are biased in terms of presenting overly positive picture than an overly negative one. It would seem unlikely that for SEEP programs that are not NCATE approved to have more rigorous preservice preparation in UDL, as NCATE affiliated programs tend to be larger and offer relatively comprehensive teacher preparation curricula. Also, respondents whose programs have initiated some UDL training may have been more inclined to respond than respondents whose programs are severely (or completely) lacking in UDL instruction.

Implementing a UDL Framework

As specified previously, the importance of personnel preparation programs in implementing a UDL framework is critical for teachers of SWDs, particularly teachers of students with ID. Research has acknowledged the effective impact the UDL framework has on students with ID in accessing the general curriculum (Wehmeyer, 2002) and the positive influence that a UDL and UDT framework can have on students with ID (Scott et al., 2011;Thoma et al., 2009). UDL and UDT embody frameworks that are critical to the academic and postschool success of students with ID (Thoma, Scott, et al., 2015). That is to say, the quality of education their special education teacher receives on the UDL and UDT framework is critical for students with ID to ensure access to the general curriculum and in meeting postschool goals (e.g., employment, postsecondary education, etc.).

Although UDL and UDT have been described as promising frameworks to support the education of students with ID, there has been limited research to determine whether teachers of students with ID are being taught to implement a UDL and UDT framework (Thoma, Scott, et al., 2015). The present study sought to gather information from SEPP programs in order to fill a portion of this gap in the research. The respondents were asked specific information about the extent they are preparing teachers to be knowledgeable and skilled to teach the UDL principles and linking academics to transition standards (UDT). Thoma et al. (2009) described the important association between the UDL framework and transition planning for teachers of teachers of students with ID (Thoma, Scott, et al., 2015); however, whether SEPP programs were preparing teachers with the knowledge and skills of this content was not measured. We believe that understanding this information is critical to ensure that teachers are receiving the knowledge and skills to meet the academic and transition needs to support students with ID.

A majority of SEPP (n = 38) programs in the present study reported that their teachers are being prepared to instruct students with ID while enrolled in programming. Because SEPP programs have a central role in preparing teachers to work with students with ID, it is also important that programs are incorporating the UDL framework to prepare teachers to meet the demand of policy (e.g., ESSA). The majority of programs (> 80%) report some extent of preparing teachers to be knowledgeable and skilled to teach the UDL principles (i.e., multiple means of representation, expression, and engagement). This is a positive finding when considering the current trend in policy that calls on states to use the principles of UDL in core academic subjects. The relatively low number of SEPP programs (12.2%) that reported they did not prepare teachers to teach the UDL principles suggests that teachers in SEPPs are receiving some form of instruction to teach the UDL framework.

The results revealed that SEPP programs are preparing teachers to implement a UDL framework, but more specifically, respondents were asked to examine several strategies from the IC UDL matrix to determine the extent to which programs are providing special education teachers with a general understanding of the use and implementation of the UDL framework. Although a high percentage of programs reported implementation of each general UDL strategy, only about a quarter of all programs were implementing these components at the highest level (level 3). This may suggest that, although a high percentage of programs are reporting preparing teachers to have a general understanding of the UDL framework, there are variances in the degree of preparation and many educators may not be receiving preparation that includes applying their knowledge in settings with students with ID. That said, programs did report that there is evidence of these components embedded in more than one course across their programs; however, it is evident from the data that teachers are less likely to have practice with applying this knowledge and skillset with students while enrolled in programming.

This notion of limited application is also evident in the examination of the IC UDL component centered on the extent to which SEPP programs integrate opportunities for teachers to plan instruction using the UDL framework. Although more programs reported implementing the strategies at level 3, on average, respondents indicated that these components were being implemented between levels 1 and 2. This would suggest that programs are preparing teachers to plan instruction using the UDL framework, but similar to the earlier findings, practice applying these strategies in natural settings may be limited.

Cook and Odom (2013) noted the significance of the implementation of educational practice and instruction in special education teacher preparation. In particular, they called for opportunities for preservice special education teachers to practice implementing instructional practices, and noted that the absence of such opportunities can lead to future issues with fidelity when implementing practices. In the present study, respondents were asked the types of activities incorporated in their programs that allowed teachers to practice the UDL framework. The findings suggest that although some programs allow opportunity to implement the UDL framework in some field experiences, most do not provide opportunities for application in tutoring, small group, student teaching, or whole group externship (level 3 examples of implementation in the IC UDL). For instance, one program explained that although the program requires students to enroll in “one course that addresses UDL principles and differentiating instruction,” application levels may differ based on courses and projects. This finding shows a relationship between survey findings and narrative responses from the respondents suggesting that there is limited practice of the UDL framework in respective programs, an interesting finding considering the importance of research to practice noted by Cook and Odom (2013).

In regard to the UDL tools and resources utilized in these programs, a majority (n = 27, 65%) stated that they were utilizing the CAST and National Center on Universal Design for Learning (NCUDL) web site, as well as the IRIS center UDL module, reaffirming that a majority of programs are introducing learners to the UDL framework. Israel et al. (2014) offer these tools and resources as examples that programs can use in courses to introduce the UDL framework, offer as homework assignments in teacher education programs, and as ways to facilitate discussions and conversations with pre- and inservice teachers. They acknowledge that the list of tools and resources is not exhaustive and this may be the reason why 35% (n = 14) of programs reported no use of those UDL tools and resources. We believe that this finding is still positive and it corroborates that most programs are introducing and providing teachers with a general understanding of the UDL framework.

Extent Programs Use a UDT Framework

The findings in this study in relation to the extent SEPP programs are linking academics and transition standards were more concerning. As previously stated, the significance of linking academics to transition standards (i.e., UDT framework) can be critical to academics, but more significant to the functional and transitional outcomes of students with ID (Thoma, Scott, et al., 2015). The findings were overwhelming in revealing that courses that incorporate a UDL framework did not have a link to transition standards (n = 40, 90.15%). This may suggest that, although programs are preparing teachers to have an understanding of the UDL framework, they may not be preparing teachers to find the links between meeting both the academic and transition goals of students with ID, which is a critical premise of the UDT framework (Thoma et al., 2009). We also asked respondents to provide information concerning their program's viewpoint on the topic of linking academics and transition standards and to describe the types of activities in their programs used to prepare teachers. Although many programs reported the importance of linking academic goals to transition goals, few programs actually reported pathways to accomplish this task. In fact, a majority of programs reported conflict with providing the types of activities that would allow instruction on the topic to pre and inservice teachers. From this we can infer that SEPP programs that prepare teachers of students with ID are not positioned to allow teachers effective training to practice a UDT framework.

Implications

There remain a number of missed opportunities in the preparation of educators to implement a UDL and UDT framework to improve academic and transition instruction for students with ID. Despite research evidence that suggests practical experience in instructional design and/or developing lesson plans is an effective way to structure training (Spooner et al., 2007), the findings from this survey found that this is not common practice in preservice courses. This is a missed opportunity to support the effective teaching of academic content to a number of diverse learners, including students with ID. This type of missed opportunity around effective training can result in two possible challenges. First, opportunities to appropriately use a UDL framework to proactively plan instruction are missed and may result in the kind of retrofitting of assignments that UDL was designed to prevent. Second, it may mean that students with a range of other learning needs who are instructed by special educators in more inclusive settings (e.g., general education students, ELLs, or those who learn differently), may not receive with fidelity the instructional support they need to learn.

Last, despite the call for its use to merge academic and transition instruction for SWDs (i.e., Kochhar-Bryant & Bassett, 2002; Wehmeyer, 2002) and the development of a specific model for implementing a UDT approach (Thoma et al., 2009), the findings of this study indicate that little has been done to help educators identify strategies for implementing UDL to assist with improving transition outcomes. On a positive note, these results indicate that there is an awareness of the importance of preparing special educators to apply UDL and UDT frameworks. Clearly, more research is desired and required on this topic. Subsequent research should focus on collecting artifacts like syllabi, course assignments, and lesson plans to verify the self-reported data.

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