Universal Design for Learning in Assessment: Supporting ELLs with Learning Disabilities





Learning disabilities, universal design, universal design for learning, UDL, assessment, evaluation, higher education.


Diseño universal para el aprendizaje en la evaluación: apoyo a los ELL con dificultades de aprendizaje

Design universal para a aprendizagem na avaliação: apoio aos ELLs com dificuldades de aprendizagem

Studying English is challenging and, for many learners, undiagnosed learning disabilities can present a serious threat to their success. Recent studies indicate that up to 10% of the world population has a non-apparent disability, such as autism or dyslexia. At the same time, few English language learner (ELL) instructors in higher education have training in learning disabilities, and they are often unsure of how to support learners who seem to have extra challenges. This is especially true when it comes to assessment, as instructors often rely on traditional tools that could negatively affect the validity of the assessment outcomes. In this brief reflection, the authors share how instructors can apply the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to their assessment practices to support students with disabilities, regardless of diagnostic status. First, disabilities that affect language learning will be briefly discussed, followed by the explanation of how English to speakers of other languages (ESOL) assessments present specific challenges for students with disabilities. Then, the authors will provide an overview of UDL theory, which proposes that learners with disabilities are often best served by accommodations in representation, expression and engagement that can benefit the entire class. Most of the paper will focus on specific, practical strategies for implementing UDL within assessment in higher education. Such strategies include building executive function, implementing multi-channel assessment, and learning about students through an “evaluation loop.”

To reference this article (APA) / Para citar este artículo (APA) / Para citar este artigo (APA)

Delaney, T. A., & Hata, M. (2020). Universal design for learning in assessment: Supporting ELLs with learning disabilities. Latin American Journal of Content & Language Integrated Learning, 13(1), 79-91. https://doi.org/10.5294/laclil.2020.13.1.5

Received: 16/10/2019

Accepted: 25/02/2020

Published: 28/08/2020

Author Biographies

Thomas A. Delaney, University of Oregon

Thomas Delaney has taught in Korea, Japan, Colombia, Turkey, New Zealand, and the United States. In addition to teaching English for academic purposes at the American English Institute, University of Oregon, he regularly teaches courses in the teacher training program and is involved in program administration. In addition to being interested in all aspects of language teaching and program administration, his research agenda currently focuses on issues related to assessment, such as how to set standards for placement tests and how to implement effective test specification and evaluation procedures in language programs. He also has on ongoing interest in the relationships between individual learner differences and language learning.  

Maiko Hata, Willamette Education Service District

Since completing her master’s degree in TESOL, Maiko Hata has taught and advised international students for over twenty years, including as a Senior Instructor at the University of Oregon. Her research focus has been assisting ELLs with disabilities, which led her to pursue another graduate degree in special education from the University of Oregon. Maiko led the creation of the newest TESOL Interest Section, Supporting Students with Disabilities (SSDIS), which she currently chairs. Her past publication and teacher training workshop topics include assisting international students with disabilities within higher-education contexts and collaborating with teachers for better program management. She currently serves children with disabilities, focusing on bilingualism, communication challenges, and autism. 


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