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REL Southwest Ask A REL Response


Effectiveness of Universal Design for Learning in Secondary Education Mathematics

August 2021


What research exists on the effectiveness of universal design for learning (UDL) in secondary education mathematics with students who have learning disabilities?


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Thank you for the questions you submitted to our REL Reference Desk. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your questions. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest research protocol, we conducted a search for research reports as well as descriptive study articles on effectiveness of universal design for learning (UDL) in secondary math with students who have learning disabilities.

We have not evaluated the quality of references and the resources provided in this response. We offer them only for your reference. Also, we searched the references in the response from the most commonly used resources of research, but they are not comprehensive, and other relevant references and resources may exist. References provided are listed in sections with sources in each section in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We do not include sources that are not freely available to the requestor.

Research References

Basham, J. D., & Marino, M. T. (2013). Understanding STEM education and supporting students through universal design for learning. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 45(4), 8–15. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Despite an increased national focus on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) instruction, students with high incidence disabilities continue to struggle with STEM content at both the K-12 and postsecondary levels. As a result, very few students with disabilities pursue STEM careers. This article provides K-12 special education and general education teachers with fundamental information about the current STEM education initiative. It describes how the Universal Design for Learning framework can be utilized to engage students and increase the accessibility of STEM curricular materials. The article includes instruction and assessment strategies that can be used across a wide range of learners.”

Buchheister, K. E., Jackson, C., & Taylor, C. E. (2017). Maths games: A Universal Design approach to mathematical reasoning. Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 22(4), 7–12. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Providing students with an opportunity to explore mathematical content through games allows teachers to include tasks that: (1) present alternative representations of the content; (2) welcome various expressions of mathematical reasoning; and (3) incorporate variations that empower all students to engage in the problem solving process. Games not only motivate students to learn mathematical concepts, but games also embody the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a framework designed to optimise instructional decisions to meet students’ needs. In this article, the authors’ Games not only motivate students to learn mathematical concepts, but games also embody the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL)—a framework designed to optimise instructional decisions to meet students’ needs.”

Kortering, L. J., McClannon, T. W., & Braziel, P. M. (2008). Universal design for learning: A look at what algebra and biology students with and without high incidence conditions are saying, Remedial and Special Education, 29(6), 352–363. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This article examines findings on student perceptions of individual interventions based on the principles of universal design for learning (UDL). The examination includes a comparison of the reported perceptions of mainstreamed students with high incidence disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, behavioral disorders, or other health impairments under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act) to that of their general education peers. Findings showed that relative to their other academic classes, both groups of students had high levels of satisfaction and expressed similar themes as to what they perceived to be the best and worst parts of the interventions and ideas for improvement. Both groups also reported near unanimous agreement as to wanting their teachers to use more UDL interventions. The reported perceptions and subsequent comparison forms the basis for discussing the implications of UDL in high school settings.”

Ok, M. W., Rao, K., Bryant, B. R., & McDougall, D. (2017). Universal Design for Learning in pre-K to grade 12 classrooms: A systematic review of research. Exceptionality, 25(2), 116–138. Retrieved from

From the abstract: “Some researchers have characterized Universal Design for Learning (UDL) as a promising framework to provide diverse students with access to the general education curriculum, but to what extent and how have UDL-based interventions fulfilled that promise? The purpose of this review was to analyze studies that investigated impacts of UDL-based instruction on academic and social outcomes for pre-K to grade 12 students. For the 13 studies that qualified for our review, we analyzed how researchers applied UDL principles as well as outcomes and efficacy of UDL-based interventions. Results of this analysis suggest that overall, UDL-based instruction has the potential to increase engagement and access to general education curriculum for students with disabilities, and improve students’ academic and social outcomes. However, we found mixed results; the efficacy of UDL-based interventions varied considerably within and across many studies, with effect sizes ranging from small to large. In addition, we found that although authors noted that their interventions were UDL-based, there was considerable variance in how authors reported connections between specific UDL guidelines and components of their interventions.”

Root, J. R., Cox, S. K., Saunders, A., & Gilley, D. (2020). Applying the Universal Design for Learning framework to mathematics instruction for learners with extensive support needs. Remedial and Special Education, 41(4), 194–206. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of a mathematics intervention that utilized the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework on mathematical problem solving skills for three middle school students with extensive support needs (ESN). Participants were taught to solve percent of change word problems related to personal finance (calculating the final price after leaving a tip or purchasing a discounted item). Visual analysis of the multiple probe across participants design indicated a functional relation between the mathematics intervention and an increase in mathematical problem solving skills. Results are discussed in terms of acquisition and generalization of mathematical problem solving skills. Implications for application of the UDL framework to mathematics instruction for learners with ESN are discussed.”

Additional Organizations to Consult


From the website: “CAST is a multifaceted organization with a singular ambition: Bust the barriers to learning that millions of people experience every day. We do this by helping educators and organizations apply insights from the learning sciences and leading-edge practices to educational design and implementation.
Since its founding in 1984, CAST has seeded and grown the field of Universal Design for Learning [UDL] through creative research and development, strategic partnerships, teacher preparation and support, and international outreach.
Located near Boston, CAST is a nonprofit education research and development organization that created the Universal Design for Learning framework and UDL Guidelines, now used the world over to make learning more inclusive.”
REL Southwest Note: CAST’s UDL framework can be found here: The UDL Guidelines are here:


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • [(“UDL”) AND (“math” AND learning disabilities”)]
  • [(“UDL”) AND (“math” AND learning disabled”)]
  • [“UDI”) AND (“math” AND learning disabilities”)]
  • [(“UDI”) AND (“math” AND learning disabled”)]
  • [(“UDL”) OR (universal design for learning)] AND [“secondary school AND math”])]
  • [(“UDI”) OR (universal design for instruction)] AND [“secondary school AND math”])]
  • UDL and math achievement
  • UDL and math improvement
  • UDI and math achievement
  • UDL and math improvement
  • UDL(math achievement and leaning disabled)
  • UDL and math improvement and leaning disabled)
  • UDI(math achievement and leaning disabled)
  • UDI(math improvement and learning disabled)
  • UDL and math
  • [(“UDL”) AND “middle school” AND “math”)]
  • [(“UDL”) AND “middle school”]

Databases and Resources

We searched ERIC for relevant, peer-reviewed research references. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.7 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched the What Works Clearinghouse.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published from 2005 to present, were include in the search and review.
  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, and Google Scholar.
  • Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order; (b) target population, samples (representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected, and so forth), study duration, and so forth; and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in the Southwest Region (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest at AIR. This memorandum was prepared by REL Southwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-91990018C0002, administered by AIR. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.