Implementation of universal design for learning (UDL) in undergraduate special education programs offers a valuable foundation for training preservice teachers to educate K-12 students in rural schools. In this article, we provide an overview of UDL and the integration of multiple means of representation, engagement, and expression in assessment, classroom management, and instructional planning courses. We share examples of faculty modeling, guided instruction, and preservice teacher application of UDL components with case studies and K-12 students in practicum experiences. We discuss challenges, implications, and next steps for integrating UDL in rural university and K-12 classrooms to meet the needs of diverse learners.
To meet the demands of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA, 2004) and No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2001), teachers across the country must strive to develop appropriate assessment, positive classroom environments, and academic instruction that provide access to the general curriculum and foster success for K-12 students receiving special education services. This mandate has become more challenging in recent years as student diversity within general education classrooms has increased, and now includes learners with disabilities, as well as those with differences in race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status (Council for Exceptional Children, 2005; Montgomery, 2001). Many of these students struggle to learn, experience language and cultural barriers (Mount-Cors et al., 2009), live in poverty (Dalaker, 2001), and are at risk for school dropout [National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 2006; Wendorf, 2006].
This change in the average classroom nationwide is also apparent in rural North Carolina (NC), where schools face challenges of high poverty, increasing dropout rates, and a growing English Language Learner (ELL) population (Keung Hui, 2008). According to the North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center (2006), the poverty rate for children in rural NC counties was 45% higher than in urban counties; 19 of diese 23 high-poverty counties are located in eastern NC. Given the growing number of migrant workers in rural eastern NC, die number of migrant children who face linguistic and cultural barriers is also increasing (Mount-Cors et al., 2009). This is especially problematic because research indicates educators do not feel prepared to teach ELL or culturally diverse students in the general education setting (Lewis et al., 1999; O'Neal, Ringler, & Rodriguez, 2008; U.S. Department of Education, 2003).
While contending with the issues above, eastern NC special educators face unique challenges of teaching in rural communities described by Butera and Dunn (2005). These include minimal availability of resources to teach students with multiple disabilities, difficulty collaborating with parents and colleagues because of distance, and isolation as the only special educator at a rural school site. In addition, teacher education programs that serve rural communities experience pressure from NCLB (2002) to meet highly qualified competencies, as well as to prepare competent, skilled, high quality special educators (Hardman, Rosenberg, 8c Sindelar, 2005). Kossar, Mitchem, and Ludlow (2005) identified increased challenges to recruitment and retention for special education teachers in rural areas because of strict definitions and requirements for highly qualified teachers. According to Tyler, Cantou-Clarke, Easterling, and Klepper (2003), an average of 11% of special educators nationally are teaching without certification, while the percentage rises to 35.8% for those teaching in rural schools. In addition, rural school systems shared concerns about meeting state AYP requirements in relation to how special education students are assessed, tiius creating challenges in how states calculate progress to reflect accountability (Kossar et al., 2005). …