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Universal Design Online Manual

Christopher Johnstone, Jason Altman , Martha Thurlow, & Michael Moore

September 2006

All rights reserved. Any or all portions of this document may be reproduced and distributed without prior permission, provided the source is cited as:

Johnstone, C., Altman, J., Thurlow, M., & Moore, M. (2006). Universal design online manual. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 and other recent changes in federal legislation have placed greater emphasis on accountability in large-scale testing. Previously exempt students, many with disabilities, now must be included, monitored, and reported by all states. Because large-scale assessments have such high stakes, it is important to ensure that assessments are an accurate measure of the knowledge and skills of ALL students. To ensure that tests are designed from the beginning with accessibility in mind, Thompson, Johnstone, and Thurlow (2002) developed seven Elements of universally designed assessments, based on research from a variety of fields.

By the end of this manual you will better understand how the following design considerations improve testing for all students:

This tool outlines steps that states can take to ensure universal design of assessments. The recommendations can be used for both computer and paper-based assessments. The National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) recommends that states follow the steps provided in chronological order. Including any step in the design and review of tests may improve the design features of a state assessment.

This online document is accompanied by a more detailed "How-To" manual. See A State Guide to the Development of Universally Designed Assessments.

Next: Overall Principles