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Academic Failure: Does Academic Performance Data Illustrate the Need for Universal Design in Education?

Do you periodically read an article that stays with you for quite some time? Here’s one that caught our attention recently:

The 4-Stage Response to Low Student Achievement
By John Lemuel
Available online at:

The author reflects on the workload requirements in his class in light of the recently published book, Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses. In essence, the workload in his course is near the recommended amount for college students but far more than students bargained for. Pondering the situation, he describes a four stage model that seems to represent students’ response to low academic achievement: Shock, dismay, guilt, and acceptance.

Lemuel raises some important questions that are seldom discussed in academe. That is, what are the indicators of poor performance? What responsibilities do students have for recognizing and responding to poor performance? What responsibilities do instructors have for recognizing and responding to poor performance?

He reports, “In a recent class of 20 students, the first exam resulted in two A’s, two B’s, four C’s, three D’s, and nine F’s.” While the author fails to mention universal design in education (UDE), we are left wondering isn’t this a data-based argument about the need for UDE? Is the problem that the students can’t access the curriculum? Or, is it an engagement problem? Or, is it simply an intrinsic motivation problem that cannot be addressed by UDE?