TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Implementation Science Foundations

Building Sustainable Systems

Changing practices in an educational system is no small feat. Research has shown that developing effective systems that sustain over time includes:

(1) implementing effective practices that are usable in the context;

(2) utilizing best practices from Implementation Science research; and

(3) creating supportive environments so evidence-based practices can take hold (Fixsen et al., 2005; Ward et al., 2021).

The IER incorporates these components to ensure positive outcomes for all students. It does this by moving through the stages of implementation (the IER Steps), integrating the Inclusive Education Drivers into the action plan, and measuring capacity of the system to support inclusive education and fidelity of evidence-based practices.

IER Steps = Stages of Implementation

Implementation is not an event. Change does not occur all at once. It is a process that happens over time and focuses on achieving a critical mission. In inclusive education, the mission is to create an educational system where each and every student is held to high expectations and supported to be a valued member, active participant, and learner in general education. It involves multiple decisions, actions, and modifications to make full and effective use of the innovations in education settings. While doing the work of implementation is never completed because the context is always changing (e.g., the student population changes, new staff join who need to build their capacity, the decision is made to scale up further).

Research suggests it can take from two to four years to fully and successfully operationalize an evidence-based program, practices, or effective innovations (Bierman et al., 2002; Fixsen et al., 2001; Panzano & Roth, 2006). The beginning point is when an organization begins to consider What does it mean to build an inclusive system? How do we go about this? It reaches full implementation when the changes are in place and producing the intended outcomes in all programs or sites in the community or state. It is sustained by having an improvement mindset where the outcomes are continuously monitored and supported. Considering where an organization is in the change process helps to determine what types of support are needed for building sustainability.

An organization systematically progresses through the Stages of Implementation as they are building a sustainable inclusive system of education (SISEP, n.d.-b). The steps in the IER parallel the Implementation Science stages.

IER Steps

Implementation Science Stage

Stage Description

Step 1: Get Started

Exploration Stage

Beginning to explore building an inclusive education system that benefits each and every student

Step 2: Reflecting on Inclusive Practices

Step 3: Initiative Inventory

Step 4: Action Planning Using the Implementation Drivers

Installation Stage

Identifying priorities and developing an action plan to put in place the infrastructure and processes to support inclusive practices

Step 5: Implement and Sustain the Inclusive Education System

Initial Implementation Stage

Beginning to implement the action plan and continuing to build the infrastructure, processes and supportive contexts for inclusive practices

Full implementation Stage

Reaching an organizational flow where all of the pieces fit together, are well implemented and supported, and benefit staff and all students

Each stage includes a continuous learning process to assess the extent of implementation and the outcomes. Given the complexity of scaling up in any system, this means within an organization there are different groups at different implementation stages simultaneously. Thinking through the components of each stage helps to organize each part of the organization's work and keep change moving forward.

Implementation Drivers

Inclusive Education Drivers drawn as an equilateral triangle. The base of the triangle represents Supportive Leadership. The left side of the triangle is the Competency Drivers, including Selection of Staff and Sites, Collaborative Professional Development, and Coaching. On the right side of the triangle are the Organization Drivers, including Data-based Decision Making, Administrative Structures and Processes, and Engagement with External Systems. In the center of the triangle are the words integrated and compensatory. Situated at the top of the triangle is capacity of the system to support inclusive education and fidelity of evidence-based practices. When all of these pieces come together they lead to the T-I-E-S outcomes.

Active implementation is centered around the ideas of implementation stages and drivers.

There are two types of Implementation Drivers. Leveraging and aligning the system changes in both sets of drivers supports sustainable system change.

1) Competency Drivers focus on building the capacity of the system. They include

  • Selection of Staff and Sites - setting criteria for selecting and recruiting districts, schools, and individuals to be part of the change process;
  • Collaborative Professional Development - having a well developed professional development plan that supports evidence-based practices (EBP) that meets the array of needs across the organization; and
  • Coaching -using evidence-based coaching practices to transfer knowledge and skills to practice.

2) Organization Drivers: Organizational drivers focus on the how the system's structures, processes, and engagement with external systems are organized to support the innovation. They include:

  • Data-based Decision Making - building data systems that are user-friendly and provide timely and accurate information for decision making at all levels of the system;
  • Administrative Structures and Processes - internal processes, policies, structures, and use of resources that support inclusive practices, collaborative working environments, and a culture focused on staff and student learning; and
  • Engagement with External Systems - engaging with external policies, practices or organizations that can help or hinder system change and working to minimize the impact of the barriers and take advantage of external support.

System Capacity and Fidelity

Unless you pay attention to which components of a system or intervention are being implemented and the quality of implementation, there is no way to understand why a change is working or not working. In complex change, there are two different aspects to look at regarding implementation.

  • First, determining the capacity of the system to support inclusive education. Are the components of effective systems (e.g., the implementation drivers and infrastructure to support the change) developed and sustained over time? Capacity means not only looking at the presence of key infrastructure (such as an Equitable Inclusive Leadership Team, EILT), but also the quality and effectiveness of the components. In the IER, determining the capacity of the system happens by documentation in the annual Inclusive Education Action Plan. For example, a school that is starting its inclusive education work developed an EILT and the internal processes for the team to work together effectively. At the middle and end of the year, the EILT reflected to determine the extent to which the team was developing as a strong, effective leadership team with diverse voices.
  • Second, determining the fidelity of implementation of evidence-based practices (EPB) is important. Fidelity looks at the extent of implementation and the quality of implementation of the EBP. Is an EBP being implemented as the research showed is needed so the expected outcomes will be achieved? For example, a secondary school prioritized implementation of its Tier 1 and Tier 2 Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) inclusive of all students. The question is to what extent these EBPs practices are being implemented with fidelity?

It is very important to determine the extent that a system's overall development and action plan as well the as specific evidence-based practices are being implemented as intended. By collecting both pieces of data, teams do not need to wait until outcome data is available to understand what is working versus not working. Collecting implementation data provides information for continual problem-solving to build towards success (Watkins & Hornak, 2022).