TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Inclusive Education Roadmap (IER)

IER: The Inclusive Education Roadmap

  • Step 1: Get Started
  • Step 2: Complete the RISE
  • Step 3: Conduct an Initiative Inventory
  • Step 4: Complete the Action Plan
  • Step 5: Implement Inclusive Education Systems
  • Step6: Sustain Inclusive Education Systems

I want to learn in an inclusive education environment with my same-aged peers at my neighborhood school. To make my vision successful, I need my environment to prepare me for the real world. My classmates will eventually be those I work with, live among, and build relationships with. My peers will learn to view me as an important member of my class, and thus ultimately, in the future, they will see me as a contributing, worthy, confident, and autonomous member of society. 

~ A student with a significant cognitive disability (with help from their parent) ~

In this Introduction, you will consider:

  • The importance of inclusive education for students with significant cognitive disabilities, 
  • The values that underlie effective inclusive education systems, 
  • The outcomes of effective inclusive education systems,
  • A brief overview of the Inclusive Education Roadmap (IER), and
  • Using Implementation Science to support the creation of sustainable inclusive education systems.

Why use the Inclusive Education Roadmap?

Since 1975, when the Education for All Handicapped Children was signed into law, the percentage of students with disabilities who spend 80% or more of their school day in general education settings has grown to 63% (National Council on Disability, 2018). However,  only 3% of students with significant cognitive disabilities spend 80% or more of their school day in general education settings (Klienert et al., 2015). This trend continues despite research clearly showing greater learning and post-school outcomes when students with significant cognitive disabilities receive special education services in general education settings.

Fortunately, there are examples of quality inclusive education programs for students with significant cognitive disabilities all around the US. These classrooms, schools, and districts demonstrate what is possible when students with significant cognitive disabilities are given the opportunity to learn with their general education peers. However, examples of inclusive education systems are the exception rather than the rule. When systems focus on including one student at a time, this creates a vapor trail effect, where any changes made to accommodate that one student evaporate when the student moves on. The Inclusive Education Roadmap was created to support systemic change that provides an inclusive education for every student who walks or wheels through the door.


Systems change is complex but can break down into doable steps. The key is getting started. Begin with an inclusive vision that communicates high expectations for each and every student, including those with significant cognitive disabilities. Determine a direction forward. Nurture the system. Accept that the change process is a journey. And, look for real, measurable progress for students, not for perfection, as you move forward. 

The Inclusive Education Roadmap (IER) is a series of tools, guidance, and processes to be used by state, district, and school teams systematically to build inclusive systems of education. The IER unpacks the complexities of building, expanding, and sustaining inclusive systems. It helps guide Where to start? What comes next? And Who should be involved? Step by step, the IER supports teams to implement the changes needed for all students to learn in inclusive classrooms. The IER is flexible. While implementation looks different across organizations, the underlying framework for effective systems is present.  

The IER benefits all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities, a group historically left out of inclusive instruction. Throughout the IER, you will read the phrases "each and every student" and "all students." Know that students with significant cognitive disabilities,  such as students identified with autism, intellectual or cognitive disabilities, multiple disabilities, and deaf-blindness, are always included in these phrases. 

The IER is organized into three phases with six major steps. Each step guides teams on where to start, what to focus on, and how to proceed:

Phase 1: 

  • Step 1: Getting Started
  • Step 2: Reflections on Inclusive Systems of Education (RISE)
  • Step 3: Initiative Inventory
  • Step 4: Action Planning using Inclusive Drivers

Phase 2:

  • Step 5: Implementing the Inclusive Education System

Phase 3: 

  • Step 6: Sustaining the Inclusive Education System

 While written as Steps, it is essential to recognize that system change is not linear. Organizations will enter the change process at different places, focus on different priorities, and travel different paths. The IER is designed flexibly to support this customization. Effective systems change incorporates continuous learning cycles where adjustments are made based on data. It is estimated that it can take two to four years for an effective system to be up and running. 

The information in this roadmap is not an endorsement of any identified products. Products identified in this module are shared solely as examples to help communicate information about ways to reach the desired goals for students.

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

TIES Center is the national technical assistance center on inclusive practices and policies. Its purpose is to create sustainable changes in kindergarten-grade 8 school and district educational systems so that students with significant cognitive disabilities can fully engage in the same instructional and non-instructional activities as their general education peers, while being instructed in a way that meets individual learning needs. TIES Center is led by the National Center on Educational Outcomes (NCEO) at the Institute on Community Integration, University of Minnesota, and includes the following additional collaborating partners: Arizona Department of Education, CAST, University of Cincinnati, University of Kentucky, University of North Carolina – Charlotte, and University of North Carolina – Greensboro.

TIES Center is supported through a Cooperative Agreement (#H326Y170004) with the Research to Practice Division, Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Education or Offices within it. Project Officer: Susan Weigert

TIES Center

University of Minnesota

Institute on Community Integration

2025 East River Parkway

Minneapolis, MN 55414

Phone: 612-626-1530


This document is available in alternate formats upon request.

The University of Minnesota is an equal opportunity employer and educator.

TIES partner organization logos: Arizona Dept. of Education, CAST, UNC Charlotte, NCEO, University of Kentucky, The University of North Carolina Greensboro, IDEAs that Work