TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Fidelity of Implementation


In practical terms, fidelity means “To what extent are we doing what we said that we would do in order to improve outcomes for all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities?” Fidelity looks not only at the level of implementation of inclusive practices, but also the quality of implementation, e.g. Are evidence-based practices being implemented as they are designed to be implemented? Without fidelity data, it is impossible to determine what is driving positive or negative outcomes and how to adjust system supports. 

Understanding fidelity as it relates to full implementation of complex system change is challenging. SISEP (n.d.-b) identifies full implementation as being achieved when 50% or more of a system is engaged with a new innovation, implementing it with fidelity,  and achieving good outcomes. At this point, the system continues to expand the capacity of the additional 50% of the organization, while also considering scaling up by adding additional priorities or participating districts/schools. Research shows that at this level of fidelity of implementation for a specific practice,  a system is beyond a “fragile stage” in its development and can withstand additional change (Fixsen et al., 2013; NIRN, n.d.). It is important to assure that any definition of sustainability and scaling up does not delay or preclude incorporating all students in being educated in inclusive settings. Full implementation of inclusive practices should benefit all students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities.

How does an Equitable Inclusive Leadership Team (EILT) determine fidelity in complex system change? It is important to differentiate between the fidelity of systematic building of inclusive education systems and the Implementation of Specific Inclusive Education Practices. 

Fidelity of Systematic Building of Inclusive Education Systems

Fidelity of implementation related to the whole inclusive education system is monitored through (1) the Inclusive Education Action Plan and (2) periodic use of Reflecting on Inclusive Systems of Education (RISE). The Inclusive Education Action Plan systematically lays out the plan to change the system using the stages of implementation science using the Inclusive Education Drivers. The RISE is the organization’s self-reflection tool for determining the depth and breadth of inclusive policies, practices, and processes present in the system. 

The Inclusive Education Action Plan

The Inclusive Education Action Plan, that is built upon district priorities and data, provides the goals and strategies that support systems change. Fidelity in implementing the Action Plan (based on attention to the Inclusive Education Drivers) and the associated outcome data result in the development of  inclusive  systems of education. The specific guidelines for reviewing the Inclusive Education Action Plan to determine fidelity for systems change are:

  • Frequency: 2-3 times per year during Year 1, then 2 times per year in subsequent years, depending on the consistency of implementation that is occurring.
  • Conducted by: EILT
  • Process:   
    • At the beginning of the year, dates are set in the calendar for reviewing the Inclusive Education Action Plan to assure continued progress is occurring.
    • The review includes discussing the Action Plan’s SMARTIE goals, the steps taken to implement the  goals, and all available implementation and student outcome data that inform progress toward each goal.
    • If needed, adjustments are made to the Action Plan to assure continuous improvement.
    • The findings and changes are communicated to other EILTs via the communication strategy. 

The Reflecting on Inclusive Systems of Education (RISE)

The RISE is a self-reflection tool for prioritizing where to initiate and sustain inclusive system development. Subsequent administration of the RISE provide information on system growth. The specific points for using the RISE to inform fidelity for systems change are: 

  • Frequency: Annually
  • Conducted by: EILT
  • Process:
    • The EILT conducts the RISE Part 1 and Part 2 to determine if it will continue with the current priorities, expand the priorities, or move to new priorities.
    • Comparing the current self-reflection (e.g., areas of success, area of challenge) to the previous RISE self-reflection provides data on system change. 
    • Through an annual self-reflection using the RISE, changes to the implementation priorities related to inclusive policies, practices and processes are determined.

    Fidelity for Specific Inclusive Education Practices 

    As part of the Inclusive Education Action Plan, changes in practice related to inclusive education are identified (for example, the plan may include a targeted focus on collaborative teaming, co-teaching, implementing Universal Design for Learning, or school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention Systems (PBIS). These changes require a professional development plan, including coaching support. For different practices, often there are specific tools to inform levels of implementation and can act as data for coaching observations (such as the Evidence-Based Inclusive Practices Classroom Snapshot (Tool)) that provide feedback on the practice that can be used in a quick-feedback cycle between a coach and the teaching team. When these individual findings are aggregated over time, these same tools provide information regarding the fidelity of implementation of these practices across an organization.