TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Step 4B: Develop an Annual Plan that will Achieve Each 3-year SMARTIE Goal


With the first set of goals, the EILT identified where they believe it is most important to focus to achieve system change. The next step is determining how these goals will be achieved. Which activities are most important for reaching those goals? Which Implementation Drivers will be utilized? How can the current initiatives be leveraged for alignment and momentum?

As described in the introduction to the IER, the Implementation Drivers are vital components for achieving sustainable system change. Understanding the drivers and considering how to integrate and leverage their impact are critical considerations in determining the activity plan for each goal.

What is the difference between a traditional activity action plan and one based on building sustainable change? Consider this example:

An EILT identified a three-year goal to increase general education, special education, and English Learner (EL) teacher co-teaching in the core subjects. The action plan was one-dimensional. It focused on professional development provided by the Special Education and EL Departments. The chances that the three-year goal would be reached and sustain over time are low because there is not alignment within the whole system.

A more robust activity action plan would include coordinating across all the Implementation Drivers:

  • Jointly providing professional development by the curriculum and instruction, special education, and EL departments (Competency Driver: Collaborative Professional Development)
  • Building a system of co-teacher coaching to support fidelity to co-teaching best practices inclusive of all students (Competency Driver: Coaching)
  • Building the capacity of the administrators to understand effective co-teaching and doing instructional walk-throughs in co-taught classrooms (Competency Driver: Collaborative Professional Development)
  • Selecting which schools to begin with and scaling up as fidelity to the practices are implemented (Competency Driver: Selection of Schools and Sites)
  • Working with principals to design schedules that build in instructional team co-planning time into the schedule (Organizational Driver: Administrative Structures and Processes)
  • Modifying the district staff allocations formula to support co-teaching (Organizational Driver: Administrative Structures and Processes)
  • Working with the bargaining unit related to co-teaching (Organizational Driver: Engagement with External Partners)
  • Using data to document the breadth of the implementation and fidelity to co-teaching best practices (Organizational Driver: Data-based Decision Making)

Revisit the Implementation Drivers & Inclusive Education

The Implementation Drivers were described earlier in the Introduction to the Inclusive Education Roadmap. This section goes deeper into the drivers with more specific application and tools.

Competency 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 - these elements are highlighted. 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 the fidelity of implementation of the inclusive systems of education action plan. When all of these pieces come together, they lead to the T-I-E-S outcomes.

Competency Drivers focus on building capacity in the system to implement and maintain the goals that are being focused on. Leveraging Competency Drivers supports school personnel to be prepared and confident in implementing new evidence-based practices and improve and maintain their implementation over time.


Choosing the people and places for initial implementation (and later, for scaling up) is key to the success of the system's action plan. Early adopters of inclusive education practices and individuals who embrace change as a means for student growth make good candidates for initial implementation efforts. Are there districts, schools, or teachers that have begun to use inclusive practices or expressed an interest in inclusive education for all students? If so, that might be an excellent place to start. Individuals and teams who are already doing the work of inclusive education have a vision that can be shared with others. They may also have a level of excitement and/or motivation that will help a new initiative be successful. By providing additional resources to early adopters, the system can support and reward them for their innovative work.

When choosing the initial site selection, look for leaders with a strong belief in inclusive education with high expectations for staff and students. Over time, inclusive education will become a system expectation. However, at the beginning of your journey toward inclusive education, identifying like-minded volunteers who want to participate in initial efforts can lead to early success.

Consider using a formal application and selection process when selecting districts and schools at the state or regional level. Requesting a formal commitment from successful applicants is one way of ensuring ongoing, active participation throughout the school year. This can also form the basis of a system of accountability when additional resources are being invested in the change process.

When selecting district and school sites, it is useful to gather information about their mindset regarding inclusive education for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Initial implementation efforts will be more successful when an inclusive mindset is in place or when there is openness to creating such a mindset. Below are some questions that will help you gather information as you engage in the selection process:

  • Is there a strong emphasis on equity in the school or district?
  • Does the school or district demonstrate the belief that all students should attend their neighborhood school?
  • Are the principal and superintendent supportive of inclusive education, including students with significant cognitive disabilities?
  • Are all students considered general education students? Are special education services delivered in general education settings?
  • Are there high expectations for all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities?
  • Is there a commitment to using Universal Design for Learning (UDL)?
  • Is there meaningful collaboration between special educators and general educators to effectively support all students in general education classes?
  • Is a co-teaching model already in use?
  • Are district and/or school Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) inclusive of all students and staff?

A final consideration during the selection process for the initial implementation of inclusive practices is how a district or school perceives the change process itself. If change is generally viewed as a positive part of ongoing improvement, that will benefit initial implementation. It is also beneficial to ascertain the number of other change initiatives the district or school already has underway to limit "initiative fatigue."

[For further ideas about applying the Capacity Driver: Selection of Staff and Sites, check out the related section in Step 5.]

Real-World Example

Smith Middle School (a large school in the eastern US) did not have a fully inclusive mindset at the start of its journey toward inclusive education but was interested in learning more and embracing the concept. This mindset changed significantly over the first two years of implementation as the school became an inclusive learning community. Some factors responsible for this change included: increased teacher skills and confidence due to a part-time inclusive education coach, supportive administration, and the success of students with significant cognitive disabilities in general education academic classes. The power of this mindset shift was demonstrated by the fact that the school continued to increase the use of inclusive practices during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, this new mindset allowed the school to smoothly continue its journey through the transition to a new principal.

Application and Selection Process for a State Department of Education

SAMPLE State Application for Districts downloads: Application for School Districts seeking intensive Technical Assistance


Detailed Actions

Invite Districts to Apply

Step 1. An email and Technical Assistance (TA) District application will be sent to Directors of Special Education inviting them to apply for consideration as a TA District partner.

Step 2. A second communication is sent to Directors of Special Education, two weeks prior to the deadline, reminding them of the opportunity to submit an application for consideration as a TA District and sharing the rubric that will be used in evaluating applications.

Review District Applications

The TA applications from school districts are reviewed with the assistance of a rubric by a review team consisting of representatives from the State Department of Education and the specific TA providers.

  • Additional state departments or TA providers can review applications and provide feedback to the review team regarding district selection.

Identify District Finalists

Step 1. Any additional reviewers will share their feedback with one of their representatives on the review team before the conference call.

Step 2. Each reviewer will identify the top districts during the conference call based on their review. The number of districts to be selected will depend on the state's capacity to provide intensive TA. Reviewers will share and discuss the rationale for their selection – beginning with districts identified by more than one reviewer.

Notify & Follow up with Districts

Step 1. Acknowledgment and thanks will be provided to each district that applied.

Step 2. State department of education personnel will notify the districts selected and agree upon a date to discuss and work on a Partnership Agreement that captures a jointly developed plan of TA.

District Selection

The State Department of Education (SDE) invites applications from interested districts to engage in technical assistance (TA) on inclusive practices and policies. The goal of the TA is to support systems change efforts to build equitable and effective inclusive education systems for all students with an explicit, but not exclusive, focus on students with significant cognitive disabilities. The application will ensure diversity in district type (for example, urban or rural) and demographics in the selection process; specify the nature and duration of district participation; require district-wide participation, and identify the responsibilities of each participating district. A meeting will be held with finalists to exchange information and ensure that a shared vision for the work exists to support mutual selection.

Provision of Technical Assistance

The SDE designs a tiered model to provide intensive TA to a select number of districts and universal TA to all districts. For the intensive TA, dependent upon the state, some combination of SDE-level personnel, regional-level personnel, and professional development cadre members (for example, institutes of higher education, advocacy, and professional organizations) are identified to support selected districts to build the capacity for district-level change across the state. Priority content foci of the intensive TA will be identified using the Reflections on Inclusive Systems for Education (RISE). General and special educators, administrators, specialized support personnel, paraprofessionals, families, and community members will be considered/included in the delivery of technical assistance.

School Selection Criteria Guidelines

Selecting schools in which to initiate the work of developing and sustaining inclusive practices and policies that support increased time, instructional effectiveness, and engagement for each student in general education is only an initial step. Beginning the work in select schools provides a strong foundation for scaling up the work district-wide.

In selecting the initial focus schools in which to work, readiness for change is considered. This readiness is not a pre-existing condition that you are trying to identify but rather an openness to working with an equitable inclusive education leadership team to develop, nurture, and sustain the practices and structures required to support an inclusive school community for every student. Below are some criteria to consider when identifying initial schools with which to work.

Questions to Consider in Applying the Selection Driver to Inclusive Education System Change

School Mission Statement

  • Does the school have a mission statement that expresses an inclusive education vision that values diversity and supports a philosophy that every student can learn and make progress in the general education curriculum?

  • Is this mission statement used frequently to support collaboration across general and special education, placement in general education classrooms, and the use of universally designed instructional practices?

Current Initiatives

  • Does the school currently have initiatives in place that are supportive of equitable inclusive work?

  • Does the school’s professional development (PD) plan include a focus on supporting equitable and inclusive schools? Does this PD include general educators, special educators, support staff, and administrators?

Open Mindsets

  • Has the school community, including leaders, teachers, staff, and families, engaged in discussions about equitable inclusive schools, both why they are important and how they can be supported?

  • Have these discussions included opportunities to express concerns about equitable inclusive schools and have steps been taken to address these concerns?

Neighborhood Schools Placement

Has the school demonstrated support for all students with disabilities to attend their neighborhood school, including those with more significant support needs?


Is scheduling in place that provides the time for general and special education to co-plan, co-implement, and co-evaluate instruction?

Physical Spaces

Are flexible learning spaces used to meet all students' needs, or is there an openness to that model versus using separate spaces only for students who qualify for special education services?


Are there sufficient educators and support staff to successfully place and meaningfully engage students with significant cognitive disabilities in the general education classroom? Does this include a commitment to an adequate number of special educators to collaborate with general educators, resulting in either a reassignment of paraprofessionals as members of inclusion support teams in general education or fewer paraprofessionals allowing for additional special education teachers?

LRE Data

What does the school’s Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) data reveal about the commitment to increase how often students with disabilities are included in general education?

Feeder Schools

Does this school receive students from a school setting that is working to be equitable and inclusive? Does this school send students to a school setting that is working to be equitable and inclusive?


Collaborative professional development (PD) that supports inclusive education systems continually conveys and models that all students are general education students who need to access and make progress in grade-level, general education curriculum. This framing makes it clear why it is so important to have general, special education, and English Learner teachers and other instructional staff attend joint PD. All PD activities are designed to be relevant for this mixed group of educators. Likewise, examples given during all PD activities intentionally include a diversity of students, including students with significant cognitive disabilities, to illustrate what a concept looks like in practice.

When external groups are providing PD for a system (such as vendors of new curricula), it is important to have them provide their offerings in a way that meets your systems' standards for collaborative professional development.

Collaborative professional development is most effective when it is:

  • Driven by clearly articulated goals related to teacher and student outcomes
  • Offers a variety of professional development activities chosen to match the intended outcomes
  • Designed in reference to best practices for adult learning, including active learning
  • Designed to be of sufficient intensity and duration to build system capacity
  • Includes a focus on participants' reflection on their professional practice
  • Provides coaching and expert support

Within the context of collaborative PD, specialized offerings can be offered to specific groups. For example, training on a new state IEP online platform may only need to be provided to special educators.

[For further ideas about applying the Capacity Driver: Collaborative Professional Development, check out the related section in Step 5.]

Collaborative Professional Development Activities for Inclusive Education

Professional Learning Activities

Real World Examples

Maximizing the Benefits of this Type of Professional Learning

Large group presentations

  • School-wide presentation describing the research-based benefits of inclusive education
  • District-wide presentation describing the goals and expected outcomes of initial implementation of inclusive practices
  • State-wide online presentation on delivering specially-designed instruction in general education classes
  • Make connections to teacher practice
  • Discuss resources that will support implementation
  • Include interactive and small group activities that allow participants to consider application in their context

Small group presentations

  • Science teachers and collaborating special educators attend a session on co-teaching in general education science classes
  • Second-grade team receives information on the medical needs of a second-grade student
  • Provide multiple sessions
  • Make a clear connection between PD and practice
  • Can at times be delivered as part of a standing meeting (i.e. second-grade planning meeting)

Learning walks

  • 2nd-grade teacher new to inclusive education visits 2nd and 3rd-grade classes where students with significant cognitive disabilities are on the class rosters
  • 7th-grade science teacher visits 6th grade co-taught science classes as part of her preparation for next year’s co-teaching
  • The principal, special education director and literacy coach join general education literacy blocks to observe tiered instruction inclusive of all students
  • Be specific about the purpose of the learning walk and desired outcomes
  • Build trust in the process. Ensure the focus is on collaborative adult learning and not considered to be an evaluation
  • Facilitate reflection (through discussion or writing) on the learning walk after it is completed, or during the walk itself, if appropriate.

Topic-based work sessions

  • 9th-grade science teachers and special educators work together to create adapted materials for second-semester science units
  • 1st-grade general and special education teachers work together to create a series of lesson plans for an upcoming unit
  • A district-level equity workgroup focuses on analyzing data as it relates to students who are English Learners, inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities
  • State Department of Education team works with higher education colleagues to determine course content necessary for an endorsement as an Inclusion Specialist
  • Provide all necessary resources and material
  • Determine specific product/process outcomes for each work session
  • Where the teams agree, share the co-developed resources through a district electronic respository so other teams have a starting place when they start co-developing units and lesson plans


  • State technical assistance to districts includes coaching on developing effective Equitable Inclusive Leadership Teams and developing capacity in data-based decision-making
  • District science coach supports 4th grade co-teaching team on strategies to make the “big ideas” of a science unit accessible to all learners using UDL practices
  • Collaborative coaching of general and special educators on grade level teams by a district coach
  • Problem-solve ongoing coaching challenges
  • Utilize evidence-based practices for coaching


Coaching for inclusive practices is essential to bridging the application gap between professional development (PD) and teacher or administrator practice (Darling-Hammond et al., 2017). It is also critical to build a system's capacity to use evidence-based inclusive practices with fidelity. As you develop the Action Plan for inclusive practices, the need to think about the coaching process might seem a long way off. However, thinking through the need for coaching early in the planning process is essential for considering how to build the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and infrastructure (e.g., structures and processes) to support implementation.

Your system may already have a well-developed coaching program for specific subject areas (i.e., reading and math coaches) or specific groups of staff (i.e., first-year teachers). If so, check with your colleagues responsible for these programs to get more information on their procedures and processes for selecting and developing individual coaches and a coaching program. The possibility of melding coaching systems and using similar development processes for coaches may have already been considered during the Initiative Inventory.

[For further ideas about applying the Capacity Driver: Coaching for Inclusive Practices, check out the related section in Step 5.]

Inclusive Practices Coaches

Coaching requires two primary skill sets: content-area knowledge and interpersonal skills.

Inclusive Practices coaches do not need to be an expert on every aspect of inclusive education. However, they should have a strong belief in the value of inclusive education and knowledge/skills in the following areas:

  • daily operation of general education classrooms,
  • classroom instructional configurations,
  • general education curriculum, and how to adapt it for students' disabilities, including those with significant cognitive disabilities,
  • instructional strategies, including effective strategies for students with mild to significant disabilities,
  • effective use of staff (including teachers, paraprofessionals, and specialized support personnel) in inclusive classrooms, and
  • data-based decision-making.

If the prospective coach lacks knowledge in one or two of these areas, they may still be a good candidate as long as they are provided with the PD/coaching/ mentorship to support their learning in these areas. A second strategy has been the identification of coaching partners, one with more expertise in general education and one with more expertise in special education who work together in the provision of coaching. Concurrently, the knowledge and use of evidence-based practices for effective coaching are essential to support changing practices.

Potential coaches need strong interpersonal skills and the content area skills mentioned above. Effective coaches form a collaborative relationship with the individual and/or the team being coached and have a positive attitude about the potential for success. Coaches clearly define and communicate their role (supportive, not evaluative), build on coachee strengths, and offer feedback in a non-judgmental and respectful manner. Coaches describe and model behaviors that focus on performance feedback and use data to document improvement in the focus area.

Real-World Example

Kylie was excited when she was selected as an inclusion coach in her district. She had been a middle school special educator in the district for several years. She had good experience collaborating with general educators, matching teaching strategies and accommodations to individual student needs, co-teaching in a general education classroom, and data-based decision-making. Her strong belief in the value of inclusive education was sparked in her Master's degree program and continued to the present. Kylie did not have experience teaching students with significant cognitive disabilities or modifying general education curriculum assignments and activities to meet their needs.

Over the next year, Kylie received ongoing support (including monthly onsite visits) from a TIES Inclusive Education Specialist. Through this collaboration, Kylie added the knowledge and skills she needed to her skill set. She is now leading her district's efforts to increase inclusive education for all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities.

Applying the Components of Effective Coaching to Inclusive Education

Coaching Components

Application to Inclusive Education

Relationship building

  • Use a professional yet relaxed approach
  • Share your enthusiasm for inclusive education
  • Empathize with teacher concerns regarding their confidence about implementing inclusive practices
  • Frequently reiterate that you are there to support the coachee as they implement inclusive practices and that the coaching process is collaborative, not evaluative
  • Co-determine the specific evidence-based practices to be coached
  • Co-create a data plan to measure progress in the implementation of inclusive practices
  • Assume good intentions and answer any questions about the value of inclusive education with evidence-based information


  • Co-create schedule to eliminate barriers to observing specific lessons, activities, and/or interactions with specific students
  • Co-determine the coach’s role during observation (i.e., silent observation with feedback later on, offer helpful feedback as appropriate during the session, interact and model during the session)


  • Implementing evidence-based practices (EBPs) for inclusive instruction
  • Collaboration strategies
  • Facilitating peer interactions
  • Engaging students with significant cognitive disabilities in the lesson
  • Data-based decision-making

Performance feedback

  • Give feedback related to strengths and needs
  • Give feedback related to overall inclusivity of class in addition to specific target areas
  • Ask reflective questions rather than providing answers
  • Present formal and/or informal data about the coachee’s use of specific EBPs for inclusive education

Organizational 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 - these elements are highlighted. 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 the fidelity of implementation of the inclusive systems of education action plan. When all of these pieces come together, they lead to the T-I-E-S outcomes.

Organizational drivers describe “the way we do things” within a system. Organizational drivers include how the system organizes its people and processes, routinely uses data to prioritize and monitor progress toward goals, and identifies and makes changes to the system when needed. Leveraging Organizational Drivers for inclusive education can be best described as “barrier-busting.” Barriers of all kinds will arise during any systems change process. Being able to identify these barriers and eliminate or minimize them ensures forward momentum towards the goals.


Data-based Decision-Making is a component of every part of the implementation process. Data is collected on the implementation of the goals and building an inclusive system of education (the capacity of the system), the fidelity of implementation of evidence-based practices (the quality of implementation), and equitable student outcomes.

Data-based decision-making is essential to building equitable, inclusive education systems for students with significant cognitive disabilities. Inclusive education for any historically excluded or potentially marginalized group of students demands deep reflection on long-held false beliefs about the value of segregated education, including students with significant cognitive disabilities. Systems data disaggregated by subgroups of students can provide accurate information that can counter false beliefs and drive equity-based instruction for all students.

As part of action plan, teams

  • identify what data needs to be collected to track the status of each goal and activity in the Action Plan.
  • identify who will be responsible for collecting the data. Typically, the data collected is a mix of qualitative (e.g., observations, people's input) and quantitative (e.g., the extent of implementation, measurement of student engagement and learning). The EILT ensures that data is gathered both for baseline information and ongoing probes of the plan. When available, using preexisting data systems is an excellent time-saving strategy. Identify and collect additional types of data only when it is essential to answer specific questions related to the goal plan.
  • determine how and when (and by whom) the data will be reviewed. A transparent data system allows for improving individual and organizational capacity while maintaining a focus on equity for historically disenfranchised student groups.

[For further ideas about applying the Organizational Driver: Data-based Decision Making, check out the related section in Step 5.]

Data Sources

The easiest way to determine the data you need to collect is to start with the things you want to change (i.e., your SMARTIE goals). The M (for measurable) in your SMARTIE goal identifies what you will measure. Identifying data sources for some SMARTIE goals may be easy, while it may be more complex for others. For example, suppose you want to increase the number of students with significant cognitive disabilities who are included in general education. In that case, you use the system's data on the least restrictive environment (LRE) for these students as your primary data source. However, we know that it may take a while to see substantial changes in the LRE data, so you could choose to use the minutes in general education that are found in students' IEPs. Calculating the actual percentage of time in general education for individual students can help you identify those students who are close to meeting the requirements for a change in LRE (i.e., a student currently included for 75% of the school day may only need one more general education class or activity per day to move them over the 80% requirement for LRE 1 / LRE A).

Using preexisting data systems is an excellent time-saving strategy. Collect additional types of data only when it is essential to answer specific questions related to implementation or outcomes. For example, to measure the implementation of new classroom practices, you may want to use a classroom walkthrough weekly or monthly. Student work products are another excellent data source. These can be used to measure improvement in modification practices, increased academic expectations for students with significant cognitive disabilities, and improved academic outcomes for all students. The table below provides more examples of potential data sources.

Data Collection and Analysis

The first task is to gather and collect baseline data for each SMARTIE goal. Without this benchmark, you will not be able to demonstrate progress on your goals. As some administrative data systems may not be accessible to everyone, it will be essential to identify the specific individuals who have easy access to the data you will be using. Co-creating a data gathering schedule with these individuals will ensure that you have your data when needed. As you identify additional data sources (i.e., administrator walkthroughs), determine who will be taking this data and how frequently you will take it. Identify the necessary data collection tools and ensure the users understand the data collection process. Finally, identify who will analyze the data, how it will be presented (i.e., raw data, bar graph, line graph), and how frequently the data from each data source will be reviewed.

Examples: Applying the Data-Decision Making Driver to Inclusive Education System Change

What do you want to measure?

Data Source Examples

Time students with significant cognitive disabilities spend in general education setting

  • System LRE data
  • Placement in neighborhood schools
  • Minutes in General Education on Student IEPs
  • Analysis of student schedules

Instructional effectiveness

  • Curriculum-based tests and quizzes
  • Progress on IEP goals and objectives
  • Frequency of use of Alternative and Augmentative Communication Systems (AAC)
  • Data from school-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS)

Engagement of students with significant cognitive disabilities in grade level general education curriculum activities

  • Classroom observation
  • Administrative walkthrough
  • Curriculum-based tests and quizzes
  • Student communication about academic topics (including family reports)
  • Progress on IEP goals and objectives

Engagement of students with significant cognitive disabilities with general education peers

  • Classroom observation
  • Frequency of use of AAC with peers
  • Participation in recess and district/school sports programs
  • Participation in after-school clubs
  • Activities with peers outside of school hours
  • Utilize the TIES Center Belonging Reflection Tool


A unified inclusive system views all students, including those with significant cognitive disabilities, as general education students who receive special education services in general education settings. Many barriers to inclusive education are created by administrative “silos” that separate general education from special education. This is true at the state, district, and school level. Transportation, staff distribution, master scheduling, grading, and diploma requirements are just a few examples of administrative structures and processes that may need to be addressed when creating a unified inclusive educational system. These silos are shared by teams as the reason why change is not possible. Discussions become blocked by the mindset of "that is not the way that we do it here" or "we have no control over what the transportation department does," rather than having discussions about how perpetuating silos are impacting student learning.

Creating equitable and inclusive systems (and maintaining them over time) usually requires changing how those systems operate. Central to this work is:

  • developing supportive policies and practices that promote system-wide learning for the adults grounded in the use of data;
  • prioritizing teaching and learning for the students and the adults;
  • implementing accountability structures and processes to build capacity district-wide, and
  • nurturing collaborative cultures for continuous improvement (Howley & Telfer, 2020; National Center on Educational Outcomes, n.d.)

The long-standing separation of special education administration from general education administration has created parallel structures and processes. An inclusive system is a unified, collaborative system that views students with significant cognitive disabilities as general education students who receive special education services in general education settings. Each time a set of parallel structures or processes are unified to serve all students, the system is one step closer to the goal of becoming a fully inclusive system of education.

[For further ideas about applying the Organizational Driver: Administrative Structures and Processes, check out the related section in Step 5.]

Administrative structures and processes can support or create barriers to inclusive education. This occurs at all administrative levels (i.e., state, district, school). Here are some examples from each level:

State Level Examples

State Structures and Processes


Compliance monitoring

Support: Creating collaborative conversations between school teams and families assisting with interpreting IDEA and FAPE in a way that is conducive to inclusive practices.

Barrier: Interpretations of law that are not supportive of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE), such as focusing on a continuum of placements rather than a continuum of services.

Finance policy

Support: Providing funding for students with disabilities based on levels of need, and identifying ways that funding can be flexibly spent or braided with other funding streams to build cohesive support for all students.

Barrier: Funding interpreted to be centered on service location rather than on student-specific needs.

Alternate assessment/alternate achievement standards

Support: Using the alternate assessment for student assessment purposes only and not placement.

Barrier: Allowing the myth for alternate achievement assessment to dictate the use of alternate curriculum and students to be educated outside of general education to go unchallenged.

IEP procedures

Support: Incorporating procedures for writing inclusive IEPs in the state’s technical assistance to districts.

Barrier: Writing an IEP in such a way that services can only be delivered outside of general education settings.

Requirements for delivery of specially designed instruction (SDI)

Support: Messaging that SDI is developed and monitored by the special education team, but can be delivered in a flexible way by multiple educators across the school day.

Barrier: Messaging that deemphasizes delivery of SDI in general education settings or adds confusion that SDI must be provided by a special educator.

District Level Examples

District Structures and Processes


Description of roles and responsibilities for school personnel

Support: Supporting transdisciplinary teams to work collaboratively and flexibly to meet diverse needs of all students.

Barrier: Limiting team members to rigidly defined and assigned roles and responsibilities that are implemented in reference to either general education or special education students.

School enrollment policy

Support: Supporting the enrollment of all students within a school's boundary to attend their home school.

Barrier: Supporting the enrollment for students with significant disabilities at center-based programs rather than their neighborhood schools.

Professional development

Support: Joint professional development for all general and special educators to build a common curricular and instructional knowledge base and how to teach the content to a diversity of learners.

Barrier: General and special education teachers attend separate professional development offerings.

Updating of school facilities

Support: Ensuring that all schools are fully accessible

Barrier: Only planning for some schools to be fully accessible


Support: Flexible assignment to school buses so all students travel with their siblings and neighborhood peers; accessible buses for any student to ride available for field trips; paraprofessional support available on any bus route if needed.

Barrier: Assigning students with disabilities to a special education bus; limited accessible transportation for field trips; paraprofessionals assigned to special education buses only.

District-wide initiatives (such as, Multi-tiered Systems of Support, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)

Support: Communicating the expectation that all students receive Tier 1 instruction in a general education classroom.

Barrier: No clear communication about Tier 1 instruction for students with disabilities or being included in all aspects of these school-wide models.

Assistive Technology Department

Support: Assessment and support for students is provided in the general education classroom and environments.

Barrier: Assessment and support for students is provided only in a self-contained special education setting or through pull-out services.

Delivery of specially designed instruction (SDI)

Support: Designed by special education team in collaboration with general educators and delivered in a flexible way by multiple educators throughout the school day

Barrier: Expected to be designed and delivered by special education staff only

Extended School Year (ESY)

Support: Students with disabilities receiving ESY services in inclusive placements and based on individualized programming

Barrier: Students with disabilities receive ESY services in a separate setting with other students with disabilities and for predetermined (often limited) time

School Level Examples

School Structures and Processes


School-wide initiatives (such as, Multi-tiered Systems of Support, Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports)

Support: All students, including those who receive special education services, have access to instruction in Tier 1 and Tiers 2 and 3, as needed.

Barrier: Students receiving special education services receive Tier 3 supports to the exclusion of Tiers 1 and 2 supports.

Scheduling/master schedules

Support: Development of master schedules that prioritize collaboration and alignment across general education and special education to ensure continuity of learning and provision of services in the general education environment for all learners.

Barrier: Development of master schedules that facilitate the maintenance of self-contained classrooms and separate special education pull-out services.

Collaborative planning time

Support: Special education teachers are provided regular common planning time to co-plan with general education teachers. Collaborative processes are in place to support effective collaboration.

Barrier: Special education teachers co-plan with other special education teachers, related service personnel, and paraprofessionals only.

Special Education Service Delivery

Support: Ensure that special educators and specialized support personnel are supported to work collaboratively and flexibly within general education settings to meet diverse needs of students.

Barrier: Special education services are delivered separately using a pull out model.

Delivery of specially designed instruction (SDI)

Support: Designed and monitored by the special education team in collaboration with general educators, but is delivered in a flexible way by multiple educators throughout the school day.

Barrier: Designed and delivered by special education staff only.

School-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Support Systems

Support: School-wide Positive Behavior Intervention Systems are fully inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Barrier: School-wide PBIS are not inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities.

Allocation of building space

Support: There are flexible spaces for different instructional configurations that can be used by all students.

Barrier: Students with significant disabilities spend their school day in specialized spaces only.


Many external variables can affect the implementation of system change, positively or negatively. Engaging with a variety of external partners, such as parent and community organizations, State Departments of Education, and local universities can support and maintain systems change for inclusive education. When states, districts, schools, families, and the community work together in a coordinated fashion, barriers can be eliminated more quickly.

School and district leaders do not always have the authority to address all barriers that affect their work. Yet, they can bring issues to the attention of others who can address the barriers. Engaging with external partners can enhance and sustain policies, procedures, and practices that facilitate inclusive education. It may also be a means to reduce the impact of specific barriers that fall outside an organization's authority, e.g., a district policy that impacts how a school's master schedule is designed.

A partnership among the administrative levels within education (state, districts, school) is beneficial to systems change for inclusive education. Additional external partners can include teachers' unions, parent groups, local colleges and universities, and community groups. Collaboration with a variety of external partners can lead to alignment and a more comprehensive approach. When partners are collaboratively engaged in creating inclusive school communities, change can happen more smoothly and quickly. They pool their knowledge and experience, develop collaborative approaches to identifying and addressing barriers, and support each other through the change process.

Real-World Example

As part of a district's work to build an inclusive system, they invited a state department of education (DOE) representative to join the monthly EILT meetings. This provided a means for the district to discuss the challenges they were facing and the support that would help the district achieve its goals. The DOE representative learned how state policies and practices were helping and hindering the district in building inclusive education systems and bring these insights back to the the state to inform its work in supporting inclusive education state-wide.

Develop the Annual Activity Plan for Each 3-Year Goal


In order to develop the activity plan, the EILT needs background information about the Implementation Drivers and their importance in building a sustainable, inclusive education system.

Share with the team what the Implementation Drivers are, what research says about why they are important, and how they apply to inclusive education. One way to enhance understanding about the drivers is to walk-through an example of a goal and the annual activity plan that encompasses the drivers (The example in the Step 4B Overview or an example from your system could be used.) Making the drivers more concrete will enhance understanding of each driver and make the concepts more specific to inclusive education systems. The EILT members do not need to become experts in the details of each driver. However, by understanding the interconnections and importance of alignment across the drivers, the EILT's capacity is enhanced for developing and implementing a robust plan. Not all drivers may be able to be addressed in the initial plan. But, over the three-year period addressing and aligning across all of the drivers is what leads to sustainability and enhanced outcomes.

Create the Annual Plan

  • Review the two to three SMARTIE Goals. This helps the team keep the whole plan in mind as they work through the individual goals.
  • Review the findings from Step 3D in the Initiative Inventory where the current organizational initiatives that align with the priorities in the RISE were identified.
  • Begin discussing an Annual Activity Plan for SMARTIE Goal #1: Student Placement Goal (refer to the image of Goal #1 below this section)
    • Ask: Collectively, what activities should we focus on this year to reach Goal 1 in three years?
      • Discuss the scope of the work that is needed:
        • Where might we start?
        • How much can we accomplish this year?
        • What findings from the Initiative Inventory (Step 3D) could be leveraged to positively impact this goal?
      • List the set of activities that are decided on in the Action Plan Step 4B grid.
      • Discuss the first activity in more detail, including:
        • Who will take the lead for this activity?
        • What is the timeline for accomplishing the activity?
        • What will success for this activity look like? and
        • What data sources will tell us if this activity is being implemented and the quality of implementation/
    • Ensure that the activity plan includes a Communication Plan to keep all of the multiple stakeholders engaged and updated on the progress of the work. Consider:
      • What information will be shared?
      • Who should receive the information?
      • Who will share the information?
      • What is the frequency of communication? and
      • What are the modes of communication?
    • Once the activity grid is completed for Goal 1, ask: Do the activities that we listed leverage all of the Implementation Drivers that are most important at this time? If not, then consider where the plan needs to be modified. Check off the Implementation Drivers that are being leveraged in the plan to achieve the 3-year goal.
  • Create an Annual Activity Plan for SMARTIE Goal #2 and, if there is one, Goal #3 following the same procedures.
    • You may find that some of the activities for the goals are similar or influence each other. That makes sense in a plan that is well aligned. If needed, go back and make adjustments to ensure the activities and timelines support each other and are manageable.

This is the grid for developing the activity plan for Goal #1. First, there is the area for writing the goal followed by a list of the competency drivers (Selection of Staff and Sites; Collaborative Professional Development; Coaching) and Organization Drivers (Data-based Decision Making, Administrative Structures and Processes, Engagement with External Systems) that will be leveraged to support the goal. Beneath that is a table with the columns of headers: Annual Activities (include Communication Plan), Lead(s), Timeline, and Success Indicators.

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Equity Check

Did all of the diverse representatives on the EILT actively participate in the action planning process?

Are the activities for the SMARTIE goals truly inclusive of students with significant cognitive disabilities?

What's Next?

  • Complete Step 4B of the Inclusive Education Action Plan, developing an activity plan for each of the two to three, 3 year goals.
  • With a robust action plan in place, move to Step 5 to support implementation and continuous learning as the plan is implemented, revised, and expanded upon over time.