TIES Inclusive Education Roadmap

Selection Staff and Sites

Choosing the staff and sites for the initial implementation of inclusive practices is an important part of the action planning process. At the start of any initiative, it can be helpful to identify "early adopters" of the innovation. Are there teachers or schools that have already begun to use inclusive practices? 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.

 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?
  • Is the principal and/or 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."

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. This mindset changed significantly over the first two years of implementation as the school became an inclusive learning community. Some of the 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.

The Application and Selection Process

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

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.

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 department or TA providers can review applications and provide feedback to the review team regarding district selection.

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.

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.  

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.

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, 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?

Scheduling

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?

Staffing

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?