A Brief History of State Implementation and Scaling up of Evidence-Based Programs

The State Implementation and Scaling up of Evidence-Based Programs (SISEP) Center began in October 2007.  The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) recognized the importance of implementation science in 2005.  This led to a request for proposals for a new Center, what is now the SISEP Center.  SISEP is based on implementation science.  As such, SISEP makes use of the best available evidence while contributing to the development of implementation practice, science, and policy. 

The purpose of the State Implementation and Scaling up of Evidence-Based Programs (SISEP) Center is to help establish implementation and scaling capacity in state, regional, and district educational systems.  Given the trillions of dollars invested in attempts to improve education outcomes and given the lack of educationally significant changes in the National Assessment of Education Progress scores since the 1960s, there is an urgent need to make full and effective use of the rapid developments in implementation science.  SISEP provides supports for establishing large-scale, sustainable, high fidelity use of effective education practices.  The goal is to maximize academic and behavioral outcomes for all students, especially students with disabilities.

There is a paucity of evidence available to support large-scale uses of evidence-based approaches and other innovations in education.  Difficulties are common and the learning curve is steep for developing implementation capacity in state education systems. SISEP and OSEP are maximizing the experiences in states to learn how to do the real-time work of building implementation capacity in the context of systems that continue to go about the daily business of education.  SISEP currently is working in Minnesota, North Carolina, Washington, and Kentucky with 2 more states nearing the end of the Exploration Stage process.  SISEP also is working with individual districts in Massachusetts.

In 2007 SISEP and OSEP agreed to use implementation principles to approach states to invite their participation.  Exploration Stage activities attracted 34 states to hear about the scaling and capacity development, 16 states submitted a brief written application, and 8 were selected.  Of those, two withdrew their applications due to changes in leadership and two others began legislated initiatives that precluded capacity development as envisioned by SISEP.  Work began in the four original states in July 2008.  In 2010 SISEP ended activities in two of the original states due to lack of meaningful access to the State Management Team.  In 2012 SISEP ended work in a third original state when the education department was moved into the governor’s office.  In 2011 SISEP began work in a new state, a state that was among the 8 originally selected but withdrew at that time.

From these experiences OSEP and SISEP have learned that developing implementation capacity to achieve educationally significant outcomes for all students requires top-down support for bottom-up change.  In each active scaling state the following foundations are present:

  1. There is an engaged State Management Team (the CSSO and his or her cabinet) with 2 members who are appointed “sponsors” of the capacity development work. 
  2. There are 2 State Transformation Specialists who are employed by and housed in the CSSO offices.
  3. There is a State Design Team consisting of leaders of major initiatives in the department.
  4. State capacity to begin Exploration activities with Regional Education Agencies is developed within the first year and Regional capacity to begin Exploration activities in districts is established within 18 months.

These foundations bring systemic issues to the forefront and provide opportunities to begin the process of defragmentation while creating alignment and coherence among divisions and operating units in the education system.  All four components must be present for capacity development to have a chance to succeed.

In the past five years SISEP has developed a cascading theory of change that directly ties statewide intentions to student outcomes in complex education systems.  SISEP has developed practical measures of capacity development at state, regional, and district levels.  SISEP is nearing the end of a process to develop in-class observation assessments of instruction to inform better supports for educators.  Each of these assessments is designed to inform action planning and provide a practical way to define “capacity development” and monitor progress at each level of the cascading theory of change. 

SISEP and OSEP are defining “intensive TA” and learning to operationalize what is meant by “intensive.”  Intensive implementation-informed assistance is a goal-oriented approach supported by proactive efforts to teach implementation science and practice to educators and to hold educators accountable for learning and using new ways of work at all levels of the system.  Colleagues in active scaling states and districts mention the frequency of contact (daily/weekly) and visits (monthly) and the simultaneous work at multiple layers of the system as distinguishing features of intensive work. 

The lessons learned are shared with colleagues and other TA Centers via teaching and learning platforms on the NIRN and SISEP websites.  The websites help make implementation science universally available to educators.