State Highlight




What leadership strategies or principles do my team and I employ on a day to day basis?

  • Starting in 2017, Washington Superintendent for Public Instruction Chris Reykdal created a vision and mission that explicitly addresses equity through the dismantling of systemic barriers and includes students with disabilities and their needs in his priorities.  This has provided us with an opportunity to review and revise our activities within the lens of improved outcomes for students with disabilities.  After talking with stakeholders, we identified six priorities that are used to determine strategies, projects, budgets, and advise education, legislative, and community partners.
  • I have the privilege of working with a fantastic team in Washington.  This team starts with the staff in the Special Education Services division of the agency, and spreads across the State Education Agency (SEA) to other divisions, as well as with our regional Educational Service District (ESD) partners, local districts and school staff, and parents, families, students, and communities, to name a few.  The State Superintendent includes messaging around the needs and opportunities for students with disabilities in his conversations, presentations, and it is evident in his priorities.
As we engage in our daily work, we are involved in the following strategies:
  • Use the work of Simon Sinek, we start with our why, and remind ourselves of our collective responsibility to remove barriers to equity, the priorities for improved outcomes, and commit to modeling the desired behavior and changes we want to see at the district and school levels.
  • Leverage our belief that students with disabilities are general education students, and that only through collaboration and teamwork, we will implement and sustain systemic improvements.
  • Engage stakeholders and partners through respectful, productive, and transparent communication, providing accurate information and technical assistance based on data, best practices, and state and federal requirements.
  • Openness and willingness to improve our practices, by engaging in professional learning, allowing for multiple opportunities to participate in problem-solving, and valuing/using feedback to adjust policies, procedures, and practices.



What are some unique things about Washington's special education system?
  • Washington's special education system is evolving daily. From increases in state funds dedicated for students with disabilities, a State Superintendent who has prioritized improved outcomes for students with disabilities, SEA and ESD staff who have embraced collaboration of activities to leverage existing projects and activities, and acknowledgement and willingness of school districts and parents/families to plan for the improvement in outcomes for students with disabilities, following analyzing the relevant data. As a community, we are reflective and seeking to make changes that will improve the outcomes for the students we serve.
  • Special education staff throughout the state are engaging in conversations on improving inclusionary practices and working more closely with their general education peers to ensure students with disabilities have access to high-quality instruction in all content areas.  Also, the state is united around and intentionally focused on Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS) as a framework to organize supports designed to address the varied needs of students.  This intentionality is evident in shared professional development opportunities, resource allocation for training and conferences, and the consistent messaging from the SEA and ESDs.  
   Although I am biased, I believe that we are unique in the following ways:
  • Relationships OSPI staff have built relationships to address current practices and potential improvements safely.  Every member of the team is data-focused, and customer-service focused on changing outcomes for students with disabilities. 
    • Acknowledgment of Local Communities Support is tailored to meet the needs of ESDs and school districts, and are flexible to meet their needs, yet remain outcome-based.  This honors local culture and supports a growth mindset, as not everyone needs the same thing. 
    • Support of Educational Service Districts (ESDs) - There is an intentional system to have OSPIs vision extend to regional education leaders; capacity is further developed through ESD to school district activities. 
  • Willingness to Improve The needs of students with disabilities are discussed across the state, both internal and external to the special education system and Washingtonians are engaged in the process, either through facilitating conversation and planning, identifying supports and barriers, allocating additional funds, or highlighting best practices and needs. 


What are some future ideas about how to effect positive outcomes for students with disabilities in WA?
  • We are continuing to focus on recruitment and retention of special education educators, related service providers, and support personnel. The most vulnerable learners should have the most competent and knowledgeable staff. We plan to work with the Professional Educator Standards Board (PESB) and the consortium of educator preparation programs in the state, with the assistance of CEEDAR to identify/recruit personnel into the field, plan for changes in pre-service preparation for both general and special education staff and focus on evidence=based instruction and interventions.

  • We need to double down on aligning activities and funds that are designed to improve outcomes and reduce gaps in performance, through ESSA, IDEA, MTSS, and state laws and rules. We have made progress, and cant become complacent, in our efforts to work together at all levels. We must continue to identify actions and model policy decisions and technical assistance that removes barriers for students with disabilities, as well as other student groups.

  • Lastly, we need to continue to evaluate internal biases and expectations regarding the abilities of students with disabilities, individually and with a broad representation of stakeholders. Challenging ourselves to expand knowledge, perspectives, and the full range of potential supportive activities is necessary, as we intentionally address and modify the current system of public education.



What is one or two major state initiatives that we are most excited about?

Inclusionary Practices project
  •  Inclusion is the belief and practice that all students have the right to meaningfully access academic and social opportunities in the general education setting. The body of research on inclusionary practices consistently supports a positive link between access to core instruction in general education settings and improved outcomes for students. In Washington State, only 56 percent of students with disabilities are currently included in the general education setting for 80100% of the school day.

  • Over the past two years, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) has partnered closely with stakeholders in support of more inclusive schools, culminating in the induction of the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project. This is a $25,000,000 project, funded through the states 20192021 biennial budget, that will span the 201920 and 202021 school years, with an emphasis on the implementation of professional development in support of inclusionary practices, and a focus on coaching and mentoring classroom teachers on best practices for inclusive education, differentiated instruction, and individualized instruction.

  • OSPIs Special Education Division is excited to be partnering with our project lead, the Center for Strengthening the Teaching Profession (CSTP), a Washington-based organization with deep ties to the education community in support of educator development. In the future, we will be announcing additional partners within the state and nationally; these partners will help us implement with fidelity, identify and address gaps in knowledge and service delivery, scale and evaluate outcome changes.

  • OSPI has identified approximately 160 schools to participate in the year one cohort of pilot sites, following a review of Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) data.  In spring 2020, state funding for the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project will also provide opportunities for educators and leaders to visit model school demonstration sites, which are already utilizing inclusive practices, as well as to access professional development for education leaders, educators, educational support personnel, families, and students.

  • Additional information and ongoing updates about the Inclusionary Practices Professional Development Project can be found on the OSPI project's webpage.

  • This project further supports Washington's ESSA plan, which includes the performance of students with disabilities throughout, as the instructional needs of this student group is an area of focus in most schools selected for support. It builds on the braiding of federal and state funds to support regional school improvement teams (including school and system coaches), with a partnership across the SEA and with the Educational Service District (ESD) staff.  The feedback from school communities is positive, and parents, educators, and schools are excited about the possibilities of extending learning opportunities for students with disabilities and promote greater access to grade-level standards with typical peers.  This extends beyond academics and allows students to form strong social networks that will last their lifetime.  Certainly, the additional funded projects are helping to address opportunity gaps in the educational system, while promoting equitable access and opportunity for students with disabilities.
Graduation Pathways 
  • In 2019, the Washington State Legislature provided students with multiple pathways to graduation by passing House Bill (HB) 1599. HB 1599 expands the ways Washington students show their readiness for their next step after high school. Building off a robust plan (High School and Beyond Plan) and quality instruction across core academic areas, completing a graduation pathway helps prepare students for what comes after high school graduation. It also signals to employers and post-secondary education/training institutions a student's readiness for that step.  These pathway options are available to all students in the state, and the IEP transition plan is coordinated with the High School and Beyond Plan. This change has ignited conversations around the needs of students with disabilities and provides us with an opportunity to invite school and district personnel to consider the additional supports needed by all students, including students with disabilities, to prepare for college and career. The pathways demonstrate the varied post-school interests of Washingtons students, and the SEA and ESDs are considering professional development and technical assistance to be provided, that embeds guidance regarding students with disabilities, provided to both general education and special education leaders and educators, to elevate the conversation further, increase expectations, and ensure equitable access to all pathways is available, through advance planning and supports, including specially designed instruction