8 Steps to Inclusive Education Success - Arkansas State’s Story

We recently held an inclusive education webinar with Johnny Key, former secretary of the Department of Education (Arkansas), who led the inclusive education movement across his state of 237 school districts and 18 charter school systems. 

During the webinar, he shared valuable insights into how the state successfully implemented inclusive learning practices and highlighted the importance of transforming education to meet the needs of all learners, regardless of their abilities. 

We know your time is important, so we’ve summarized the key takeaways from the webinar for you.

1. Mission and Vision

Arkansas state’s vision was to ensure that every learner graduates prepared for college, career, and community engagement. The belief that all learners can learn at high levels served as the driving force behind their inclusive education mission to become a leading state in learner focused education.

We had to establish the belief within the department and externally that all students could learn at high levels”.

2. The "ALL IN" Approach

To address the drop in student growth and achievement, the state used the "ALL IN" approach, guided by the Least Dangerous Assumption principle – an inclusive approach which favors supporting learners with disabilities in general education classrooms, rather than dividing them into special education environments. This ‘ALL IN’ approach aligned with their vision, honored the skills of teachers and aimed to increase the number of high school learners with disabilities on a regular graduation pathway.

3. Inclusive Education Strategies

The state applied various strategies to promote inclusive education, from intensive professional development and coaching, to Universal Design for Learning (UDL) practices and using assistive technologies (AT) in lessons. To help with this process, the state formed partnerships with leading organizations in these areas like Arkansas Easter Seals, Texthelp, Solution Tree and Higher Education who all provided thorough support throughout.

4. Gradual Implementation

Recognizing the need for careful preparation and effective communication, Arkansas adopted a phased implementation plan. By 2030, all high school students must be taught by licensed content teachers. 

Here’s the timeline that they used:

  • 2023-24 for 6th grade and below
  • 2024-25 for 7th grade and below
  • 2025-26 for 8th grade and below
  • 2026-27 for 9th grade 
  • 2027-28 for 10th grade
  • 2028-29 for 11th grade

And as we think about having more high school students with disabilities on that regular pathway to graduation, that timeline became more and more real to me. But we couldn't do it all at one time. We had to think about what the students that were in the lower grades who were getting as far as instruction, core instruction by certified content teachers”.

5. Proof of Success

The success of the inclusive education mission was evident across many schools in the Arkansas district. Using qualitative and quantitative data as well as direct feedback from learners found that: 

Grace Hill Elementary (Rogers School District)

  • ESSA Index scores +6.49 from 2019 to 2022 
  • School Letter Grades increased from C to B

Raymond F. Orr Elementary (Ft. Smith School District) 

  • In 2019 – 6% of Students with disabilities were proficient in reading on interim assessment, in 2021 this increased to 31%

6. Compliance vs. Partnership

Arkansas highlighted the importance of adopting a partnership approach rather than solely focusing on compliance. While compliance remains a responsibility, being a true partner in education drives better outcomes. Collaboration, support and shared beliefs are crucial for achieving the desired goals of inclusive education.

7. Preparation and Communication

To ensure a smooth transition, the state prioritized teacher preparation and effective communication with educators, parents and school boards. Extensive professional development programs were offered and ongoing communication efforts were made to address concerns, explain the purpose of the initiative and foster a sense of trust and understanding.

8. Clarity of Purpose

Clarity played a vital role in the success of Arkansas' inclusive education journey. A clear purpose, rooted in the belief that all students can learn at high levels, guided their actions. By highlighting the benefits of inclusive education for all learners, Arkansas aimed to create a more inclusive society for future generations.

And then finally, clarity/clarity of purpose. Clarity that of the belief that all students can learn at high levels. Clarity that with the right support of the benefits to all students can be tremendous as we think about a more inclusive society moving forward”.

Learn how to implement inclusive education in your district

Johnny Key's inclusive education webinar shed light on Arkansas' remarkable journey towards inclusive learning. By prioritizing the needs of every learner, Arkansas successfully implemented strategies, established partnerships and achieved positive outcomes. Through gradual implementation, effective communication and a belief in the potential of all learners, Arkansas serves as an inspiration for inclusive education initiatives nationwide.