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Developing the Improvement Plan

"Planning is what you do before you do something, so that when you do it, it is not all mixed up."

~ Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh (A.A. Milne)

This section describes the steps in developing an improvement plan. While there are many ways that a state may choose to develop a written improvement plan, this guide provides the basic steps in improvement planning. A state may complete the steps in a different order, or add or eliminate steps and should use this resource in a way that fits state needs.

During Phase I of the SSIP, states reviewed their data at all levels, assessed their current infrastructure, and developed Coherent Improvement Strategies and a Theory of Action that specifies how the State-Identified Measureable Result (SIMR) will be achieved. Now it is time to put this all into action! An improvement plan for Phase II will provide the details needed to achieve the expected outcomes and make progress toward achieving the state's SIMR.

Improvement planning is an organizational management activity that is used to:
  • Set priorities
  • Focus energy and resources
  • Ensure that internal and external stakeholders are working toward common goals
  • Establish agreement on intended outcomes/results implementation

WWW: Planning occurs all the time, both informally and formally. Effective improvement planning is intentional and provides an opportunity to assess the current status, determine if what is being done needs to be done, and decide where to go in the future. Improvement planning involves setting priorities, assessing internal and external resources, and engaging all interested parties in defining the activities, desired outcomes, and implementing/revising improvement strategies as needed to achieve the SIMR.

In Phase II, developing the written plan will provide states with the structure and detail needed to achieve the SIMR through implementation of the improvement strategies. Including stakeholders, key partners, and staff in this process ensures that all perspectives are represented. The evaluation measures provide the feedback needed to track progress and make needed adjustments.

The improvement plan must address improving the infrastructure and how the state will support EIS programs and/or EIS providers in implementing the evidence-based practices. It should include the following:

  • Activities and steps that will be implemented, who is responsible, and according to what timelines
  • Resources needed for each activity
  • Leverage points and partners from within the lead agency and other initiatives and agencies
  • Communication strategies and stakeholder involvement
  • How identified barriers in the infrastructure will be addressed
  • How activities will be implemented with fidelity
  • Procedures for monitoring the plan's implementation and strategies, timeframe for plan evaluation, and modifications, if needed, to ensure progress toward desired outcomes is achieved.
Improvement Plans answer the following questions:
  • Where are we now? Use this opportunity to review the current environment and clarify the vison, mission, and purpose.
  • Where are we going? Think ahead several years to assure consistency and alignment with the direction the organization is headed.
  • What will achievement of the SIMR look like? Identify the expected short, intermediate, and long-term outcomes that will result from achieving the SIMR.
  • How will we get there? Lay out the road to connect current activities with future desired goals. Develop an improvement plan with clearly defined activities.
  • How will we know we've been successful? Determine benchmarks of success. Develop an evaluation plan that leads to improving and adjusting the activities to ensure a dynamic and responsive process is in place to achieve the SIMR and the intended outcomes.
Other questions to consider include the following:
  • What actions or changes will occur?
  • Who will carry out these changes?
  • When will the changes will take place, and for how long?
  • What resources are needed to carry out the activity (e.g., staff, funding, supplies)?
  • How will the improvement plan be communicated to stakeholders, the public, providers, and families?
  • How will input be provided to make needed adjustments to the improvement plan?

Click the steps below to display their purposes and resources in more detail.

  • Develop a timeline to ensure submission to OSEP by April 1.
  • Assign responsibility for completing assignments.
  • Ensure that stakeholders, staff, and partners actively engage in developing the improvement plan.
  • Provide clear expectations on how improvement plan will be developed.
  • Assign responsibility for completing assignments.
  • Ensure that communication occurs across all levels.
  • Ensure that all members working on developing the improvement plan are in communication loop.
  • Ensure members of the internal planning team communicate about the improvement plan with other stakeholders in their agency.
  • Ensure buy-in for implementation of the SSIP.
  • Ensure planning team members are familiar with the TOA and Improvement Strategies.
  • Keep planners focused on how their work fits into the larger SSIP.
  • State Theory of Action
  • State Improvement Strategies
  • State logic model, if developed
  • Ensure program, practices, or approaches align with TOA.
  • Define the set of evidence- based programs, practices, or approaches to be considered by planning teams.
  • Define the activities to be completed to strengthen the infrastructure for improving practices, programs, or approaches.
  • Ensure that the initial sites are ready for installation.
  • Ensure actions are included in the plan addressing capacity of installation sites.
  • Ensure the improvement plan activities and steps are designed to achieve outcomes of the SSIP.
  • Link the improvement plan with the evaluation plan.
  • Ensure buy-in of staff, stakeholders, and partners.
  • There are no resources listed for this step.
  • Include a narrative summary of the Phase II development process and detailed improvement plan.
  • There are no resources listed for this step.


  • Planning may take several sessions. Develop drafts for review and input from stakeholders at multiple points in the process.
  • An effective improvement strategy may require several actions and related activities to achieve full implementation.
  • Remember to address infrastructure. Identify how you will build on the strengths and address the weaknesses identified in Phase I of SSIP development.
  • Carefully consider the evidenced-based practices or approaches to be selected. What practices or approaches will most effectively improve outcomes for children and families?
  • Consider evaluation and ways to measure change when developing the improvement plan. How will you know activities are implemented with fidelity? How will you know the activities are making the expected difference?
  • Criteria for a good improvement plan:
    • Aspirational: Does the improvement plan reflect the current work? Are newly emerging opportunities and barriers addressed? Does it address the identified infrastructure issues and provide supports for implementation of evidenced-based practices?
    • Complete: Does it list all of the action steps or changes to be sought at all levels of system (e.g., practitioner, district, local program, and state)? Does it include partnerships with other programs and agencies and leverage existing initiatives?
    • Clearly define responsibilities and timelines: Is it apparent who will do what, by when?
    • Evaluate progress and make adjustments: Does the evaluation plan address the process and impact of implementing improvement strategies?
Links on this site are verified monthly. This page content was last updated on 2015-03-01 AML

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The contents of this guide were developed under cooperative agreement numbers #H326R140006 (DaSy), #H326P120002 (ECTA Center), #H373Y130002 (IDC) and #H326R140006 (NCSI) from the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S. Department of Education. Opinions expressed herein do not necessarily represent the policy of the US Department of Education, and you should not assume endorsement by the Federal Government.

Project Officers: Meredith Miceli & Richelle Davis(DaSy), Julia Martin Eile (ECTA Center), Richelle Davis & Meredith Miceli (IDC), and Perry Williams & Shedeh Hajghassemali (NCSI)

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