Improving Systems, Practices, and Outcomes

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About the System Framework

Glossary terms are denoted with a book icon, and link to their respective glossary entries.

Purpose and Audience

Building and sustaining high-quality early intervention and preschool special education systems is a complex and ongoing process for state agencies. To support states, the Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center (ECTA Center), funded by The Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), has developed a framework that addresses the question, "What does a state need to put into place in order to encourage/support/require local implementation of evidence-based practices that result in positive outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families?"

The purpose of the ECTA System Framework is to guide state Part C and Section 619 Coordinators and their staff in:

  1. evaluating their current systems;
  2. identifying potential areas for improvement, and;
  3. developing more effective, efficient systems that support implementation of evidence-based practices.

States vary significantly in their Part C and Section 619 service delivery systems and the framework was developed to accommodate this variation. It is intended to enhance the capacity of Part C and Section 619 state staff to:

  • Understand the characteristics of an effective service system;
  • Lead or actively participate in system improvement efforts, including cross-agency work; and
  • Build more effective systems of services and programs that will improve outcomes for young children with disabilities and families served under Part C and Section 619 of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Structure of the Framework

"What does a state need to put into place in order to encourage/support/require local implementation of evidence-based practices that result in positive outcomes for young children with disabilities and their families?"

Each component contains a set of subcomponents that identify key areas of content within the component. Each subcomponent contains a set of quality indicators that specify what needs to be in place to support a high-quality Part C/Section 619 system. Each quality indicator has corresponding elements of quality that operationalize its implementation. For example:

Component: Governance (GV)

  • Subcomponent 1: Vision, Mission, and/or Purpose
    • Quality Indicator GV1
      • Element of quality GV1a.
      • Element of quality GV1b.
      • etc.
    • Quality Indicator GV2
      • Element of quality GV2a.
      • Element of quality GV2b.
      • etc.
  • Subcomponent 2: Legal Foundations
    • Quality Indicator GV3
      • Element of quality GV3a.
      • etc.

When developing quality indicators for all components, the ECTA Center considered a number of cross-cutting themes that are critical for quality systems. These include:

  1. stakeholder engagement;
  2. establishing/revising policies;
  3. promoting collaboration;
  4. using data for improvement;
  5. communicating effectively;
  6. family leadership and support; and
  7. coordinating or integrating across the broader early childhood service sector.

An important and aspirational feature of the framework is the emphasis placed on linking Part C and Section 619 with other efforts in early care and education. While the framework focuses primarily on IDEA Part C and Section 619 systems and services, it also addresses the general early care and education system in the state to promote participation of young children with disabilities in a state’s early care and education programs.

Process and Partners

The ECTA System Framework was developed through an iterative process that involved literature reviews and extensive input, review and feedback from national and state experts in the field. Six partner states (Delaware, Idaho, Minnesota, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia) and an expert Technical Work Group (TWG) advised the Center by providing input on the content of the Framework as well as contributing resources to support states as they use the Framework. The six partner states helped to ensure that the Framework reflects and is applicable to the diversity of state systems (e.g., differences in Lead Agency, population size, eligibility criteria, etc.).

The process started with a review of the existing literature and discussions with partner states about what is working and what could be improved in their state systems. Based on the literature and state input, the Center drafted the components, subcomponents, quality indicators and elements of quality. Partner states, TWG members, and other invited experts then reviewed each draft and provided feedback. After multiple rounds of review and revision, the Center invited partner states to test the Framework by applying the content to their own states and identifying existing evidence of quality for the elements.

Coordination with Other Projects

  • ECTA Center: The Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center
  • DaSy: The Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems
  • ECPC: The Early Childhood Personnel Center

The ECTA System Framework was developed in coordination with other Centers and projects. The Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems (DaSy Center) was charged by OSEP to develop a Data System Framework and both DaSy and ECTA agreed that this Framework would also serve as the Data System component of the overall System Framework. The DaSy Center's Framework was developed with extensive input from Part C and Section 619 staff from seven partner states.

As a component in the ECTA Framework, DaSy’s Data System Framework follows the same organizational structure (i.e., components, subcomponents, quality indicators, and elements of quality) to facilitate ease of use by Part C and Section 619 state staff. The two Centers worked together closely throughout the development of both frameworks to ensure compatibility.

ECTA also worked collaboratively with the Early Childhood Personnel Center (ECPC) in the development of the Personnel/Workforce component of the System Framework. ECPC is funded to facilitate, on a national basis, the implementation of integrated and comprehensive systems of personnel development (CSPD) in early childhood, for all personnel serving infants and young children with disabilities.

Finally, ECTA worked collaboratively with The Early Childhood Systems Working Group (ECSWG), a volunteer group of national leaders engaged in technical assistance to state policymakers in the development of comprehensive early childhood systems. The ECSWG's Early Childhood Systems Framework (often referred to as "the ovals") depicts the intersection of critical early childhood system components, encircled by the core elements that support a comprehensive early childhood system. Their Comprehensive Early Childhood System-Building tool is designed to assist facilitators working with state or community stakeholders from multiple sectors to plan for and manage integrated early childhood systems.

Considerations for Understanding and Using the Framework

The ECTA System Framework is designed to support state Part C and Section 619 Coordinators and staff in evaluating their existing systems and to encourage and support efforts to improve early intervention and preschool special education systems of services. The following considerations are important for making best use of its contents:

  1. What is quality? The operating assumptions for the framework are that:
    • A state that has fully implemented all of a quality indicator’s elements has that quality indicator in place.
    • A state that has all of the quality indicators in the subcomponent in place has high quality in the subcomponent.
    • A state that has all the subcomponents in place has a high-quality system.
  2. Planning. Many of the components of the framework include the development of "plans" in the quality indicators. The plans referred to are assumed to be in writing. These may be stand-alone descriptions or they may be integrated into other plans or state documents (e.g., policies and procedures; monitoring and accountability manuals; State Performance Plan/Annual Performance Reports (SPP/APRs), including the State Systemic Improvement Plan (SSIP); or Requests for Application (RFAs) for program or system evaluation). The intention is to promote a planful approach to delineating activities, responsible parties, and timelines, based on data and input from relevant stakeholders.
  3. Part C/619 state staff or representative. To the extent possible, the quality indicators and elements were written to identify who is expected to carry out the action described in the statement while also being sensitive to the variations in Part C and Section 619 organization and administration across states. For this reason, the actors identified are somewhat open ended. When an indicator or element stipulates "Part C/619 state staff," it refers to staff with knowledge of the program, such as a state coordinator or other individuals in the state office.
  4. State and local. While the framework was written to identify the components of a high-quality state Part C/Section 619 system, some of the quality indicators and elements apply equally well at the local level.

Use of the Framework and Next Steps

The ECTA Center, in partnership with the DaSy Center, has a corresponding Self-Assessment for the framework to assist states to:

  • determine the current status of their Part C and Section 619 systems;
  • develop plans for system improvements; and
  • implement plans and track improvements in the state’s system over time.

The results of the Self-Assessment will help a state identify the relative strengths and areas needing improvement in its service system; however, the framework is not a road map for how to build a high-quality system. It does not tell a state where to start or what to do next. The state will need to determine where to focus improvement efforts based on priorities and resources. A state might choose to focus entirely on one component or on multiple components. A state may choose to complete the Self-Assessment for only one or two components or subcomponents.

There are no rules, only suggestions, for how the framework and Self-Assessment are to be used. The ECTA Center created these tools to support a planning process that identifies the activities, timelines, resources, and intended outcomes needed to improve the system; however, states might find other ways to use them as well. Both tools are designed to help states build high-quality systems. We encourage states to use them in ways they find most helpful.

The ECTA Center is compiling resources to support improvement activities for each of the components. Some of these will address a subcomponent and others will be specific to a quality indicator or element of quality. The Center is gathering examples of how states are implementing the quality indicators. These resources include examples of policies, procedures, planning documents, and other state-developed tools. The System Framework and the associated resources are used to guide technical assistance (TA) to states.

ECTA Center Technical Assistance Related to the Framework

We encourage states to contact the ECTA Center with any questions or requests for TA related to its use. We can provide any clarification needed, help find additional resources and help plan improvement activities. We can also provide TA to support activities such as facilitating a stakeholder process to complete the Self-Assessment or developing an improvement planning process to make use of the results.

We look forward to working together with states to improve the quality of systems of services for young children with disabilities and their families.

The ECTA System Framework was developed by the Early Childhood Technical Assistance (ECTA) Center with extensive input from Part C and Section 619 Coordinators and staff from six partner states as well as national and regional experts that participated on a Technical Work Group (TWG). The Center for IDEA Early Childhood Data Systems (DaSy) developed the Data System component of the framework. The Early Childhood Personnel Center (ECPC) collaborated in the development of the Personnel/Workforce component. The ECTA Center gratefully acknowledges the contributions of the following individuals:

ECTA Center:

  • Betsy Ayankoya
  • Debbie Cate
  • Lise Fox
  • Sue Goode
  • Alison Gunn
  • Kathy Hebbeler
  • Lynne Kahn
  • Christina Kasprzak
  • Anne Lucas
  • Katy McCullough
  • Mary Peters
  • Lynda Pletcher
  • Barbara Smith
  • Judy Swett
  • Kathy Whaley
  • Sharon Walsh

Partner States:

  • Delaware
    • Susan Campbell
    • Lisa Crim
    • Carolann Schumann
    • Verna Thompson
  • Idaho
    • Christy Cronheim
    • Shannon Dunstan
  • Minnesota
    • Lisa Backer
    • Kara Tempel
  • Pennsylvania
    • Mary Anketell
    • James Coyle
    • Deb Daulton
    • Emily Hackleman
    • Kim Koteles
    • Patti Wirick
  • New Jersey
    • Susan Evans
    • Terry Harrison
    • Barbara Tkach
  • West Virginia
    • Ginger Huffman
    • Pam Roush

Technical Work Group:

  • Mary Beth Bruder
  • Lori Connors-Tadros
  • Barbara Gebhard
  • Maureen Greer
  • Vivian James
  • Grace Kelley
  • Jana Martella
  • Robin McWilliam
  • Cindy Oser
  • Anne Reale
  • Rachel Schumacher
  • Jodi Whiteman

Additional Contributors:

  • Ron Benham
  • Jeffri Brookfield
  • Carolee Eslinger
  • Nicholas Gelbar
  • Phoebe Gillespie
  • Kim Hartsell
  • Susan Hayes
  • Jamie Kilpatrick
  • Dave Lindeman
  • Arlene Russell
  • Sandy Schmitz
  • Vicki Stayton
  • George Sugai
  • Linda Tuchman-Ginsberg
  • Kim Wedel
  • Pam Winton