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Written by: Grace Sawyer

Inclusive school-related programs are becoming increasingly common (Williamson et al., 2019). Practitioners and administrators at inclusive programs want to provide the best care and education possible for these children. Below are five indicators of high-quality inclusive school-age programs that practitioners and administrators can implement.

Indicators of High-Quality Inclusive School-Age Programs:

  1. Maintain a program-wide philosophy of inclusion. Inclusion may have varied meanings for different practitioners at a center; administrators should not assume that their definition of inclusion is shared amongst the team unless they have had explicit conversations on the topic.
    • Collaboratively write a mission statement on inclusion, ensuring all practitioners can share their voices.
    • Display the mission statement for practitioners and families to see, serving as a visual reminder of the program’s commitment to inclusion.
  2. Use an ongoing system for family partnerships. A pillar of high-quality inclusion is a family partnership, as families are the primary caregivers and experts of their children. Partnerships go beyond involvement or engagement; in family partnerships, families are involved in decision-making rather than simply being informed of it. Programs should ensure partnerships are authentic, consistent, and culturally responsive.
    • Develop and maintain opportunities for bidirectional communication between practitioners and families. A practitioner may offer several options of communication methods to families upon enrollment and use the one that works best for the family’s needs.
    • Regularly offer opportunities for families to participate in program leadership and share suggestions. For example, when developing their vision statement, a program may invite families to share their hopes for inclusion in the program.
    • Allow multiple modes of family involvement. Some families may be excited to share expertise from their work or heritage with students during the school day, while others may be able to make materials such as posters for display in the classroom. These and other modes of involvement (e.g., observation, volunteering at special events) should all be welcomed.
  3. Provide professional development and teaming opportunities. Administrators at high-quality programs support their practitioners by providing ample opportunities for professional development and collaboration.
    • Administrators provide paid time for practitioners to collaborate. They offer resources and tools to support practitioners in the classroom, such as templates for delegating responsibilities throughout the day.
    • Practitioners receive professional development on meaningful topics aimed at supporting the diverse community of students. Professional development is ongoing, and practitioners have opportunities to practice strategies.
  4. Foster social-emotional learning and development. Practitioners in high-quality programs help students stay emotionally regulated and adapt the environment when students engage in challenging behaviors.
    • Explicitly teach social-emotional skills. This will look different depending on the age of students. Preschoolers may need instruction on sharing, while middle and higher schoolers may be learning about bullying prevention.
    • Regularly model social-emotional skills embedded in interactions.
  5. Conduct ongoing and authentic assessments. Practitioners conduct assessments of children to determine their strengths and needs. They use assessment results to inform instruction, individualizing and differentiating learning to meet the needs of each student.
    • Collaborate with families while gathering data and determining the most appropriate assessment tool, taking into consideration factors such as cultural responsiveness and linguistic diversity.
    • Use assessment data and family priorities to identify individualized goals for students.
    • Regularly collect data to monitor progress toward goals, making environmental and instructional adaptations as necessary.

Intentionality is at the heart of all indicators of a high-quality inclusive program. Practitioners and administrators must be thoughtful and intentional as they implement these practices to support the students and families in their care and ensure high-quality experiences.

You can find links to helpful tip sheets and resources in this document.


Cate, D., Diefendorf, M., McCullough, K., Peters, M. L., & Whaley, K. (Eds.). (2010). Quality indicators of inclusive early childhood programs/practices: A compilation of selected resources. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute, National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center & National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations. (2020, April 7). Early care and education environment indicators and elements of high-quality inclusion (field review). Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina, FPG Child Development Institute, National Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center.

Early Childhood Technical Assistance Center, & National Center for Pyramid Model Innovations. (2020). Indicators of high-quality inclusion.

Illinois Early Learning Project. (2021). Observing your child in preschool. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Williamson, P., Hoppey, D., McLeskey, J., Bergmann, E., & Moore, H. (2020). Trends in LRE placement rates over the past 25 yearsThe Journal of Special Education, 53(4), 236-244.

Workman, S., & Ullrich, R. (2017, February 13). Quality 101: Identifying the core components of a high-quality early childhood program. Center for American Progress.

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