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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Mary Lynn Boscardin

Second Advisor

Elizabeth McEneaney

Third Advisor

Robert Marx

Subject Categories



This qualitative study is designed to investigate how state special education agencies (SEAs) implement the policy tool of engaging stakeholders to respond to the federal expectations of improving results for students with disabilities through their State Systemic Improvement Plans (SSIPs). The traditional top-down, authoritarian roles of SEAs have not adequately met the stakeholder policy expectations at the local level. With federal policy pressuring SEAs to deliver on local education outcomes, stakeholder engagement has become an operation reporting expectation in SSIPs. Both federal policy and the engagement and collaboration literature informed this study. This deductive qualitative research study employed thematic analysis to extract key concepts from SSIPs to dissect stakeholder engagement used by 50 SEAs. The findings revealed SEA’s use of influence, representation, communication, directionality and supports to involve stakeholders in the development of the SSIPs. SEAs engaged a breadth of stakeholders by providing a context for the work, informing and teaching skills for more effective engagement, and offering guidance and making the work more manageable for the stakeholders. A state leadership structure for stakeholder engagement emerged from this investigation. The framework incorporates: (a) a breadth of stakeholders that are both representative and authentic, (b) a means of support that encourages, maintains and sustains stakeholder understanding of and engagement in the work, and (c) lateral and collaborative interactions for the creation of ideas and decisions that allow for genuine and influential stakeholder voices.


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