The Special Olympics Unified Schools program creates opportunities for the social inclusion of youth with intellectual disabilities through Unified Sports, Inclusive Youth Leadership development, and Whole School Engagement activities. Adopted by 135 countries across seven global regions, the program includes more than 100,000 schools outside the United States.
Studies have shown that the Unified Schools program positively affects a range of outcomes for students with and without intellectual disabilities in the United States, including social inclusion, school environment, and participant attitudes. However, little is known about whether this program has been implemented with fidelity or has similar effects outside the United States. To inform future Special Olympics International implementation efforts, it is therefore critical to better understand how the Unified Schools program is adapted to the different contexts and how varying approaches affect students with and without intellectual disabilities. Addressing this knowledge gap is especially important in low- and middle-income countries, where almost 90% of children with disabilities do not attend schools.
To support Special Olympics in increasing its evaluation efforts of Unified Schools programs internationally, AIR partnered with Special Olympics International to develop an international evaluation framework that will serve as a guide for future international evaluations. AIR will work with Special Olympics to pilot the evaluation framework in an initial set of four target countries—Greece, Kenya, India, and China between 2019-2021. This framework will serve as a guide to Unified Schools programs in countries that are interested in conducting implementation (assess implementation process and progress) and impact (assess program effects) evaluations using common indicators and measures.
Improving the ability of Special Olympics offices around the world to evaluate their programming will enable Special Olympics International to better promote their global programming and program successes, assess whether particular implementation models are working, and adapt programming to better achieve key program outcomes.