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Current Research in Post-School Transition Planning

The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education (ERIC EC)
E-mail: webmaster@hoagiesgifted.org
Internet: http://eric.hoagiesgifted.org
ERIC/OSEP Digest #E652
Author: Cynthia Warger
December 2003

In recent years, great strides have been made in a variety of areas considered to be strong predictors of students' post-school success in living independently, obtaining employment, and earning higher wages. Research, much of it supported by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), has provided knowledge essential for addressing these challenging transition issues. Today, OSEP-funded researchers continue to investigate how transition planning can be enhanced to enable students with disabilities to achieve a reasonable quality of adult life. This ERIC/OSEP Digest provides a brief summary of selected OSEP-supported research in several key areas: independence, access to adult services, and income.

Supporting Independence

Quality of life has emerged in the literature as a framework for planning and evaluating services for individuals with disabilities, and a major focus of quality of life issues has been independence. Two lines of research related to supporting independence in transition planning are teaching self-determination skills and fostering the development of social networks.

Teaching self-determination skills. Self-determination is directly linked to having a high quality adult life (Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998). Consider these results:

  • School leavers with mental retardation or learning disabilities with self-determination skills fared better across multiple life categories—including employment and access to health and other benefits, financial independence, and independent living—than cohorts without such skills (Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2003).
  • School leavers with mental retardation or learning disabilities with self-determination skills achieved more positive adult outcomes—including being employed at a higher rate and earning more-than—cohorts without such skills (Wehmeyer & Schwartz, 1998).

The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (Wehmeyer, Palmer, Agran, Mithaug, & Martin, 2000) was developed to assist educators in teaching self-determination skills.

Fostering the development of social networks. Social inclusion and interpersonal relations are quality of life domains related to the goals of full participation and independence. University of Massachusetts researcher Debra Hart has been studying the correlation between success in life and having positive relationships. According to Hart, people, including individuals with disabilities, depend on natural supports—friends, acquaintances, relatives, classmates, colleagues—for participation in community activities throughout their lives, including getting a job interview, helping meet a deadline, getting a ride to work, and providing emotional support. Naturally supportive relationships and the inclusion they offer not only enhance the quality of life for youth with disabilities, but also reduce the need for involvement of paid professionals in their lives. As part of Hart's study, she and her colleagues are compiling a database of practices that promote greater social connection for youth with disabilities.

Improving Access to Adult Services

Effective transition planning and service provision depends upon functional linkages between school, rehabilitation services, and other adult service agencies. However, many adult agencies responsible for serving individuals with disabilities operate in isolation or from uncoordinated agendas, which contributes to a lack of success in post-school outcomes in employment and community living. Two important aspects of transition efforts are having supports in place when the student exits the school system and providing integrated support after the student has left.

Leaving school with supports in place. The Transition Services Integration Model orchestrates a collective effort by three major service systems—education, rehabilitation, and developmental disabilities—during the final year a student is in public school. It addresses the problems of waiting lists and abrupt loss of services many young people with significant disabilities experience upon graduating (Luecking & Certo, 2002).Results of the model are that

  • Students exit school with stable paid jobs and scheduled routines for community-based activities
  • Services to maintain these activities continue to be provided (Certo et al., in press).

Investigation into students' and their families' perceptions of two aspects of the model—student-centered planning and increased collaboration among service agencies prior to the student's exiting the school system—found that the relationships established during the course of the transition year helped students to maintain a continuity of services. Students and families also developed a more realistic picture of the transition to adult life (Noyes & Sax, 2003).

Providing integrated support for individuals with emotional or behavioral disorders. Young adults with emotional or behavioral disorders have limited success in their transition to adulthood (Cheney & Bullis, in press). They have high unemployment rates, typically earn low wages, have difficulties with mental health issues, and have higher arrest rates than their peers.

To address the need for an integrated service delivery model for transitioning young people with emotional and behavioral disorders, University of Washington researcher Doug Cheney, University of New Hampshire researcher Joanne Malloy, and their colleagues developed the Rehabilitation, Empowerment, Natural Supports, Education, and Work project (Project RENEW) (Cheney & Cormier, 2003). Initial testing of the program showed promising results: Of 18 participants, 83% found employment, 67% completed high school, and 50% participated in postsecondary education (Hagner, Cheney, & Malloy, 1999). Involvement with law enforcement and corrections was substantially lower than at the start of the project. The young people themselves indicated satisfaction with the program and reported more favorable attitudes toward school and employment.

Improving Income and Earning Potential

For many years, OSEP has supported researchers committed to finding ways to enhance income potential for individuals with disabilities. Three lines of research related to employment are presented in the following sections.

Creating a partnership between schools and vocational rehabilitation. The vocational rehabilitation system is identified consistently as a primary transition partner with education because of its ability to help youth develop vocational skills, obtain employment, and advance the opportunity to live independently. University of Oregon researcher Michael Benz and his colleagues tackled the need for a creative funding model between schools and vocational rehabilitation by developing the Oregon Youth Transition Program (YTP) in 1990. YTP is a comprehensive, statewide initiative geared toward improving education and employment outcomes for youth with mild to moderate disabilities. YTP boasts impressive outcomes. During the 1990s, the program served several thousand students with disabilities in more than 75% of Oregon's high schools with the following results:

  • Compared to 43% of youth with disabilities nationally, 67% of YTP students obtain a regular high school diploma.
  • With a rate comparable to that of students without disabilities, 71% of YTP students are competitively employed during the first two years after leaving school compared to 46% of youth with disabilities nationally.

In follow-up research, Benz and his colleagues (Benz, Lindstrom, & Yovanoff, 2000) noted that graduation with a high school diploma and engagement in work or schooling activities were each strongly predicted by student participation in two or more career-related, paid jobs while in school and by completion of four or more student-identified transition goals.

Helping families and individuals apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a federal income support program administered by the Social Security Administration. SSI may provide monthly cash assistance to eligible individuals who meet the criteria for both disability and financial need.

Despite the potential importance of SSI, educators may have little awareness of the program and its connections to other benefits and programs. According to Illinois State University researcher Debbie Shelden, secondary special education teachers generally report little familiarity and little involvement with the SSI program. Most teachers indicate a willingness to learn more about SSI, and note that the topic usually is not addressed in preparation programs.

Improving employment opportunities for young adults with disabilities in transition from the juvenile justice system. Of the more than 100,000 youth incarcerated yearly in the United States, it is estimated that up to 70% may have a disability (Wolford, 2000). When they leave the juvenile justice system, they typically do not return to school, and they often have difficulties in competitive work placements (Bullis, Yovanoff, Mueller, & Havel, 2002). Moreover, it is estimated that about 50% of young people who are released from the juvenile corrections system will return to it (Myner, Santman, Cappelletty, & Perlmutter, 1998).

Poor transition experiences were demonstrated in a study of the facility-to-community transition experiences of 531 incarcerated youth from the Oregon juvenile justice system, of whom 58% had a disability (Bullis & Yovanoff, 2003).

Given the high costs of re-incarcerating a young person (e.g., nearly $60,000 in Oregon), efforts should be made to impede a student's return to the correctional system, promote successful school and work placements, and provide specialized services to youth re-entering the community (Bullis, & Yovanoff, in press).

Teaching self-determination skills, fostering social networks, improving students' access to adult services, and increasing students' earning potential are all activities that can be undertaken now to help ensure a better future quality of life for students with disabilities.

This Digest was based on the OSEP/ERIC Topical Brief, Considering Adult-World Realities in Transition Planning.


Benz, M., Lindstrom, L., & Yovanoff, P. (2000). Improving graduation and employment outcomes of students with disabilities: Predictive factors and student perspectives. Exceptional Children, 66(4), 509-529.

Bullis, M., & Yovanoff, P. (2003). Who are these guys? Comparison of formerly incarcerated youth with and without disabilities. [Unpublished manuscript.] Eugene, OR: University of Oregon, Institute on Violence and Destructive Behavior.

Bullis, M. & Yovanoff, P. (in press). The importance of getting started right: Further analysis of the faculty-to-community transition of formerly incarcerated adolescents. The Journal of Special Education.

Bullis. M., Yovanoff, P., Mueller, G., & Havel, M. (2002). Life on the "outs"—Examination of the community-to-community transition of incarcerated adolescents. Exceptional Children, 69, 7-22.

Certo, N., Mautz, D., Pumpian, I., Sax, C., Smalley, K., Wade, H., Noyes, D., Lueking, R., Wechsler, J., & Batterman, N. (in press). A review and discussion of a model for seamless transition to adulthood. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.

Cheney, D., & Bullis, M. (in press). Research findings and issues in the school-to-community transition of adolescents with emotional or behavioral disorders. In R. Rutherford, M. Quinn, & S. Mathur (Eds.), Handbook on research in behavioral disorders. New York: Guilford Publications.

Lueking, R., & Certo, N. (2002). Integrating service systems at the point of transition for youth with significant disabilities: A model that works. Addressing Trends and Developments in Secondary Education and Transition, 1(4), 1-3. [Also available online at www.ncset.org. org.]

Myner, J., Santman, J., Cappelletty, G., & Perlmutter, B. (1998). Variables associated with recidivism among juvenile offenders. International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 42, 65-80.

Noyes, D., & Sax, C. (2003). Changing systems for transition: Students, families, and professionals working together. Unpublished manuscript.

Wehmeyer, M., & Schwartz, M. (1998). The relationship between self-determination and quality of life for adults with mental retardation. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 33(1), 3-12.

Wolford, B. (2000). Youth education in the juvenile justice system. Corrections Today, 62, 128-130.

ERIC /OSEP Digests are in the public domain and may be freely reproduced and disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This digest was prepared with funding from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), U.S. Department of Education, under Contract No. ED-99-CO-0026. The opinions expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OSEP or the Department of Education.

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