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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Action Needed to Address Current Challenges Facing Transition

Researchers have identified five areas in which improvements in secondary transition services will benefit special education students, accompanied by strategies that can be used to bring about these improvements. Recent legislation, policies, and government initiatives provide an opportunity for schools to address these areas, at the same time presenting new challenges.

The five areas identified for action are:

  • Ensuring that students with disabilities have access to the full range of general education curricular options and learning experiences
  • Making high school graduation decisions based on meaningful indicators of students’ learning and skills and clarifying the implications of different diploma options
  • Ensuring access to and full participation in postsecondary education, employment, and independent living
  • Further increasing student and family participation in discussion and decision making
  • Improving collaboration and coordination between educational and other agencies at the federal, state, and local levels.

General education curriculum: Although the general education curriculum includes both academic and nonacademic programs, large-scale tests often only apply to academic subjects. The result is that nonacademic programs such as career education, arts, and citizenship may receive limited attention. To integrate and align the IDEA 97 requirements for access to the general education curriculum with transition service provisions, educators can:

  • Ensure that students have access to the full range of secondary curricula and programs
  • Provide students opportunities to develop skills through a wide range of curriculum options, including vocational education, service learning, community work experience and adult living skills
  • Maintain high expectations for student learning
  • Ensure that appropriate accommodations are systematically used in both instruction and assessment
  • .

Graduation decisions and diploma options: States use a variety of criteria in making graduation decisions, ranging from course credits to exit exams. A major concern is that students who become frustrated at repeated failures on state graduation tests and related requirements may drop out of school. The situation is further complicated by diploma options, including special education diplomas, certificates of completion, occupational diplomas, and others, and the fact that in some states, once a student graduates with a standard diploma, the right to special education ends. Steps that educators can take to address theses issues are:

  • Promoting the use of alternate assessments to support graduation decisions;
  • Use multiple sources of information and documentation of student knowledge and skills in these decisions;
  • Moving forward cautiously with alternative diplomas for students with disabilities: Will receiving less than a standard diploma limit the student’s future access to postsecondary education or employment? Will a student’s graduation end entitlement to special education?

Post-school experiences in education, employment and independent living: Both secondary and postsecondary schools can take action on this issue. At both levels, increased school and community service agency collaboration and the active involvement of employers are required. Strategies include:

  • In secondary programs, including preparation for students in understanding their disabilities and needed supports and services, and help them develop their self-advocacy skills
  • Developing models of support that are personally responsive, flexible and individualized
  • Providing access to appropriate support services in postsecondary schools as well as supports provided by community services agencies (health, mental health, human services, transportation, and others)
  • Ensuring that the supports provided during education transfer to eventual employment settings.

Student and family participation: Self-determination, personal choice and shared responsibility are being increasingly emphasized in schools, and IDEA requires that students over 14 be invited to their IEP meetings. Still, too many students are not participating in IEP decisions. Students and their families can become further involved in discussions and decisions about secondary education and transition goals when educators:

  • Teach students decision-making, goal-setting, and other self-determination skills
  • Provide tools to families, e.g., concise, user-friendly information on school and community services.

Improve collaboration and coordination: To improve coordination and collaboration at all levels, there is a need to:

  • Promote general and special education collaboration
  • Promote cross-agency staff development programs
  • Develop cross-agency resources sharing options to make needed transition services available
  • Develop mechanisms to share information across agencies on the progress and outcomes of former special education students
  • .

For more information, see “Current Challenges Facing Secondary Education and Training Services for Youth with Disabilities: What Research Tells Us,” by David R. Johnson, Robert A. Stodden, Martha L. Thurlow, Ellen J. Emmanuel, Richard Luecking, and Mary Mack. Exceptional Children, 68(4), Summer, 2002. Funded in part by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs (Grant #H326J000005).

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Last updated: January 15, 2003

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