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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


Six Strategies Make Model Transition Programs Excel

Researchers at the University of Vermont and the University of Illinois have conducted a qualitative study of factors that support the success of school districts' transition programs. The study, funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs, used a panel of national experts to identify five sites that had model transition programs and four sites that represented typical transition programs. Interviews, observations and document reviews were conducted at each site and cross-case analysis was performed.

Results suggested several differences between the model and representative sites: Model sites showed more indicators of support for implementing transition planning and services, and the use of promising practices was more widespread and systematic than in the representative sites. In contrast, innovative practices in the representative sites tended to be limited to individual students or programs and had not been extended to the system as a whole.

The model sites incorporated six factors: They used systemwide student- and family-centered strategies; they fostered effective and substantive interagency communication.;they facilitated systematic professional development; they provided a visionary, supportive and inclusive form of leadership; their reform efforts were integrated; and connections between local and federal transition initiatives developed.

Systemwide student- and family-centered strategies. The model sites took a systematic approach to promoting the participation of students and families. Their curriculum included courses in self-advocacy and self-determination and they used a combination of strategies to promote self-advocacy and student leadership of IEP/transition meetings. They used person-centered planning strategies to promote student and parent participation in IEP and transition meetings and made concerted attempts to keep the planning process focused on students' personal goals, interests, and needs. Students often participated in pre-planning meetings to help them organize their ideas for upcoming transition planning meetings, and many teachers were implementing curricula designed to teach students how to lead their own IEP/transition planning meetings.

Effective and substantive interagency collaboration. At the model sites, examples of sustained interagency collaboration included key positions funded jointly by education and adult services agencies, written agreements regarding transition policies, monthly interagency planning meetings, cross-agency training opportunities, and the use of a variety of practices associated with collaboration and team-building. Associated students outcomes included more students participating in employment and other community programs during high school, more participation in co-funded career assessment and development opportunities, greater concurrent enrollment in high schools and community colleges, and more students with disabilities served by a variety of adult service agencies following high school.

Systematic professional development. Educators, adult service providers, employers and other community providers co-developed or participated in a variety of interagency and cross-agency training opportunities at the model sites. Each of the model sites employed a person with specific responsibilities for transition policies and practices, and in each case, this person coordinated the professional development activities. Many professional development activities were held in conjunction with institutions of higher education or state transition systems change projects.

Visionary, supportive and inclusive leadership. Regional, central office, and building level administrators in education and adult services provided leadership critical to the implementation of federal transition policies. They were credited with helping to establish a vision for transition and a structure to support its implementation. They were also credited with having convinced their agencies of the need to provide local personnel to implement transition-related services. They used inclusive and participatory forms of leadership in which teachers and service providers felt empowered to take the initiative in introducing promising transition practices.

Integrated educational reform. Education reform at the model sites was seen as an integrated process. Specific initiatives in special and general education were not separate—, potential reforms were developed and implemented with careful attention to their potential impact on all students. Thus, transition policies were connected to initiatives such as block funding, interdisciplinary curricula, career development, and the implementation of state and local standards and assessments.

Connected local and federal initiatives. Closely related to this integrated approach to reform was the linkage in implementation of IDEA and the School to Work Transition Act (STOA). In some cases, positions associated with the provision of employment and applied learning opportunities were co-funded by special education, vocational rehabilitation, or other local funds earmarked for implementation of the STOA.

Challenges. Across the model sites, interviewees noted three concerns. First was the need to continue and expand the use of strategies to increase the number of students who play an active leadership role in their IEP and transition meetings, particularly those that enhance the ability of students with severe disabilities to identify their choices for the future. A second concern was the need to expand opportunities to ensure that students have full participation in school and community life, particularly for students with ED. Finally, while all five model sites had some postschool evaluation processes in place, most interviewees would like to see them become more comprehensive and better utilized in program evaluation and improvement efforts.

For more information on this research, see Implementing the IDEA Transition Mandates by Susan Brody Hasazi, Katherine S. Furney, and Lizanne DeStephano, Exceptional Children, v. 65, N. 4, Summer 1999.


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Last updated: August 12, 1999

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