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New Ideas for Planning Transitions to the Adult World
Research Connections
Spring 2000

New Ideas for Planning Transitions to the Adult World

The transition from school to work and adult life requires sound preparation in the secondary school, adequate support at the point of school leaving, and secure
opportunities and
services, if needed, in adult situations.
Madeline Will, 1984, U.S. Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services



Conducting a staff development workshop or teaching a university course on transition?

The Council for Exceptional Children distributes the following staff development materials created by Paula Kohler, Jim Martin, and colleagues:

Transition from School to Life: A Workshop Series for Educators and Transition Service

Transition from School to Life: A Complete Course for Special Educators

How Research Is Informing Practice

The special education field has come a long way since 1984. Today, transition is seen as more than providing service routes in the individual's movement from high school to employment— is seen as a comprehensive approach to educational program development consisting of an alignment of student goals with educational experiences and services. Since the early 1980s, federal law has underscored the need for comprehensive transition planning and broadened its focus. The 1997 Reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities for a student with a disability that:
  • Is designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promotes movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.
  • Is based upon the individual student's needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests.
  • Includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.
IDEA also states that transition planning must be part of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) and begin at age 14. By age16, the IEP should contain a statement of needed transition services for the child, including, when appropriate, a statement of inter-agency responsibilities or any needed linkages. Further, students must be invited to attend their IEP meetings if the purpose of the meeting will be to consider the student's transition service needs.

These new requirements reflect a body of research— of it supported by the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP)— describes what constitutes quality transition programs for students with disabilities. OSEP's investment for over two decades has been key in providing practitioners with a sound basis for planning transition programs. But as practitioners implement models and embrace new requirements, they are finding new issues that must be addressed.

A Framework for Implementing Transition Programs

"The most frequently asked questions about transition planning focus on the what, who, and how of delivering transition-related instruction and services," explains Paula Kohler, researcher at Western Michigan University and the Transition Research Institute at the University of Illinois. To answer these questions, Kohler and her colleagues developed a taxonomy of transition practices for students with disabilities. After reviewing the literature, model projects, and exemplary programs, they organized the findings into five categories that are relevant for organizing schools and instruction to facilitate transition. The categories are
  • Student-focused planning. The IEP is the planning vehicle for implementing the transition requirements specified in IDEA. Student participation in the process is essential, and self-determination skills are considered to be fundamental for participation. The IEP should include identification of valued and attainable postschool goals.
  • Student development. Research indicates that work quality, attitude, social skills, and academic skills are related to postschool employment. On-the-job training that includes work-based and school-based learning enhances employment rates.
  • Interagency and interdisciplinary collaboration. IDEA requires collaboration on both the individual planning and community planning levels. Interagency collaboration focuses on programs, systems, and service delivery. Interagency coordinating bodies should include all stakeholders, including consumers, family members, service providers, and employers.
  • Family involvement. Research indicates that parents and family members should be involved in transition planning. Because many families are involved in transition activities, practitioners should capitalize on their strengths and abilities.
  • Program structure and attributes. To implement transition programs that reflect the above categories, schools and programs should be organized accordingly. Educational programs must be based upon postschool goals and a variety of curricular options must be available to students.
For Kohler, the question of who carries out these practices is just as important. "In a national implementation survey, we confirmed that it takes more than a special education teacher or a transition specialist to implement these practices— takes the entire school community." According to Kohler, many researchers are concentrating their attention on addressing issues related to how elements of the taxonomy may be implemented.

In the next section, we'll take a look at how researchers are framing some of the current transition issues and informing practice.

Next: Promising Approaches in Planning for Transition

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