Five Themes Addressed in Administrative and
University of Northern Iowa researcher Susan Etscheidt reports
that the adequacy of transition services is currently a significant
area of litigation by parents who have been dissatisfied
with the process. In order to identify areas of concern,
Etscheidt reviewed 36 state-level administrative and district
court rulings published between 1997 through December 2004.
Only decisions that addressed school-to-post school transition
plans were included in this analysis.
primary disability labels of the students who were the
these cases were evenly distributed – with
the majority being male students identified with “mental
disabilities” and learning disabilities, and a smaller
but equal distribution among those identified as having emotional
disabilities, autism or Asperger syndrome and multiple disabilities.
identified five transition planning “themes” in
the decisions reviewed: agency contact, student involvement,
individualization of the transition plan, district obligation
and the appropriateness of the transition plan. Each of these
is discussed in relation to changes contained in IDEA 2004.
Contacts. The shared responsibility between school districts
and outside agencies was memorialized in the
1997 amendments to IDEA and in the Vocational Rehabilitation
Act of 1973 and as amended in the Workforce Investment
Act of 1998. These statutes require formal agreement that
specifies the responsibilities of providing and paying
for transition services to students with disabilities.
[20 U.S.C. 1412(a)(12)(A) and 29 U.S.C. 101(a)(11)(D)].
Districts must ensure that IEP teams bring agencies that
may provide or pay for transitions services to the table
so that both school services and post school services can
be identified and included in the IEP as part of transition
planning. These services and agencies can include health,
human services, mental health, social security, housing,
recreation and those offering postsecondary training and
education and transportation. Failure to involve these agencies
impedes successful post school outcomes for special education
lost cases when they attempted to substitute efforts undertaken
by parents, or when they did not invite
and encourage the active participation of outside agencies.
However, when districts have made good faith efforts to obtain
information, include agencies in planning, develop action
steps and link parents and students with agency resources,
they have prevailed. This was true even in one case where
parents refused services of an agency and the district went
forward without agency presence in developing the transition
Student Involvement. The
1997 Amendments to IDEA required that all students 14 and
older must be invited to attend IEP meetings to help plan
their transition services. Even when the student does not
attend, their preferences, interests and concerns must be
considered. Districts are not required to simply include
any or all student preferences, but may work as a team to
determine interest-based coursework and services that will
address the student’s needs and put her on a path to
achieve the transition goals. This makes the requirement
to include the student particularly necessary for districts.
Parents and advocates as well need to note the strong preference
for active student involvement in statute and as a best-practice
of the Transition Plan. In some part, all
of the decisions reviewed addressed the importance of individualizing
transition plans on the basis of student need, preference
and interest. Districts cannot offer college catalogs, generic
vocational training or other insignificant activities or
opportunities as a substitute for a robust program, based
on assessment and calculated to provide benefit.
It is interesting to note that when districts demonstrate
that they have provided appropriate coursework, work related
activities and goals that meet the needs of the student in
question, procedural errors may be excused. In two cases,
the IEPs in dispute did not contain a formal statement of
transition service needs, but because students and parents
were involved in developing the IEP and the coursework, activities
and IEP goals were individualized and sufficient, districts
meeting the individual needs of students, districts can
to develop a variety of “creative” solutions
that include community-based programming that allows a student
to apply the skills they have learned, functional skill development
that can take place after a student has participated in graduation
ceremonies with his peers, and instruction provided in “real
life” settings rather than “artificial ones”.
Obligations. Districts are not required to ensure that
the goal of employment or independent living is achieved,
but they must do more than provide opportunity and skills
to simply apply to postsecondary programs. These are qualitative
differences that are at the core of the district’s
duty to provide a program calculated to benefit each student.
students are introduced to a variety of school and community
experiences, and districts can demonstrate that
school programs are designed to assist students to successfully
meet social and vocational goals as well as graduation
districts have prevailed in hearings. One administrative
law judge commented that “the District was not required
to provide every possible job experience” but was obligated
to provide the student with experiences that were based on
individual needs, preferences and interests. However, the
fact that a student meets graduation requirements does not
relieve the district of the obligation to provide the transition
services that fully implement and allow the student to complete
the IEP program.
Appropriateness of the Transition Plan. Many of the cases
reviewed addressed the issue of how appropriate the transition
plan was in addressing the needs of the student in question.
In several cases, the failure to provide adequate specially
designed communication aids, reading instruction or proper
evaluations while students were in secondary schools resulted
in districts being required to provide and fund additional
or compensatory services to students who had graduated or
who were seeking postsecondary program enrollment.
those cases were districts offered FAPE, and could demonstrate
successfully participation or completion of IEP goals, requests
for compensatory or extended services were not successful.
In those decisions, key words and concepts such as “useful” program, “important
skills”, appropriate transition goals overcame the “technical
defects” of the transition plans.
THE BOTTOM LINE
defines transition as a “results-oriented process” that
should support the academic and functional achievement of
special education students so that they can go onto successful
postsecondary training and programs as well as independent
living and work in the community. This research provides
valuable information about important considerations for students,
parents and advocates:
services agencies must be contacted and involved
in developing transition goals and plans.
Services that they
fund must be delineated in the plan.
enough academic credits for high school graduation
a transition plan.
academic and functional goals and supports are necessary
to achieve the results
required by IDEA (see box below).
districts are not responsible for ensuring successful
outcomes, but they
are responsible for developing comprehensive
transition programs that are individualized
and that reflect the needs, preferences
and interests of the student in
or compensatory services and supports may be awarded
failures to provide
programs, but are rarely awarded
on the basis of procedural violations
good faith efforts
to develop goals and supports
that benefit students and put them “on
the path” to successful
Etscheidt comments that the focus in IDEA on transition
is a response to the low graduation rates and “dismal” post
school achievements of students with disabilities. These
unacceptable outcomes and the issues identified in the cases
reviewed highlight the critical importance of initiating
discussions at the IEP table as early as possible in a student’s
secondary school experience. This
can only be achieved if parents, advocates and school staff
are familiar with the adult service options available.
Advocates working with middle and high school age students
have a particular responsibility to study and understand
IDEA transition requirements, visit service agencies, obtain
relevant eligibility information and identify strategies
to ensure active participation and meaningful involvement
of students in the transition planning process.
practice in developing transition plans requires:
team members that are familiar with and engaged in identifying
adult and post school services
with and active participation of rehabilitation professionals
delineation of responsibilities
adult service agencies in plans
involvement and participation of students in developing
own transition goals and programs (In fact, student
participation is highly correlated with improved outcomes
and in employment.)
change in IDEA 2004 that requires a transition statement “no
later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child is
16” has placed an additional burden on students, parents
and school staff. Planning post school outcomes for all students
is generally a comprehensive four-year process. Courses that
are required for graduation and to pursue future goals are
often sequential and require planning to begin well before
age 16. Parent and advocates will need to begin to engage
IEP teams in identifying coursework, activities and supports
that will assist students to begin transition no later than
age 14 in order to maximize chances for successful school
completion and postsecondary opportunities.
The Research: Issues
in Transition Planning: Legal Decisions. Susan Etscheidt, Department of Special Education, University
of Northern Iowa. Published in Career Development for Exceptional
Individuals, 29(1), 28-47.
Postsecondary Goals are not the same as Measurable
Annual Goals in a student’s IEP. This is a
new requirement in IDEA 2004 that specifies that
the IEP for every student who turns 16 years (or
younger if appropriate) must include measurable postsecondary
goals and the transition services needed to assist
the student in reaching those goals. CFR 300.320
postsecondary goals are statements of what a student
wants to do post school. They are based on each student’s
preferences, interests and needs. There should be
a postsecondary goal in education/training, employment
and independent living (if appropriate for that student).
are some examples of measurable postsecondary goals:
graduation, I will receive training while working
at the XYZ hardware store.
graduation, I will attend Northwest Technical college
school completion, I will attend the XYZ adult
training program and receive vocational
graduation, I will work full time at the XYZ
graduation, I will work full time as a computer
school completion, I will attend the XYZ adult
training program and receive vocational
graduation, I will live in a group home with my
graduation, I will live in a dorm or an apartment.
completion of school, I will live at home while
I receive vocational training.
is important for parents and special education advocates
to help a student to understand that even though
he or she may not know what they might want to do
in the future, it is still important to begin to
figure out some goals and what needs and preferences
they might have.
counseling, exploration and guidance can be written
into the transition service section of the IEP and
additional opportunities can be provided that will
help a student develop a vision for what they want
to do after high school.
by O’Leary, E. (2006) Measurable Postsecondary
Goals. Logan, Utah: MPRRC, Unpublished paper.