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4 Ways to Improve Transition Planning in Special Education

Special Education

Providing individualized special education services in school is crucial to fulfilling the mission of the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act (IDEA). However, in-school services only get you partway to accomplishing IDEA’s goals for students with disabilities.

The preamble to IDEA illustrates its long-term vision: “Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.”

Transition planning is the vehicle educators use to help students with special needs live as independently and self-sufficiently as possible after high school.

Yet, for busy educators it can be easy to get caught up in daily planning and lose sight of a student’s post-secondary goals.

By following these four best practices, you can increase your confidence that students are well-positioned for a successful transition to life after high school.

The following best practices were taken from the video The IEP and Transition Services by special education author, consultant and national speaker Carol Kosnitsky. Content has been edited for brevity and clarity only.

1. Start the transition services process before it’s required

Formal transition planning may not be required before the age of 16 in your state. However, starting early can help kids identify strengths, needs, self-awareness and the ability to engage in self-determination skills, which include not just self-awareness but self-evaluation and decision-making.

Starting early also helps educators pick developmentally appropriate skills for kids. The process can begin in elementary school and be as simple as asking a student, “What are you interested in?”

Invite kids to physically participate in IEP meetings as early as possible. The sooner you’re able to get kids to physically come to their IEP meetings the better. This way, by the time the student is expected to be a fully-fledged team member, she/he is comfortable and confident about that roll.

2. Make sure post-secondary goals are measurable

Measurable post-secondary goal can be a confusing term because the word “measurable” in every other part of the IEP process is about collecting data and being accountable for a student achieving the goal. When thinking about “measurable” post-secondary goals, you are really thinking about “observable” goals.

Help your students articulate what they want to do after leaving high school as it relates to two or possibly three different areas. The two post-secondary goals that are required for all students are:

  1. An education and training goal
  2. An employment goal
  3. If appropriate, you would also engage kids in planning a third goal around independent living

Measurable post-secondary goals begin with, “After high school, I will _____” statements. They should be results-oriented and specific. The specificity is how you make them observable.

Real-world example:

Your student mentions wanting to go to college. You’re not going to measure if he ends up attending a four-year college, but now that you know it’s his goal, you’re able to take steps to help him prepare. You can determine the criteria to get into college and what course of study that student should take in high school to prepare for that post-secondary goal. You’ll also be able to consider if any of that student’s disability-related needs could prevent him from meeting his goal.

3. Keep referring to present levels of performance

While IDEA doesn’t specifically mention present levels in the transition process, you should always refer to present levels to understand the gap between a student’s actual performance and the skills and behaviors you know she/he needs to make a smooth transition. Always go back to the rest of the IEP to look at strengths, interests, preferences and kids’ skill levels.

What is required in transition services is a clear statement of the student’s course of study. To build this statement, you’ll need to consider the following question: Given what a student’s post-secondary goal is, are you planning the appropriate course work and opportunities that will increase the likelihood of that transition?

A big part of course-of-study planning is helping students see the relevance of classes they take in high school and how those relate to their future.

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4. Coordinate a transition “action plan”

The last part of transition planning is called transition services. This is the coordinated set of activities that make up your “action plan” for a student. If you know what the student wants to do after high school, and you know the courses that she/he is going to be engaged in, what other things are on the to-do list that you – as a student-support team – need to take care of over the next four, six, seven years?

Your action plan should be a long-range plan that can be changed every year. It could include the school, the special education team, the guidance department, the parent, the student and representatives from any other agencies the child is or will be involved with.

The law requires that you look at seven different areas to say, “Is there an action plan necessary around this big area of instruction?”

Seven areas to review

  • Course of study/instruction
  • Employment
  • Functional volitional assessment
  • Community experiences
  • Other post-school and adult-living objectives
  • Acquisition of daily-living skills
  • Related services

Not every student needs services in each area. These seven are a kind of checklist to make sure you’ve covered the full range of things that are not course-related in your action plan for that student.

Real-world example:

A student who was receiving special education in high school is going to college, where any support and protection he has will come under Section 504. Do you need to do any instruction around that change?

In summary: begin with the end in mind

You want to be able to think forward and say, “10 years from now, I know this child is going to have experienced economic self-sufficiency, is living to the maximum extent possible, as independently as she can,” and that’s really thinking with the end in mind. Allow post-secondary goals to influence everything you do and the decisions you make for that student, and fulfilling IDEA’s vision will be well within your reach.

Transitioning a student from an IEP to a Section 504 plan to prepare for college? Frontline Special Ed & Interventions can help you lead a smooth transition. Schedule a demo to learn how  

Carol Kosnitsky

Carol is a renowned author, consultant and national speaker on best practices in developing measurable and compliant goals and objectives. As a former Special Education Director, Supervisor and Teacher who has consulted with hundreds of school districts, she brings a great depth of practical experience and compassion to her work along with energy, insights, vision and systemic thinking. Funny and articulate, Carol inspires and informs.

Contact Carol Kosnitsky for more training at ckosnitsky@comcast.net.