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Transition Planning Series for Students with Disabilities (Part 1 of 5)

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By the time a student with an "IEP" (or a Section 504 plan) reaches age 16, the IEP must include a "Transition Plan" that identifies the student's postsecondary (post high school) education, employment and independent living goals. Goals can be set too low if team members devising the transition plan are not sufficiently aware of the postsecondary options available to students with disabilities. This 5 part series is intended to equip the stakeholders in the student’s future with resources and information to help them have meaningful input in the creation of a transition plan that keeps postsecondary expectations realistic and high. Specifically, this series will cover:

Part 1: The Transition Plan – What is it?
Part 2: Postsecondary Education Options
Part 3: Postsecondary Employment Options
Part 4: Independent Living Skills
Part 5: Creating the Transition Plan

Before reading this series, consider creating a transition planning table (see sample image pictured with this article) to write down notes and ideas as you read. A free copy is available from the author via email.

Part 1: The Transition Plan - What is it?

A. Transition Plan (Overview)
Transition Plans: Under the IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act), students with disabilities must be provided with free and appropriate public education and related services ("FAPE") that “meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.20 U.S.C. § 1400(d)(1)(A). Congress emphasized in its findings that one of the reasons access to the general education curriculum “to the maximum extent possible” is so important for students with disabilities is not only to make progress in school, but also so that they can “be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives to the maximum extent possible.” 20 U.S.C. § 1400(c)(5)(A)(ii). So that supports and services are in place during school to help students with disabilities transition to their adult lives as independently as possible, the IDEA requires that a transition plan be devised no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16 (or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP team). 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII); 34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b) and (c).

What is a transition plan? A transition plan has two required parts: 1. the student’s postsecondary goals, and 2. the supports and services needed to help the student reach those goals. 20 U.S.C.1414 (d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII); 34 C.F.R. § 300.320(b).

What are transition goals:? Under the IDEA, goals must be: 1. “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals,” and 2. “based upon age appropriate transition assessments.”
The goals must provide planning related to each of the following areas: a. training needed to reach goals, b. education, c. employment and, where appropriate, d. independent living skills. The goals must also take into account the student's input, strengths, preferences and interests. 20 U.S.C. § 1401(34)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 300.43(c).

Some state agencies recommend that “at least one annual IEP goal should be in place to support each identified measurable postsecondary goal.” Developing annual IEP goals to support the postsecondary goals, Ohio Department of Education (March 22, 2014) (site provides examples of IEP goals to support transition goals). Also, “[g]oals should be realistic and start during 9th and 10th grade,” (Tips for Transition, Kellems, R. and Morningstar, M., Transition Coalition for the University of Kansas, Dept. of Special Education, 2009, p. 6).

What are “transition services”? Transition services are defined as “services (including courses of study) the child will need to help reach the postsecondary goals."
20 U.S.C. § 1401(34)(B); 34 C.F.R. § 300.43(a). More specifically, transition services are a “coordinated set of activities” for a child with a disability that:
(a) is designed to be within a results-oriented process that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, and community participation;
(b) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and
(c) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and, if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

When do transition services end? California Law and the IDEA require that FAPE be offered to all eligible students with disabilities until July 1 after the student with a disability turns the age of 21. 34 CFR §§ 300.101(a), 300.102(a)(1); California Ed. Code § 56026; Lanterman Act (Welfare and Institutions Code) § 4400. However, under the IDEA, once students graduate with a “regular high school diploma,” they are no longer eligible for special education under the IDEA or the Lanterman Act. 34 C.F.R. § 300.102(a)(3)(iv). See Rights Under the Lanterman Act and Consumer's Guide to the Lanterman Act.

Author's Note: There is no requirement that a student earn a diploma in 4 years and, in many cases, students may receive free public education to earn a high school diploma up until the student "ages out." For students capable of performing the academic work needed to earn a diploma, but who still need transitional skills training to be successful as young adults, the team should consider designing a "hybrid" 5 - 8 year high school plan that combines transition training with diploma eligible classes so that the student can work towards both a diploma and development of functional skills needed for adult life.

If a district believes that a student with a disability is on track to graduate, “prior written notice” proposing exiting of the student from special educational services upon graduation must be sent to parents. 34 C.F.R. § 300.503(a)(1). Parents may object to the proposed change of placement if the parent does not believe the student has met the IEP goals and objectives, including transition goals. There is no requirement that a student obtain a diploma within 4 years so make sure that when planning the student’s high school classes, that the student’s academic and functional needs are addressed even if it means taking longer to earn the diploma. Students who qualify for services under the Lanterman Act have through age 21 to access educational services and/or earn a diploma.

B. General Transition Planning Resources
To get an general idea of what transition plans may involve, below are some resources to review. See also the "parent worksheet" image presented with this article. (Note: A free copy of this worksheet created by the author may be obtained by emailing the author Lucile Lynch). For resources that pertain to specific areas (e.g. education options, employment options, etc.), please click on the related section listed at the beginning and end of this article (coming soon).

1. Pathways to Postsecondary Education for Students with Disabilities (Vermont Parent Information Center, 2008) (has excellent table and timelines for developing strong transition plans);
2. “Taking Charge of Your Education: Transition Planning for Your Future” (includes sheets to fill in to help develop transition goals). This guide was funded by a grant from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services and is a collaborative effort of the San Diego State University Research Foundation, Employment Development Dept. of CA, the CA Governor’s Committee on Employment of People with Disabilities and the California Health Incentives Improvement Project; and
3. CalSTAT’s Transition Information and Resource Guide from the California Department of Education (164 pages). Includes table of sample goals, measures and standards.

C. Pre-Assessment Preparation
While not required, it is highly recommended that parents and students preliminarily explore what postsecondary options exist in the areas of education, employment, living, transportation and community involvement before any postsecondary assessments are performed. Assessments often ask the student or parents what the student would like to do after high school so being knowledgeable about options before the assessments may increase the expectations for postsecondary goals and better identify the services needed to reach the goals. (To learn more about postsecondary options in education, employment, transportation and other areas, please click on the preferred series part listed at the beginning of this article.)

The IEP team should also explore whether any school programs or services are available such as “Career Cruising,” "Naviance", and/or Workability that can be added to the student's IEP to help the child learn more about careers that he or she may be suited for after high school and to prepare the child for the assessments that explore what he or she wants to do.

D. Assessment of the Student’s Interests and Needs
Once a preliminary exploration of available options has been done, the team should formally gather information from the student and parents (because the student is a minor) to learn what the student’s goals should be in terms of education, employment, living situation, transportation needs, and community involvement. For example, after the 4 years of high school will the student pursue postsecondary education or pursue employment? What are the student's interests and what types of careers will build upon or feed those interests? Will the student be living independently, at home, in a semi-independent setting or in a group setting? Will the student be driving or need transportation assistance? Assessments and input from the student and others can help define the student’s interests and areas of need so that strong measurable, realistic goals can be drafted. 34 C.F.R. §§ 300.43(a)(2); 300.320(b); 300.321(b).

(i) Assessments: As noted above, the IDEA requires that age appropriate transition assessments be conducted before a transition plan is drafted in order to determine the needs for planning for training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills.” 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(A)(i)(VIII). There are two types of assessments that districts use -- formal and informal. Formal assessments are standardized with a norming process, proven reliability and validity, and usually require that the assessor have specific qualifications that requires specialized training in the administration of the assessment. Informal assessments are usually free, do not have a norming process, and share subjective information. See the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC) toolkit for more information.

Examples of formal assessment include:
- aptitude tests (to determine the student’s skills or abilities),
- interest inventories (to determine the student’s preference for certain careers),
- adaptive behavior scales (help to determine how much assistance is needed to do activities), and
- transition planning inventories (identify strengths in various aspects of adult living).

Examples of informal assessment methods include:
- observations of the student, and
- interviews or questionnaires to gather information from the student, parents and others.

The type of assessment needed will depend on the student’s suspected areas of need so review with the IEP team the different informal and formal assessments and which ones will benefit the student in terms of transition planning. Some schools have programs such as Naviance that offer self exploration into areas and skills. Workability programs in the school can also provide assessments. For a quick summary of different transition assessments, consider reviewing the 4 page fact sheet by the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT) and the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (funded by the Office of Special Education Programs). A list of assessments for specific areas can also be found here:

  1. http://opi.mt.gov/PDF/SpecED/transi/TransAssessSamples.pdf
  2. http://transitioncoalition.org/transition/assessment_review/view.php?id=11
  3. http://www.rpesd.org/AgeAppropriateTransition.aspx
  4. http://www.naviance.com/college-and-career-readiness-platform/student-an...

(ii) Student Input: The purpose of the transition plan is to help equip the student with skills so that the student can successfully pursue his or her postsecondary goals as a young adult. Sometimes students are not sure what they want to do after high school which is why it is important to explore postsecondary options (set forth in other parts of this series) before asking the student what he or she wants to do after high school.

After the student and his/her parents have had an opportunity to explore the postsecondary options discussed in this series, the student (or someone acting on the student's behalf) should provide recorded input of what the student wants to do after the 4 years of high school so that the IEP team is aware of the student’s interests and preferences. The student may use any form or method he or she chooses to do this (e.g. written form, a drawing, audio, a collage, etc.). The school may have a form it uses but there are many forms available online as well. See, for example:

a. Imdetermined.org: Provides transition videos, questions and guides for students and parents to review;
b. “My Next Move” online profiler to find out what the student likes/dislikes (sponsored by Dept. of Labor);
c. The ARC self determination scale;
d. the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (nsttac.org) for sample forms;
e. Post Secondary Goals Input sheet; and
f. Lake Shore Central School District student interview forms (and much more)

(iii) Parent Input: Parents are unique team members because they are the only team members who have known the child since birth, have the most complete understanding of the child’s medical/social/developmental/educational history, have seen the child’s activities across all settings, and who will probably be the only team members involved with the child after high school. Under the IDEA, districts must ensure that the IEP team for each child with a disability includes the parent of the child and are required to take steps to “ensure that one or both of the parents of a child with a disability are present …or afforded the opportunity to participate.” 20 U.S.C. § 1414(d)(1)(B)(i). Parents are members of the IEP team until the student turns 18. It is important to note that in California once a child turns 18, the parent must have their child’s consent to be involved in the child’s IEP or transition plan unless the parent has obtained conservatorship or limited conservatorship of their child. Click here for more details on conservatorship.

Before a transition planning meeting, parents should talk to their child to discuss their child’s skills and postsecondary interests. The NSTTAC reported that students whose parents were involved were “more likely to be engaged in post-school employment and had greater stability in their employment status.” Council for Exceptional Children’s DCDT Fast Facts: Parental Involvement (prepared by the DCDT Publications Committee).

Parents should consider submitting a written report to the IEP team so that their parental insights about what the child may need in terms of supports and services as well as goals needs is presented. IEP meeting notes only paraphrase or summarize parental input so written input may be needed to provide a more complete or accurate representation of the parental concerns and thoughts. Parental input should provide insights with respect to what the student can or may do with respect to:

- education after high school;
- living after high school (what needs to be learned, health and safety issues, etc.);
- work after high school; and
- community connections (unique hobbies, youth groups, religious affiliations, sports interests, etc.).

Sample Forms:
a. The State Support Team for the State of Ohio provides a wide range of excellent free forms (and other resources) to help team members determine whether a student needs a postsecondary goal in a particular area;
b. The Lake Shore Central School District also provides an extensive list of forms for use. (see, e.g. “Transition Planning Inventory,” “Parent Interview,” and more); and
c. “Transition Planning: Ideas for Parents” (Shasta 21st Century Career Connections).

(iv) Teacher Input: Teachers provide valuable input into a student’s strengths and likes because they see what the student does and enjoys at school. They will likely have insights about the student that are not reflected in the assessments. Teachers' valuable insights regarding the child's independence and social skills are significant when goal setting in the functional skills area. If the student has instructional aides, efforts should also be made to obtain input from the IAs because they often work more closely with the student than any other staff members. Many forms are available for teacher insights or input on the websites listed in the Parent Input section.

D. Devising the Transition Plan
After age appropriate assessments have been conducted to provide insights for planning the postsecondary goals for training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living, an IEP meeting should be held to discuss the assessments and devise the transition plan based upon those assessments. Goals should be provided in the areas of education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills (e.g. transportation, living, community connections). 20 U.S.C. § 1401(34); 34 C.F.R. § 300.43(c). The transition plan must be created before the child reaches age 16 but may be changed or updated at any time with the consent of the team.

E. Who attends a transition plan IEP meeting?
In addition to the regular IEP team members, the following persons "must" also be invited:

(i) The Student. The LEA "must" invite a child with a disability to attend the child’s IEP meeting if a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of the postsecondary goals for the child and the transition services needed to assist the child in reaching those goals under §300.320(b).
 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1)(B); CFR 300.321(b).
(ii) Outside Agencies. If a purpose of a child’s IEP Team meeting will be the consideration of postsecondary goals for the child and the transition services needed to assist the child in reaching those goals, the district, to the extent appropriate, and with consent, "must invite a representative of any participating agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services" to attend the child’s IEP Team meeting. However, if the participating agency does not attend the meeting, the local educational agency or district is no longer required to take other steps to obtain participation of an agency in the planning of any transition services.
 20 U.S.C. 1414(d)(1); CFR 300.321(b)(1) and (3).

Examples of agencies that may need to be invited include: the local regional center (e.g. the San Diego Regional Center), the Department of Rehabilitation, a "Workability" representative, Social Security, Social Services (mental health program, health department), Medi-Cal, reps from local college/vocational/training school, Job Corps, the Arc of San Diego, California Conservation Corps, Smart One Stop Center (Disability Navigator), and the like. Parents should also ask for a list of the contact information for their records.

F. What should be discussed at the meeting?
While many things will be discussed, below is a brief overview of what should be discussed at a meeting discussing a transition plan:

1. Results of assessments that reflect informal and informal assessments to determine the student’s interests, preferences, strengths, and areas of need;
2. Realistic goals based upon the student's interest and skills in the areas of education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living;
3. Names and address of agencies, supported employment providers and applicable postsecondary services exist to help the student transition towards his/her postsecondary goals;
4. The appropriate academic and transitional instruction and training, including course selection, community experiences and post school living and employment objectives to help the student meet the transition goals;
5. What modifications and accommodations, academic advisement and adapted curriculum are needed for students bound for postsecondary education.
6. The Notice of Rights regarding the age of majority: Beginning no later than one year before the child reaches the age of majority under State law, a statement that the child has been informed of the child’s rights under Part B, if any, that will transfer to the child on reaching the age of majority under 20 U.S.C. § 1415(m); 34 C.F.R. § 300.520. All rights under the IDEA shift from the parents to the student once the age of majority is reached. At least one year before the student turns 18, there should be a discussion with the student regarding the transfer of rights.

F. Final Check?
Is the plan adequate? To help ensure that transition plans include what is needed, the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center has devised an easy-to-follow checklist: NSTTAC Indicator 13 checklist: Form B. If an area has not been addressed, additional exploration or assessment of an area may be needed to devise a goal and if so, reschedule a meeting until the assessment has been concluded and include in the team's meeting notes the action plan and dates so that too much time does not pass.

For some parents and students with disabilities, the idea of the student leaving the structured high school environment may instill a feeling of panic and uncertainty. However, as options are explored and effective goal planning occurs, the expectations for the future can turn into excitement and hope.

Click here to visit other parts of this series: (Please subscribe or follow this author for updates)
Part 2: Postsecondary Education Options
Part 3: Postsecondary Employment Options
Part 4: Postsecondary Transportation and Living (coming soon)
Part 5: Community Involvement (coming soon)

Related Articles:
"High School and Getting a Diploma: Options for Students with Disabilities"

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