Preparing For Life After High School

The purpose of the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that prepares them for further education, employment and independent living.  In other words, your student’s Individualized Educational Program (IEP) should be designed to prepare your child for life after high school.  Where students with disabilities are statistically more likely to drop out of high school and to be unemployed as adults, transition planning is a critical component of your student’s educational services. 

Transition services help students with IEPs build the skills they will need to live successful lives as adult learners, workers, and community members. IEPs for students of transition age must include appropriate measurable postsecondary goals related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills. The student’s transition services, including courses of study, must assist the student in reaching these goals. The IDEA requires transition planning to begin at age 16, and the Massachusetts Special Education Law requires transition planning to begin at age 14 (or earlier if appropriate). 

Successful transition planning requires comprehensive planning, regular check-ins, and significant cooperation between the student’s family, teachers, counselors, and community providers.    It is a highly individualized process which focuses on the student’s strengths and vision for life after high school.

If you live in Massachusetts and have a student on an IEP approaching the transition age, you should take note of the following:

  • Each year from age 14 onward, the IEP team must help the student to understand his or her needs, strengths, preferences, and interests, and to refine their vision through ongoing age-appropriate transition assessments. 
  • Based on these age-appropriate assessments, the team must develop measurable annual IEP goals, and designate transition services to address your student’s disability-related needs and to build skills each year that bring the student closer to achieving his or her postsecondary goals. 
  • The IEP team uses the Transition Planning Form (TPF) to map out the opportunities the student will experience that year in the areas of instruction, employment and community participation.  The team decides which transition services the school will provide, and these are recorded in the IEP.  Each subsequent year until the student exits school, the team should look back on the previous year’s TPF and IEP to track progress. 
  • The Transition Planning Form is a discussion guide.  Only items recorded in the IEP are required to occur by law.  If the team anticipates taking action, they must record those action items in the IEP and incorporate them into the student’s annual measurable goals.
  • A transition plan must include a coordinated set of activities to promote the student’s postsecondary goals in areas of education or training, employment, and where appropriate, independent living.
  • School districts can effectively implement transition services by collaborating with community entities.  Under the 2014 Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), school districts are urged to strengthen partnerships with state agencies which can provide services such as job exploration counselling, workplace readiness training, work-based learning experiences, self-advocacy training, and support for enrollment in postsecondary education programs.   
  • Transition services for each individual student with an IEP should be provided in a well-thought-out, individually tailored, stepwise, developmental progression so that each year students build new skills that move them closer toward achieving postsecondary goals.
  • Whenever possible, students should be allowed to experience career awareness and exploration opportunities while in high school.  These experiences should be tailored to align with the student’s individual preferences and interests.
  • Transition services must be results oriented.  They must encourage students to function as independently as possible, and support the students to generalize and transfer skills throughout the community environments where they will be working, living, or going to school as adults.  The ongoing acquisition of these functional skills should be monitored through formal and informal transition assessments.
  • To the maximum extent possible, students with disabilities must have the opportunity to learn academic and functional skills with age-appropriate people who do not have disabilities, both in school and in the community.   Research shows that adult employment outcomes are significantly improved when students have the opportunity to learn work skills in authentic community worksites. 
  • In order to live and work in the community, adults with disabilities must be able to travel as independently as possible.  Transition services can include travel training, which is designed to teach students how to independently use public transportation to travel safely between home, work, and the community. 

Transition planning is a serious, specific, and ongoing process for students with disabilities.  If you are the parent of a student at or approaching transition age, it is imperative to be educated on the law to ensure that your child is receiving every opportunity to improve his or her likelihood of success after high school. 

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