Who is responsible for helping students with disabilities connect to the supports they need after high school?

Page 1: Secondary Transition

mother and daughterTransitions are naturally occurring events in the life of a student, such as when he or she moves from one grade to the next or from one school to another. One important transition for students is from high school to life after high school, something that is referred to as secondary transition. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) defines secondary transition as:

[A] coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that (a) is designed to be 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, or community participation; (b) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests. IDEA 2004, [34 CFR 300.43 (a)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(34)]

For many students, this process is smooth and does not require much in the way of special supports or services. However, in the case of students with disabilities, secondary transition is not always quite as effortless. In general, the more severe the disability, the more complicated the transition can become, thus necessitating more substantial levels of outside coordination and support.

The goal is for students to move from the school setting to the post-school environment in a smooth and seamless manner without any interruption or break in services. Often referred to as a seamless transition, this occurs when students with disabilities have a plan in place that becomes effective as soon as they leave school. In other words, students leave school with a job, or are enrolled in post-secondary education or training, with all the necessary supports and services in place to be successful in that setting and beyond.

To facilitate a seamless transition for students with disabilities, individualized transition planning should occur as part of their individualized education program (IEP) process. It is useful to think of the IEP as a work-in-progress, a plan that evolves over time to guide the provision of services for students. Federal legislation requires that transition planning be in place by the time the student turns 16, though it can begin earlier if the IEP team deems it necessary. In some states, transition planning begins as early as age 14. The transition planning process is intended to be ongoing and to help students develop independence, which in turn helps them to reach their career and adult-living goals. The individualized transition plan (ITP), developed as part of this process, is part of the IEP. 

Taking into consideration the student’s strengths, abilities, and interests, the team (which includes the student) identifies needed skills to achieve goals in three main areas:

  • Education/Training: A college, university, or vocational training program
  • Employment: A community job for real pay that the student wants and can be successful at
  • Independent Living (if necessary and appropriate): To live and participate fully in the community. Not all students with disabilities will require goals in this area. It is up to the IEP team to determine whether IEP goals related to the development of independent living skills are appropriate and necessary for the student.

The purpose of this Module is to focus on the ways in which interagency collaboration supports the secondary transition process. For more information about the transition process, please visit the IRIS Module:

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