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Transition Overview

Meaningful transition planning

The transition of young adults with disabilities who are exiting the school system can be a frightening process. Careful planning is essential. This training tool was designed to provide resources to educators, parents, and students to support this transition in a meaningful way.

With our educational system focusing on college and career readiness, it is important to link not only academic standards but also transition preparation. There are so many aspects to consider: Common Core State Standards, evidence based practices and predictors in transition, and industry standards. Combining them all is very challenging! This training tool will address the following:

Table of Contents:

What does transition planning mean?


The definition and intent of transition sounds different depending on who you ask.

Let’s begin with the purpose of IDEA. In August 2006, the U.S. Department of Education released final regulations for the amended IDEA passed by Congress in 2004. The regulations officially state that one of the major purposes of IDEA is:

  • To ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a “free appropriate public education” that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living. 20 U.S.C 1400 (d) (1) (A)

Defined by IDEA transition services are described as :

  • a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that 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 post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation
  • is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives
  •  and when appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation. (34 CFR 300 43(a) 120 U.S.C. 1401 (34)

Author and researcher, Andrew S. Halpern, defined transition as   “…a period of floundering that occurs for at least the first several years after leaving school as adolescents attempt to assume a variety of adult roles in their communities” (Halpern, 1992, p. 203). Many of us can relate to this “period of floundering” in our own experiences. Unfortunately for some students with disabilities the “period of floundering” is much longer or continuous.

Educators define transition as a time of:

  • Movement-growth
  • Self-reliance
  • Independence
  • Opportunity
  • Real life
  • Functional
  • Productivity

When asking parents to define transition, they are hoping their child to:

  • Become independent
  • Be  happy
  • Connect to the community
  • Find a job

And finally when you ask students, you will find that they look at transition in another way, they:

  • Want choices
  • Want to know how they will use what they are learning
  • Want to discover their talents
  • Want to be a real part of my family, faith, work and community
  • Want to have real responsibilities
  • Want to be recognized for skills and accomplishments
  • Want to take risks and learn from mistakes
  • Want to change attitudes about what people with disabilities are capable of accomplishing

Individual Transition Plan focus

When we consider the views of all, we find that focusing on the future is as individual as the student themselves. We need to take the time to discover who each student is. What are their strengths? What are their interests? What are their preferences? And once we begin to figure this out, we need to find out what their goals for the future are. Some students will have an idea; others may not have a clue.  How can you possibly plan for the future when you don’t even know what is out in the world?

This is where the Individual Transition Plan (ITP) comes into place. As defined by IDEA,” transition services, begin not later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined by the IEP Team and are updated annually.” The IEP must include measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate assessments related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills and transition services (including the course of study) needed to help the child in reaching those goals.

In other words, the ITP is the time to focus on the future while the student is still in school. By teaching students how to make choices about their lives and to take steps to work toward those goals, we are preparing them to become adults who can be contributing members of their communities.
Let’s begin our focus on the post-secondary goal areas:

    • Education/training
    • Employment
    • Independent Living Skills (as appropriate)

Measureable post-secondary goals

IDEA regulations require IEP teams to develop appropriate measurable postsecondary goals for students of transition age.  These goals must be based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to education/training, employment and independent life skills (as appropriate) and should capture the student’s unique vision for their future. These goals change over time and become more specific as the student grows and matures. As students experience new opportunities, education and work experiences they will be able to “fine tune” these goals into more specific and realistic ones.

At age 16 (or younger if determined by the IEP team), the ITP should become the focus and the center of the IEP. It is where all educational teams should begin. It makes sense to plan a student’s future based on where he/she is today.

Examples of Post-secondary goals

After high school I will:

  • Enroll at a college
  • Earn an occupational certificate
  • Enroll in a vocational training program
  • Enter the military
  • Enter an apprenticeship
  • Enter community based training



  • Get a full time job
  • Get a part time job
  • Start a business
  • Do volunteer work in my community


Independent Living

  • Live independently
  • Live with family/with friends
  • Live in a group home
  • Manage finances
  • Access the community
  • Use public transportation


Once post-secondary goals have been identified and added to the ITP, the educational team then needs to determine how these goals will be addressed within the annual IEP goals (in math, reading, speech, behavior, etc.)

In the chart below you can see examples of how this could happen.

Post-secondary goal

Annual goal

Independent Living Skills: Upon completing high school, Bill will use public transportation, including the public bus and BART system.

Math: Given several coins, Bill will match the coin with its amount six out of eight times by November 2015.

Employment: After leaving high school, Joe will obtain a part-time position in a community restaurant.

Math: Given a bi-weekly paycheck, Joe will practice banking skills with 95% accuracy by August 2014

Employment: After high school, Jessica will work on-campus part-time in the food court at the college with supports from Vocational Rehabilitation and the staff at the college

Writing: Given direct instruction for completing a job application, guided practice, and personal information, Jessica will complete an application with 100% accuracy by the end of the 2nd school semester.

Independent Living Skills: Upon completion of high school, Thomas will utilize public transportation, including the public bus and uptown trolley with time limited supports provided through Vocational Rehabilitation.

Reading: Given a bus schedule adapted with pictures, Thomas will select the correct time and stop for five scenarios of activities presented to him with 95% or better accuracy by December of the current school year.


How do we make the transition process meaningful for students?

Both parents and teachers will agree that unless we have student “buy-in” even the simplest of tasks can be difficult. There are many roadblocks: Why do I have to do this? How will this help me in the future? This is a waste of time!

In 2013, a team of educational leaders, teachers, parents and students formed a Statewide Special Education Task Force that focused on:

  • why students with disabilities were realizing poor school and postsecondary outcomes
  • identifying the barriers to better performance, and make recommendations for how to make change
  • determine a system of schooling so it would better serve all students

Their report, “One System, Reforming Education to Serve all Students” shares student responses and the wish for their voices to be heard:

“……these young adults have done so with passion. Speaking from her own experience, one student representative said, “Our parents have ideas for us and for our futures. These are not necessarily our ideas. We need to be the ones to step up, to know what we want, to say what we want, and to be heard. This is our life!”

Person centered assessment

As mentioned above, transition goals are always best when they are based on age appropriate assessment. There are many choices when choosing transition assessment tools. It is best to involve your student as much as possible in an assessment process that leads to self-discovery. This type of assessment is called person-centered planning. Person-centered planning uses a collaborative team (including the student!) to focus on a student’s strengths, interests, and preferences. The ultimate goal is for the student to learn about themselves, focus on capabilities and opportunities, try out new experiences and prepare for the future. A student should be discovering the answer to the following questions during the assessment process:

  • Who am I?
  • Where do I see myself in 3-5 years?
  • What experiences would I like to try out?
  • What am I good at?
  • What is hard for me?
  • What supports do I need to reach my goals?

Assessment tools links:

California Career Resource Network (CalCRN)-

CalCRN is associated with the California Department of Education and provides very helpful and useful career development information and resources to help your students reach their career goals. CalCRN’s resources are available for everyone! (Students, parents/guardians, educators)

  • Californa Career Zone is a web-based career exploration system that is available free of charge. Users can learn about themselves by using an easy to use career assessment tool and by reading information on over 900 California occupations. This site includes an interest survey titled Assess Yourself that helps to identify strengths. A workbook is available to provide student support in navigating this section. Related occupations can be explored in the Explore Job Families section. Videos, education requirements, wages, job outlook and skills needed are covered. The section called, Make Money Choices, explores money needed to pay for housing, transportation, food, clothing, etc.
  • Career Surfer is CalCRN’s mobile application that can be downloaded for free from AppStore or Google Play. Basic information about the 900 occupations detailed on the California CareerZone is available.

O’NET is the nation's primary source of occupational information.

  • The O’NET database, containing information on hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors.
  • Available to the public at no cost, is continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation.
  • An interactive application for exploring and searching occupations.
  • Valuable assessment instruments for workers and students looking to find or change careers.


The Statewide Special Education Task Force, mentioned above, supports the need to build student self-determination. It states that “the purpose of public education is to help children gain the skills they need to make choices about how they live their lives and prepare them to become adults who are contributing members of their communities. Given how much students have at stake in their own education, and given how important it is for them to learn how to be responsible, contributing, and functioning adults, it only makes sense for parents and schools to use every opportunity to help them grow into those mature rolls, starting as early as possible.”

By incorporating activities that support student self-determination in the classroom or at home, students have a chance to practice skills needed to become self-determined adults. The following list, while not complete, provides area for students to practice:

            Personal safety

            Internal self-regulation






            Choice making

            Decision making

            Problem solving

            Goal setting

            Goal attainment

            Risk taking


Student involvement in IEP process

A good time to practice many self-determination skills is during the IEP process. Using the person centered approach mentioned above; students can practice their skills in self-determination during a process that greatly affects them…their IEP meeting! This is a continuous process that occurs year-round, including determining strengths, weaknesses, post-secondary goals, IEP goals, and services needed to help them achieve their goals; participating and leading their IEP meetings; and working on achieving their goals.

The Statewide Special Education Task Force states: “Student engagement is a central part of this effort and includes such practices as student-led IEPs, person-centered planning, and opportunities for students to learn skills in self-determination and self-advocacy, each of which has a strong research base documenting its effectiveness. In addition, schools need to adopt a welcoming environment that includes conducting family friendly IEP meetings and integrating family engagement into the processes for special education. Too often educators assume that children with disabilities can’t know what they want; too often adults don’t even think to consider asking students about what they want from their schooling or from a particular course of study. And while best practices for IEP meetings and transition plans reflect the saying “nothing about me without me,” IEP meetings that include students are rare in this state. Even rarer are those IEPs where students lead.”

It’s important to remember that ALL students are capable of participating at their IEP meeting in some way. With preparation and the opportunity to plan, practice and rehearse students can participate in a variety of ways:

  1. Begin meeting by stating purpose
  2. Introduce everyone
  3. Review past goals and performance
  4. Ask for others’ feedback
  5. State your school and transition goals
  6. Ask questions if you don’t understand
  7. Deal with differences in opinion
  8. State what supports are needed
  9. Summarize your goals
  10. Close meeting by thanking everyone
  11. Work on IEP goals all year.

From Martin, J.E., Marshall, L.H., Maxson, L.M.,& Jerman, P.L. (1996) The self-directed IEP

Student portfolios

Another way that students can showcase who they are is to create a student portfolio. Student portfolios are a great way to begin to gather information in an organized fashion. Portfolios come in a variety of forms:

  • Notebook
  • Flashdrive
  • Poster
  • Photo album

Teachers and parents are encouraged to think of ways to highlight student strengths, interests and preferences so that they can be represented in a portfolio. Periodically update, add, and remove information as student interests and experiences dictate.

  • Personal documents/Self-Advocacy
  • Employment
  • Education and Training
  • Independent Living Skills
  • Financial and Economic Issues
  • Living Arrangements
  • Social, Emotional and Community Support
  • Recreation and Leisure Activities
  • Mobility
  • Miscellaneous
  • Samples of Language Arts
  • Samples of Math


How does this link to the future?

College and career ready

College and career readiness is the new direction for K-12 education. Preparing students to transition without remediation to post-secondary education or careers that pay a living wage, or both, is the ultimate aim of federal and state education policies, initiatives and funding. California is one of the 19 States that are working together with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills (P21) to promote real world 21st Century learning. The Partnership has developed a unified, collective vision for learning known as the Framework for 21st Century Learning.
This Framework describes the skills, knowledge, and expertise students must master to succeed in work and life: it is a blend of content knowledge specific skills, expertise and literacies.  The essential skills for success in today’s world include the following:

  • Learning and Innovation Skills (The Four C’s: Critical thinking, Communication, Collaboration, and Creativity)
  • Life and Career Skills
  • Information, Media, and Technological Skills

College-ready means being prepared for any postsecondary experience, including study at two and four year institutions leading to a postsecondary credential (i.e. a certificate, license, Associate’s or Bachelor’s degree)
Career-ready means not just a job. A career provides a family sustaining wage and pathways to advancement and nearly always requires postsecondary training or education.

Industry standards

A resource to investigate that is up to date with occupational information is O*Net. O*Net is one of the nation's primary sources of occupational information. The O*NET database, contains information on hundreds of standardized and occupation-specific descriptors.  It is available to the public at no cost, is continually updated by surveying a broad range of workers from each occupation. For students there are several options:

  • Interest Profiler- can help students find out what their interests are and how they relate to the world of work. The O*NET Interest Profiler helps students find out what they like to do and help decide what kinds of careers they might want to explore.
  • Work Importance Profiler- is a computerized self-assessment career exploration tool that allows students to focus on what is important to them in a job. It helps people identify occupations that they may find satisfying, based on the similarity between their work values (such as achievement, autonomy, and conditions of work) and the characteristics of the occupations.
  • My Next Move –provides exploration for “What I want to do for a living?”


Additional Resources

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)  - is a national center funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs from January 1, 2012 – December 31, 2014. The purpose of NSTTAC is to:

  • provide technical assistance and  to disseminate information on evidence-based practices leading to improved academic and functional achievement for students with disabilities, preparing them for college or other postsecondary education and training and the workforce
  •  help  facilitate and increase participation of students with disabilities in programs designed to ensure college- and career-readiness
  • Support compliance with IDEA.
  • On their website you will find several valuable resources including:
    • E-flyer- provides Evidence Based Practices in transitions with ready to go lesson plans for implementation
    • Evidence Based Practices (EBP’s) in transition
    • Indicators for Post school success

California Transition Alliance -The California Transition Alliance supports youth-serving professionals who assist youth and families as they transition from secondary education to adult life.

California Services for Technical Assistance and Training (CalSTAT) – a federally funded State Personnel Development Grants (SPDG), awarded to the California Department of Education was to communicate common messages to the field about selected topics. These common, or core messages, articulate critical research findings and essential components of effective application. All core messages have been identified by experts in the field and have been approved by the California Department of Education, Special Education Division. Core messages are available in the following areas:

  • Reading/Literacy
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports
  • Collaboration
  • Transition-School to Adult Life
  • School-Family-Community Partnerships
  • Least Restrictive Environment
  • Individuals with Disability Education Act
  • Core Components to Respond to Instruction and Intervention
  • Closing the Achievement Gap for Students with Individual Education Programs

National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) -NTACT’s purpose is to assist State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, State Vocational Rehabilitation agencies and service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices ensuring students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment


Contact us

  • Phone: (510) 794-2500
  • Address: 39100 Gallaudet Drive, Fremont, CA 94538



The Diagnostic Center, Northern California (DCN), provides high-quality, individualized services to special education students, their families and school districts.

Services are provided by expert, interdisciplinary teams of diagnostic professionals, including educational specialists, speech/language specialists, secondary specialists, school psychologists, clinical psychologists, and pediatricians who address the unique educational needs of Northern California's most difficult-to-serve students enrolled in special education programs.

Services include:

  • Assessments
  • Trainings
  • Technical Assistance

Linda Sanguinetti, M.A., is an Education Specialist at the Diagnostic Center- Northern California. She has twenty five years of special education teaching experience at the elementary and high school levels serving student with a variety of needs. Currently at the Diagnostic Center she participates in multidisciplinary assessment teams and works with several high school classrooms helping to implement evidence based practices. She has participated in several district/SELPA Transition Summits and also conducts trainings in the area of Transition.