The end and the beginning-mostly forgotten
Transition programming could easily be argued as the most important phase of any special education program. Yet it is the part of the total program that is often given minimal attention. Fortunately, parents are catching on to its importance even if school systems are not.
There have been several court cases of late in which parents have demanded that their children get the kind of transition program promised in IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act). IDEA requires that children over 16 must have appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based on age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment and, where appropriate, independent living skills.
A court in Oregon has found that merely taking two classes geared toward transition, attending a career day and visiting a community college did not meet the standard of the law. A New York court found that having a brief discussion with a student about vocational interests did not meet the standard for a transition assessment. It also found that generic courses did not comply with the IDEA requirement for an individualized transition program. The court found no individual tailoring of services.
Whereas, the instructional portion of the IEP (Individual Education Program) regularly spells out services and goals that are specific to the student, the transition part of the IEP does not. So how and why does this matter?
We are currently consumed with standardized testing results and insistent upon using test scores for everything from promoting students to grading teachers. Yet no one has shown any correlation, let alone causation, between good test scores and success after high school whether in college or a job. In fact, community colleges and 4-year schools report no reduction in the need to take zero credit catch-up classes by incoming freshmen in the 20 years since No Child Left Behind gave us multiple tests during a school year in its quixotic quest to have every child on grade level by 2014.
So, what’s a family to look for in providing for a successful transition to postsecondary success, particularly in a time when funds for eligible adult services are rapidly evaporating.
First of all, start with an honest assessment at age 16. By that time a child will have been in school for 10-11 years. Academic achievement is probably not going to make great leaps and bounds to grade level if it is not already almost there. Secondly, what are the child’s strengths and weaknesses. Skip the pipe dreams of being a rock star or an Olympic athlete. Make sure the school does an honest assessment of what are real possibilities for the child. Does the child have great people skills? Or are the skills more in a technical or mechanical area but away from people? Be honest. Look at the deficits and decide which can be filled in the 4-5 years of entitled schooling that lie ahead. Make sure the school evaluates and plans for the child as an individual not as mass marketing check off the boxes kind of way.
This end stage of entitlement could be the most important of all. Do it well and do it right and the child will be assured of a new beginning when school is out.