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IDEA 2004 Close Up: Transition Planning

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By Candace Cortiella, The Advocacy Institute

Who Participates in the Transition Planning Process?

Transition services are an integral part of a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP), beginning with the first IEP in effect when the student turns 16. As such, determining transition services is a task for all IEP team members, including the student and parents.

Genuine student and parent participation - active involvement in and contribution to the planning process - is critical to achieving good transition results. Unfortunately, a recent study found that a quarter of students with learning disabilities either do not attend or attend but participate only minimally in their transition planning meetings. Another 60 percent attend and participate moderately. Only 14 percent both attend and take a leadership role in the process.

The same study found that while 85 percent of parents (or guardians) are active participants in transition planning, parents reported that IEP goals are determined mostly by the school. Goals are determined by the parents and student only about 20 percent of the time.4

Under IDEA 2004, schools continue to be responsible for bringing in representatives from other agencies, such as rehabilitative services or post-secondary education, to be part of the transition planning process. Such agencies may also be responsible for the delivery of some of the services needed by the student. Should other agencies fail to provide the agreed upon transition services, schools must find alternative ways to meet the transition objectives for the student.

Recent findings indicate that there is a need to improve the participation of outside representatives in transition planning. For example, Vocational Rehabilitation counselors participated in only 13 percent of the IEPs, and other representatives (postsecondary education representatives, advocates, consultants) participated in only 3 percent of the IEPs.4

Exiting Special Education

Schools are not required to conduct an evaluation before terminating special education services for students, due either to graduation from secondary school with a regular diploma, or to exceeding the age for services in their state. As a result, students are often left without the necessary information and documentation of their disability that is required to access supports and services in post-school activities, such as higher education.

IDEA 2004 creates a new requirement for schools that is sure to help students with learning disabilities make a smoother transition to post-school employment or education. Schools must now provide a "Summary of Performance" to students whose special education eligibility is terminating due the circumstances mentioned above. This new summary must include information on the student's academic achievement and functional performance and include recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting postsecondary goals. Congress intended for this summary to provide specific, meaningful, and understandable information to the student, the student's family, and any agency, including postsecondary schools, which may provide services to the student upon transition. While schools are not required to conduct any new assessments or evaluations in order to provide the summary, students and their parents should expect that the information provided in the summary is adequate to satisfy the disability documentation required under other federal laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973.

While a student's Summary of Performance is not part of the transition planning process, IEP teams should discuss it prior to termination of special education services to ensure that the information provided in the summary will, in fact, sufficiently satisfy any requirements connected with the student's post-school goals.

Candace Cortiella's work as Director of the nonprofit The Advocacy Institute focuses on improving the lives of people with learning disabilities, through public policy and other initiatives. The mother of a young adult with learning disabilities, she lives in the Washington, D.C., area.