Special Education

Postsecondary Transition for Students in Special Education: The Road Ahead

By Christina A. Samuels — June 04, 2015 2 min read
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Each year, hundreds of thousands of students in special education graduate from their high schools.

And then what happens?

In the 10th annual edition of its Diplomas Count report, Education Week tries to answer that question.

The report is a blend of journalism and research: the Education Week Research Center delved into federal data to offer an important snapshot of where students with disabilities end up after they leave high school. My journalist colleagues and I give life to those numbers by talking to students as they make important future decisions about college and about work.

For example: Do students with disabilities tell their colleges about their special needs, or do they try to go without any of the supports they may have used in high school? (The answer: most of them do not disclose.) For students who are headed directly to the workplace, have they been taught how to advocate for themselves? (The answer: it’s hit-or-miss.)

What I’m particularly pleased to highlight in this report are the vignettes that my colleagues and I wrote on students with different types of disabilities. Often, students with disabilities are grouped into an undifferentiated mass. But the experiences of a student who is deaf can be quite different from a student who has dyslexia, or a student with autism, or a student with an emotional disability, or a student with intellectual disability. Of course, one young adult cannot tell the story for every other person with that specific disability. But these vignettes do offer some insight into particular challenges.

Finally, it’s important to remember that students with disabilities have the same goals as any other student. They want to go to college, or to seek fulfilling work. That is, indeed, what happens with most of these students. Often when I write about graduation gaps or testing gaps, I hear from readers who say such gaps are to be expected for this population of students—why should they be expected to meet the same goals as typically developing students?

But the aspirations of these students are no different from those of their peers, and the vast majority of them have no cognitive disability that should make such aspirations impossible to achieve. So are schools preparing these students for where they say they want to go?

I’ll be exploring some elements of the report in depth over the coming days, but for now, I’d like readers to examine Diplomas Count as a package. And please feel free to leave comments; I look forward to a lively discussion about some of the issues that this report raises.

Photo: Andrea Sorto, left, a student intern, adjusts a blanket in the neonatal intensive-care unit at Novant Prince William Medical Center in Manassas, Va. Andrea is getting hospital job training through Project SEARCH, which helps students with disabilities transition into the workplace.—Lexey Swall for Education Week

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.