Preparing Special Education Students for Postsecondary Life

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to prepare students for life after 12th grade. Two experts answered questions about what a good transition plan includes, and what administrators should keep in mind while coordinating postsecondary transitions.

Chat: Preparing Special Education Students for Postsecondary Life

Thursday, July 9, 2 p.m. Eastern time

The federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires schools to prepare students for life after 12th grade. But parents and schools don’t always know what questions to ask and what issues to raise when mapping students’ postsecondary plans.Two experts answered questions about what a good transition plan includes, and what administrators should keep in mind while coordinating postsecondary transitions.

Related Story:

  • “Charting a Course After High School,” (March 18, 2009)
  • Guests:
    Stacie Dojonovic, transition coordinator, Fox Chapel Area High School in Pittsburgh, and newsletter editor for the Council for Exceptional Children’s division of career development and transition
    Larry J. Kortering, co-principal investigator with the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center and professor of special education at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

    Christina A. Samuels, staff writer, Education Week, moderated this chat.

    Preparing Special Education Students for Postsecondary Life(07/09/2009)


    1:20 Web Person: Casey: Today’s chat, Preparing Special Education Students for Postsecondary Life is open for questions, so please start submitting them now. The chat will begin at 2 p.m. Thank you for joining us.

    2:01 Christina Samuels: Hi everyone, and welcome to this Education Week chat on preparing students in special education for postsecondary transition. My name is Christina Samuels, and I cover special education for Education Week.

    2:03 Christina Samuels: Today we have two excellent guests to offer their perspective on this topic. Stacie Dojonovic is a transition coordinator for a high school in the Pittsburgh area, and Larry Kortering is the co-principal investigator for the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center.

    2:04 Christina Samuels: They’re both looking forward to answering your questions, so please feel free to submit them. In the meantime, I’d like to start with Stacie. Stacie, can you give us a brief idea of what your position entails?

    2:06 Christina Samuels: As Stacie responds, I just wanted to note that I wrote an article about postsecondary transition back in March. I was surprised and gratified at the response that it got. It seems like this is a topic that is on the minds of many parents and schools, but is not fully understood.

    2:06 Stacie Dojonovic: Greetings! Well the position of transition coordinator is ensuring that all students with disabilities have a transition plan beginning at age 14. I coordinate interagency collaboration, provide information to our families and youth, conduct assessments, coordinate course of study, school partnerships, and individualized transition activities.

    2:08 Christina Samuels: That’s great. I’d like to ask Larry to talk a little bit about his work in this area as well.


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Yes, Christina any life change or transition is exciting yet difficult!

    2:08 larry: I work with the NSTTAC ( ) and we are responsible for helping states meet the requirements of Indicator 13 (transition services and post school planning). I also am a professor at Appalachian State University. As part of the former we work with educators and parents in all 60 states and territories and keep busy, but love what I do :)

    2:08 Christina Samuels: I have a question from Beth to Stacie:

    2:08 [Comment From Beth Reel]
    For Stacie - Has Fox Chapel Area High School been successful in bringing families into the process of preparing students for postsecondary life? If so, how?

    2:10 Christina Samuels: Just to explain a bit about “indicator 13" -- the federal government asks states to evaluate themselves on various special education outcomes. There’s a couple dozen “indicators” they need to monitor, and “indicator 13" refers to transition planning.

    2:11 Christina Samuels: Larry, as a person who works with state education leaders, do you find that states are all generally on the same page with with they’re doing with transition planning, or is there a lot of variability?

    2:11 Stacie Dojonovic: Yes, we work really hard at ensuring families are provided with all the information and resources to be actively involved in the transition process. They truly hold the most useful assessment data on their students. We hold monthly evening transition meetings called the In Side Scoop, provide evening and daytime hours once a week for the families to meet with us, as well as providing families with electronic information on her intranetwork as well as email blasts.

    2:12 larry: Not yet, but they are really making progress. Several states are really leading the charge in implementing the most effective transition planning and services. If you go to our home page and click on the National Resource Map you will see some of the neat stuff going on in various states.

    2:12 Stacie Dojonovic: Oh the most important way to involve families is to listen to families and individualize to meet all families needs,cultural preferences and values!

    2:13 Stacie Dojonovic: I am impressed with the work the state of Virginia is doing in transition as well as my home state of PA!

    2:14 Christina Samuels: Here’s an interesting comment from Monica that perhaps you both can respond to:

    2:14 [Comment From Monica]
    It seems that the focus is usually on academics and not so much on the “real world” and the planning as all else ultimately falls to the parent.

    2:14 Christina Samuels: I find it interesting to see that opposite problem expressed by another commenter:

    2:15 [Comment From Carol LE]
    If a child is substantially behind grad-level in reading and math, and the parent wants a child to have reading and math instruction, and the child wants to have reading and math instruction, do you think that the school is required to spend the entire day in job training in order to fulfill transition requirements because the child is in the final year of school?

    2:15 Christina Samuels: So here’s a parent saying transition is too much academics and not enough real world, and another person saying there’s too much “real world” and not enough academics. How do you balance these two facets of transition?

    2:16 larry: Monica is definately correct, today’s focus is and will continue to be on academics. There are some good things with this focus -- improving the odds of a student going to college (which is what most well paying and stable jobs of tomorrow will require). There are obvious downsides as well, namely forgetting about the real world stuff many of our kids need to learn and experience.

    2:17 [Comment From Beth Reel]
    Stacie - that sounds great. A lot of good ideas - thanks.

    2:17 Stacie Dojonovic: The parent is only one member of the IEP team (although an integral member) the entire IEP team is responsible.
    We have to focus on the students goals outcomes and what we are planning the student for, what the individual students needs are and then deliver services so students can achieve these goals.

    2:17 Stacie Dojonovic: Yes you have to balance rigor with relevance for the individual student.

    2:18 Christina Samuels: Larry, I know you don’t work with colleges specifically, but I wonder if you have thoughts on this question:

    2:18 [Comment From Mary Ann Zehr]
    Do almost all colleges and university have a point person on staff who is a liaison for students with disabilities? And if so, does that person focus on academic issues as well as logistical ones?

    2:18 larry: Carol - tough question. I think that can only be answered on a case by case basis based on the student’s post school goals or ambitions. I think the Indicator 13 requirements offer a reasonable format for this process and deciding as a team, inclusive of family and student, which way to go

    2:19 [Comment From Cindy]
    In my experience, it appears to me that we’re doing a fairly good job of transition planning with students with cognitive and multiple disabilities. However, we don’t seem to know what to do with severely LD and ED students who need not only job skills, but employability skills and other daily living skills as well. I find that teachers, families and the students themselves tend to overestimate what the student can do independently. Do you have any observations about this? Am I the only one who worries about this?!

    2:19 Christina Samuels: Cindy, I think both our guests can field that question...

    2:21 larry: Mary Ann - I actually work with a number of universities and community colleges so I can respond. Every college or unviersity will have some version of a Learning Assistance Program or Disability Services, they will be your new point person(s) for a student with disabilities on a college campus. They provide essential services but the student NEEDS to access them, they will not come looking. Services vary by location


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Cindy I do have the same concerns as you do. When these students IEP’s are developed we need to make sure that we address and set an independent living outcome and provide services and activities. I have read too many of these students IEP’s and read that it says the IEP team does not indicate a need for services at this time.

    2:22 Christina Samuels: That point -- that students NEED to access college services themselves -- is such an interesting shift from the way students experience K-12 services. When they’re young, services come to them. When they get older, it’s the other way around.


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Many folks this independent living goals are simply for students with MR and that is clearly not the case!

    2:22 [Comment From Carol LE]
    It seems as though students who are close to, or on, grade-level, have a focus on academics, and do not get much, if any,"real world” planning, but students who score very low on standardized tests (whether this is due in part to the inability of getting accurate assessment for kids on the autism spectrum and/or lack of appropriate education, is a matter which remains to be seen), are given little academic instruction, and what is called “life skills/job training is primarily things like dish-washing, janitorial, etc.- which is a “double-whammy of failure” for kids who have poor motor skills!

    2:23 [Comment From Guest]
    Which is harder: transition planning when higher ed is involed, or when a student intends to work in the community? and why?

    2:23 Christina Samuels: I like this question -- which IS harder? Transition planning to college or community life?

    2:23 larry: Cindy - one of my hardest jobs is to help students become realistic. It is so frustrating working with a high school senior who aspires to be a professional football player and their backup plan is professoinal baseball (but they have never been on a high school team). This is an area where transition assessment can be really helpful, helping studnets learn about their talents and limitations. Kids also need opportunities to learn about themselves on summer or weekend jobs and parents play a most important role in helping kids develop and refine their ambitions. Great point

    2:24 [Comment From Marie]
    I agree with Cindy - we struggle with postsecondary outcomes for students with ED - they have met academic requirements and really need vocational and emotional support only.

    2:25 Stacie Dojonovic: Yes Carol we really need to plan students outcomes i.e. college, job, career paths based on the students strengths, needs, abilities, interests and preferences (What Larry calls Indicator 13) not simply college for gets with high test scores and filth and flour jobs for kids who dont score well in traditional academics!

    2:25 [Comment From Marie]
    I appreciate the acknowledgement of rigor AND relevance, and it catchy

    2:26 Christina Samuels: Stacie, I wonder if this next question touches on the “interagency collaboration” you spoke of in your introduction:

    2:26 [Comment From Carlos]
    What abou working with local support groups such as Autism Society? I have never heard anyone from any school district speaking to parents in such groups.

    2:26 larry: Marie - we really work hard with any teacher who works with these students as we know first hand what awaits them if they fail to make it through school


    Stacie Dojonovic: In response to both whether transition planning is harder for college or for immediate employment:

    It all depends on the students needs.

    2:27 [Comment From Guest]
    Is there any data/studies on the success of students with special needs in 1)getting into college; 2)being prepared for college 3)completing college and what programs out there have shown success in any of these areas for these students?


    Stacie Dojonovic: Carlos

    Yes, we not only work with these support groups, we gain knowledge from them and we refer our parents to these support groups.

    2:28 [Comment From Cindy]
    Larry, I appreciate your comments on assessment, with the intent of helping the students find out what is realistic. We need to be sure to assess all areas that might need intervention, not just job skills.


    larry: Guest:

    We have substansial data on number 1, emerging data on number 2 which suggest a very low completion rate, and number 3 is a short coming in the data at this point

    2:29 Stacie Dojonovic: Oh Carlos the other thing is invite the school folks to speak they would be happy to be invited! We have been fortunate to have these support groups provide us with lots of information!

    2:29 larry: Cindy - agreed and never never forget about general employability skills and how important they are for any job, especially entry level.

    2:30 Christina Samuels: Larry -- so emerging data is showing students with disabilities in college tend not to complete college?

    2:30 larry: Carlos - Stacie is correct and as part of NSTTAC we meet with parent or related groups perhaps once a month if they ask.

    2:30 [Comment From ken]
    What are districts really doing to address the social needs and challenges that students transitioning from high school to college or employment face,


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Yes we meet once a month at the local level as well as national.

    2:31 larry: Christina - Correct, their overall completion rate (2 or 4 year program) is roughly half that of general education students (which is also a problem). We have a lot of kids who get in and start but do not make it

    2:32 larry: Ken - let me jump in, this is really an emerging area of development and you are beginning to see public schools working with local community colleges or universities on this and the latter are developing summer immersion type programs. You will be seeing a lot more of this.


    Christina Samuels: No problem jumping in!

    I have a question for Larry and Stacie: when should a school and parents and kids really start thinking about transition planning. The law says sometime in the teens -- is that the right time, or a little late?

    2:34 [Comment From Ken]
    thanks that is really good to know, how do you find out about these programs from the specific colleges or universities?


    Stacie Dojonovic:


    School districts and families need to partner to plan based on all of students individual needs. Some students need support with accessing college clubs and activities. However all needs must be addresses individually! You are right college success is more than academics.
    We actually partner with a local University Duquesne University and provide social skill building activities with their college age peers on a college campus for students who are collegebound their junior and senior year.

    2:34 larry: 7th grade, most dropouts have made up their mind by the end of 8th grade. Remember this is a long term process of students developing ambitions based on their unique talents and limitations.

    2:35 Stacie Dojonovic: Ken go to the heathresource center for the summer programs.

    2:35 larry: Ken - I do a google or bing search or ask your states parent group for such information.

    2:36 larry: Ken - good point by Stacie, also on our website we have several resources simply type in post secondary programs (we have a google search funciton on every page)

    2:37 Stacie Dojonovic: Also consider approaching your own local university to develop a program. Start with the school of education. I have found with four different local institutions that they welcome the partnering and community outreach!

    2:37 [Comment From Michelle Sykora]
    The push in our county in Michigan has been towards inclusion classes. How would you recommend that the special education teacher work towards transition goals without pulling the student out of that class in order for that student not to miss any of the academic instruction given by the general education teacher?

    2:38 Christina Samuels: Again, the website for Larry’s organization is Looks like there’s a wealth of information there!

    2:38 [Comment From Ken]
    to both of you - thanks for such useful and specific information! it is appreciated.

    2:39 Stacie Dojonovic: Good question.... Transition is a team effort and we do need to involve that regular education teacher in the process. Some activities may need to occur after school, on weekends and parents, youth, and schools need to share responsibility!

    2:39 larry: Michelle - We have worked with a bunch of teachers in MI around this and similar topics. Students love learning about themselves, having an adult listen to them, and figuring out what they want to do after high school, they will be more than happy to meet with special educators over lunch. Also during academic classes kids love making connection between content like algebra and occupations. We have a lot of experience with that and it is a win win. Teachers get engaged students and students learn.

    2:40 [Comment From Monica]
    What’s the recourse if this has NOT been done by the school district? We’re in IL. My son is 19 today and remaining in school.

    2:41 larry: Monica - you need to contact me separately at and I will put you in touch with a person that is a great resource in the state.

    2:42 [Comment From Margo]
    This may be difficult to answer, however, I would appreciate any comments from the panel on moving from a paper plan to reality. It is disappointing as a parent to put time into helping develop a plan that either is nothing more than a reflection of whatever “canned” services the school is providing across the board, or statements too vague for accountability, or else a really good play that just sits in the file.

    2:42 Stacie Dojonovic: Also I have found that regular ed teachers love when we partner and provide transition activities for ALL students in their class. At Fox Chapel ALL students complete career portfolios and post secondary planning activities. The activities occur at every grade level and in every subject. Of course some of our special education students may need additional support from the special ed staff who consult in the classes and support our students.

    2:43 larry: Margo - without knowing the specifics if you have the teachers visit our website and contact us we will try to help out with that, we really need quality services and more than just plans


    Stacie Dojonovic: I want to make sure that I refer the participants to these websites


    2:45 Christina Samuels: Margo’s question reminds me of the variability of parent experiences that I noted when I was reporting my story. Some parents, like the one who worked with Stacie, reported feeling very comfortable and confident in the transition planning process. Others? Not so much.

    2:45 [Comment From Rosanne]
    I’m a community college instructor who gets students after high school. The transition to us is quite challenging, and in fact its the parents who are the biggest challenge.

    2:45 Stacie Dojonovic: Yes, Margo as an educator I don’t want to just complete paperwork I want to deliver services to kids that improve their outcomes!

    2:46 Christina Samuels: Rosanne, I wonder if you c ould expand on this. What challenge do the parents offer?

    2:47 Christina Samuels: Here’s a question that is somewhat related.

    2:47 [Comment From Sean]
    A question for either guest: Do parents of students with disabilities tend to view community colleges as better options for their children than four-year colleges? And if so, is this because of community colleges’ close proximity to their homes, or because CCs ease students into postsecondary academic work more gradually? Or do they see the two- and four-year options as equal?

    2:47 larry: Rosanne - I think we are making progress on that front, but one thing to appreciate is that K-12 parents really drive the process more than their child. Educators need to do a better job of getting parents and students aware of the differences in higher education and public education.

    2:47 [Comment From Rosanne]
    After being strong advocates for their student from preschool or kindergarten through high school they simply assume all the rules are the same. They do not understand that I cannot in fact talk to the parent without the student controlling the contact - one example.

    2:48 larry: Sean - Yes, we recently did a study and students with disabilities were over twice as likely to report an ambition of community college than four-year college. I think community colleges are a great option but are out of the conversation way too much.

    2:48 [Comment From Carol LE]
    Some points to think about re: college completion. Assessment must be recent, accomodations/adaptations should be listed and utilized in the last IEP, students need to make college staff aware of disability (self-disclosure), and meet with disabilities advisor regarding needs. Also- financial aid requirements for grants, loans, scholarships, etc. are usually half- time, or full-time. There are many people with physical or cognitive disabilities WHO NEED MORE TIME to complete classes, and need to take only one or two classes per semester, in order to focus, and successfully complete the class. They may already have lower income, due to their disability. Thus, they may be unable to finish due to lack of money.


    Stacie Dojonovic:


    I think the biggest issue is moving from a system of entitlement to eligibility. We try to educate parents of the difference of highschool to college.
    I just had a parent say to me “Stacie you were right disability services won’t talk to me they want to talk to Johnny.” As she continued I said well you didn’t believe me or the printed materials I gave you so would you be willing to talk to other parents at the school one evening. (As I believe parents believe other parents who are willing to share candidly)

    2:50 [Comment From Rosanne]
    Another curious matter is that some students do not want to disclose disabilities once they arrive on our campus. And in fact sometimes they do just fine with little assistance, other times they need assistance of one sort or another.

    2:50 larry: Rosanne - you are correct, but we are making progress on this front and I hope you see changes relatively soon. It is not an easy one to help adults change their ways (trust I have really really learned that one).

    2:51 larry: Carol - great points, thanks and remember that Summary of Performance requirement provides an excellent starting point for doing this.

    2:51 Christina Samuels: Larry, could you give a quick description of what “summary of performance” is for those who don’t know?

    2:51 [Comment From Beth]
    I know special educators working in high schools who don’t know the “rules” in college - telling families things that are not true about college...are there any good on line training programs on this subject that educators can access?

    2:52 [Comment From Guest]
    as a parent, the requirements for transition services for students with disabilities made me wish there were similar requirements for ALL students

    2:53 Stacie Dojonovic: Carol one more factor for college completion is that students do NOT have to disclose their disability and even if they do register with disability services they might NOT request the accommodations that they have been granted. Unlike high school college professors don’t get an IEP and are not told what accommodations they must provide. Students have to request the accommodations and self advocate. I read a study that indicated that students with LD only have a 1% rate.

    2:53 larry: The Summary of Performance requirement calls (actually requires) the high school staff to provide a summary of the student in terms of what they have accomplished, talents. challenges and things that have worked. The form (which is on our site on the National REsource Map for almost all states) becomes the property of the student but as a college person I would love to have this informatoin, as an employer the same and as a VR person it would really help for planning. It also provides a means for the student to work through the disclosure issue.

    2:54 Christina Samuels: Stacie -- students with learning disabilities only have a one percent rate of what? Self-identification?

    2:54 [Comment From Margo]
    I think that one piece that would be helpful to include in many transition plans would be to assist the high school student in self-advocacy. This might include things like support in explaining to a regular ed teacher what kinds of accommodations or supports that they need.

    2:54 larry: Beth - not sure of where to send you on that one, it really varies by state and college.

    2:55 larry: Guest - Yes, thanks for saying that. We have way too many kids who leave high school with no clue of what to do next. Thanks :)

    2:55 [Comment From Rosanne]
    Ditto to Margo’s comment!

    2:55 Stacie Dojonovic: To comment on the question of how to get updated information on the requirements of college their are many websites. I think their are many helpful resources on the college planning practice group on the sharedwork website. You can access me directly for additional information. (due to time)

    2:56 Stacie Dojonovic: 1% rate of completing a 4 year degree in 4 years!

    2:56 Christina Samuels: Larry, Stacie -- we’re coming to the end of our chat time and you’ve both been great. I wanted to give you both a chance to offer any wrap-up comments.

    2:56 larry: Margo - a number of schools are doing that and having great results.

    2:57 Christina Samuels: Wow, Stacie-- that’s a sobering statistic. Kids with learning disabilities make up the bulk of students served under the IDEA.


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Foolishly I though all schools establish self advocacy goals if that is what a student needs. (If it is an annual measurable goal then you receive quarterly progress reports to track and measure progress)

    2:58 larry: This transition stuff is so important to us as parents and taxpayers, we all want our kids to have a stable, well paying job with the opportunity for advancement. Most of us have had dead end jobs or ones we did not do well. As taxpayers, we need everyone to be productive and if Stacie or I or NSTTAC can help in any way let us know.

    2:59 Stacie Dojonovic: Christina exactly! Kids with LD often are the students who need the self advocacy goal. (disability awareness...self determination)

    2:59 [Comment From Connie]
    There is a lot of info on the web re: self-advocacy curricula.


    Stacie Dojonovic:

    Yes, as a local practitioner, who gets to implement the policy, research and best practices that Larry shares with me I can attest to his willingness to continue this conversation with everyone!

    3:01 Christina Samuels: Thanks so much to our guests, and for all the people who submitted questions. A transcript of this chat will be available soon!

    3:02 Stacie Dojonovic: Self advocacy curricula exists and is helpful. However we need to collaborate with the regular ed teachers and give the students a chance to practice self advocacy in high schoool