Preparing students for adulthood is a primary purpose of education in the United States. Life after high school introduces a host of new experiences, relationships, and pathways for young people. Providing them with the skills, supports, experiences, and linkages they will need to pursue their personal aspirations is an important aspect of schooling for any student. For students with disabilities, this emphasis on transition preparation is especially important. Indeed, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) of 2004 indicates a central purpose of special education is to “prepare [students with disabilities] for further education, employment, and independent living” (Public Law 108–446).
Formal transition services were first mandated with the passing of IDEA in 1990 as an explicit pathway for equipping students with disabilities for life after high school. The law – as reauthorized in 2004 – defines transition services as a coordinated set of activities that:
Unfortunately, students with disabilities tend to fare much more poorly than their classmates in the early years after exiting school (Newman et al., 2011). This conclusion holds across multiple domains that can contribute to a high quality of life – postsecondary education, employment, community involvement, residential life, relationships, and personal independence. For many students with disabilities, the goals and dreams they have for their own lives post-graduation do not come to pass in the early years after leaving high school. Despite these disappointing outcomes, there are effective practices and partnerships that can be put in place during the school-aged years to better set students with disabilities up for success as they enter adulthood (Mazzotti et al., 2016). Transition assessment and transition planning, specifically related to the four core areas of transition identified in IDEA – postsecondary education, employment, community involvement, and residential living – are essential steps in the transition process, providing support to students with disabilities in achieving their post-school goals.