IDEA 2004: Improving Transition Planning and Results
Recent amendments to the federal special education law, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA '04), include several revisions to the requirements for transition planning designed to improve postsecondary results for students with disabilities.
Poor post-school outcomes for students with disabilities and the need for dramatic improvement in this area are not new issues. In submitting its recommendations for the reauthorization of the IDEA, the President's Commission on Excellence in Special Education reported:
“The Commission finds students with disabilities are significantly unemployed and underemployed upon leaving school compared to their peers who do not have disabilities. Too many students with disabilities leave school without successfully earning any type of diploma, and they attend post-secondary programs at rates lower than their nondisabled peers. Adults with disabilities are much less likely to be employed than adults without disabilities. Unemployment rates for working-age adults with disabilities have hovered at the 70 percent level for at least the past 12 years, which the Commission finds to be wholly unacceptable. Even when employed, too many adults with disabilities who are employed earn markedly less income than their nondisabled peers. These statistics reflect failures in the present systems' structures We find that the overriding barrier preventing a smooth transition from high school to adult living is the fundamental failure of federal policies and programs to facilitate smooth movement for students from secondary school to competitive employment and higher education.”
Children and Their Families, July 2002
Seeking to improve upon the unacceptable post-school outcomes for students with disabilities, Congress has provided several new requirements to strengthen transition planning. This article provides an overview of changes to the transition requirements in IDEA 2004. These requirements are effective July 1, 2005.
First, by redefining the term “Transition Services,” the IDEA now states that activities focus on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child to facilitate movement from school to post-school activities. Additionally, the definition has been expanded to include a requirement that the transition services be based on the student's strengths, as well as their preferences and interests. The process is expected to be “results-oriented” as opposed to the earlier requirement for “outcome-oriented,” signaling a clear intent to ensure that the process includes activities designed to produce success for the individual.
Clear Starting Point
Current requirements regarding the age at which transition planning should begin are somewhat ambiguous - some activities at 14 and others at 16. IDEA '04 has established one clear starting age requirement for the start of transition planning. IEP Teams must now include transition planning in the first IEP that will be in effect when the child is 16 years of age. Of course, IEP Teams are still free to determine that planning should begin earlier for a student.