Pamela White, Ed.S.
March 8, 2023

Using Transition Assessments to plan for life after high school

For students with disabilities, schools use transition assessments to plan for life after high school. Learn how this works.

When students with disabilities graduate from high school, many students and parents are often left wondering where to go from there. We call this “transition” because students are transitioning from school to life as adults. Planning for life after high school often gets overlooked by many. And many who do think about life after high school just don’t know where to begin or who to ask for help. 

The good news is that The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) requires schools to use transition assessments to plan for life after graduation. These assessments help develop IEP goals that address the skills needed for each student’s adult life. According to the law, the IEP goals must be age appropriate, and the assessment tools must address these topics:

  • student’s preferences

  • strengths

  • interests

  • training and education

  • employment

  • independent living skills

What are Transition Assessments and assessment tools?

Transition assessment is the ongoing process of using transition assessment tools to collect certain information that can help the IEP team assist the student with the transition process. IDEA requires the process to begin at age 16, or younger if the IEP team decides it is appropriate. The transition assessment tools gather information to help identify a student’s needs, preferences, strengths, and interests. By gathering this information, the tools allow the IEP team to identify the student’s preferences and needs when thinking about future training and education opportunities, employment opportunities, and independent living skills. In other words, the team uses the assessments to plan for life skills development that will support the student’s vision for their future.

Transition assessment tools can be formal or informal and will vary between school districts. Some of the most common informal transition assessment tools include classroom observations, work samples, student interviews, parent interviews, and interest inventories. And some of the most common formal assessment tools include, but are not limited to, O’Net Career Interest Inventory, OASIS Interest Test, Career Scope Assessment, and Careers for Me. (If there is a charge, the school will pay it.)

What parents should consider when planning for life after high school

When planning for life after high school, parents must first talk to their child to decide when they will graduate. The law allows students with disabilities to receive special education services until they graduate from high school or reach age 22. Because they can stay in school until age 22, you all have to decide if your child will graduate when they have met the graduation requirements–if under 22–or stay in school until age 22.

Students and parents must also think about what kind of training and education would be most appropriate after graduation. Many students with disabilities graduate high school and attend community college or four-year universities. In recent years, many community colleges and universities have developed programs for students with disabilities. There are also opportunities for vocational training, supported employment, and continued or adult education.

Understanding the most appropriate living situation is also important when thinking about life after high school. Some students with disabilities can eventually live independently and attend to their own needs, while students with more severe disabilities may need more support to live independently. Some may not be able to live independently at all. There are many questions to think about when planning for life after high school. Will your child eventually move on their own? Will they continue to live at home? Will they need the support of an assisted living program? Those are all things parents need to think about and questions that must be answered.

Community participation is also an important matter to think about when planning for life after high school. Individuals with disabilities should be active and participate in the community as much as possible. Community participation can help people build relationships, improve social skills, increase self-esteem, and develop their personality more. Community involvement can include doing everyday activities such as grocery shopping, going to the movie theater, and visiting the library. Or it can consist of more structured activities that are offered through day programs that specialize in activities for adults with disabilities.

Working with the school: using assessments to plan for life as an adult

Although students with disabilities are adults when they graduate from high school, it is important for family members to be involved and play a key role in the transition assessment process, and planning for life after high school. For students with more moderate and severe disabilities, family involvement is necessary. It is important for parents to communicate with the school regularly when the transition assessment process begins. This will help make effective use of assessments to plan for life after high school.

Students and parents should be actively involved when transition assessment tools are used. It’s helpful to provide clear and accurate information when completing a student or parent interview. The results of transition assessment tools should be reviewed with the student. Parents can also contact their child’s teacher and request a copy of all transition assessments completed at the school. After reviewing the assessments, parents can schedule a meeting with the teachers, before the IEP team meeting, to review the assessment and make sure they understand the results. Discuss the assessment results with your child and the IEP team so everyone can work together to identify the most appropriate transition goals and activities. Most schools work with outside transition agencies to provide support to students with disabilities, and usually ask permission to invite a representative from the agency to attend the IEP meeting. It would be a good idea to allow an outside transition agency to attend the IEP meeting, and begin developing a relationship with transition agencies as early as possible.

A clear plan for life after high school requires communication

When students with disabilities graduate from high school, parents can have a clear plan to address life after high school. Communication between home, school, and transition agencies is very important when considering what is most appropriate for the students. Reviewing and discussing the results of transition assessment can help the family, IEP team and transition agency understand the student’s needs, preferences, strengths, and interests. By understanding those important pieces of information, the IEP can develop a strong plan to help your child build a productive and successful life after high school.

  • Pamela White, Ed.S.

    Special Education Program Facilitator

    Pamela White is an Education Specialist who has worked with individuals with disabilities for almost 15 years. She facilitates special education programs for a Louisiana school district and serves as an Educator in Residence for the PROGRESS Center at The American Institute for Research. She is passionate about establishing high expectations for students with disabilities, developing reading skills, teaching with intention, and educators implementing high-leverage practices.

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