Transition Services for Students with Disabilities – Better, Not Necessarily More

August 7, 2012 at 8:20 AM Leave a comment

Education Week has previewed the anticipated GAO report on transition services for students with disabilities. Lack of access and inadequate coordination of programs were both cited as obstacles for young adults leaving high school in need of services. While the bureaucratic maze must be streamlined and realigned for service delivery, there is another opportunity…reduced demand for adult services through successful earlier interventions.

For many students with moderate disabilities, transition services at the end of high school offer too little too late. For others with more severe disabilities, access to a lifeline is a basic necessity for survival. In between, there are individuals for whom targeted interventions can make all the difference in the world for their success in life.

The current model is overwhelmed by excessive demand and conflicting objectives. Inadvertent or intentional denial of service is a poor solution for failure to understand and manage that demand.  Federal and state agencies could achieve their goals more efficiently and offer better outcomes all around by organizing efforts around expected levels of need and refocusing delivery models for students with moderate disabilities at an earlier age.

Students with more severe disabilities benefit from a lifetime of support services. They need them, and their independence requires that services be organized for access and ease of delivery. Interagency coordination at the federal and state levels must meet the imperative of efficient and effective service. Outcomes should include quality of life for the beneficiary and organizational productivity measures for the government entities.

Students with moderate disabilities receive services based on an eligibility model from the onset, and they enter a transition phase for adult services as they approach high school graduation. The plan is flawed at both levels. One missing ingredient is a measure of progress toward grade level proficiency from the start of services. The regulatory model essentially lacks an incentive for overcoming the obstacles created by the disability through compensatory strategies. The other shortcoming is the absence of the student from the education planning team until the last couple of years before graduation.

When a student is diagnosed with a moderate disability, the goal of services is to enable the child to function like any other student. Initially, the team seeks to level the playing field through accommodations and modifications in the educational process. However, through gradual release of control over management of the disability to the student, other members of the team should play a diminishing role. By the time the student reaches graduation, the need for external services should be limited to a few clearly defined supports, if any, and the student should be empowered to advocate for himself or herself effectively.

When considering IDEA and the implementation of transition services, I recommend effective demand management, market segmentation based on level/complexity of need, and streamlining of operations to meet divergent demand. In addition, I suggest modification of the law and regulation thereof to place the child on the education planning team at an earlier age and to measure progress toward grade level proficiently in addition to eligibility in the evaluation of the service delivery model.

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Entry filed under: Special Education.

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