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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition: Creating opportunities for youth with disabilities to achieve successful futures.

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NOTE: In its original version, this Web Topic received an award from the Tufts University Child & Family WebGuide with a 4-star rating for its authority, relevance, ease-of-use, and credibility.

This topic provides information on strategies to support student, family, and professional participation in developing a student's Individualized Education Program (IEP) and transition plan.


Transition is about planning for life! It includes planning for academic and non-academic courses and learning experiences, employment and related training opportunities, community living, and leisure activities. A goal of transition is to help youth understand their disability and choices to determine their future. One way transition does this is by connecting youth to teachers and other caring adults, support services, and experiences that build skills and help them reach their goals. Transition is based on family values, priorities, and culture, and is focused on an individual youth’s interests, preferences, and needs.

"Transition services" is a term used in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) that defines a coordinated set of activities that may address, among others, the assessment, planning process, and educational and community experiences for youth with disabilities as they turn 14. The intent of transition is to create opportunities for youth with disabilities that result in positive adult outcomes. For youth, this may involve:

  • engaging in the general education curriculum
  • building self-awareness, self-identity, self-esteem, and self-determination skills
  • utilizing the community for supports
  • socializing and developing long-term relationships
  • participating in activities both at school and in the community
  • engaging in leadership and involvement in the transition planning process

For adults, this may involve raising expectations for youth outcomes and assessing youths' interests, preferences, and needs.

The involvement of youth and families in transition planning is important so that youth can begin to understand themselves and then identify a team of caring adults who will support their journey. In American culture, the primary rite of passage for all youth is graduating from high school. The beginning of adulthood is celebrated at this time with an expectation that youth will develop an increasing independence and autonomy and move on to further education, meaningful jobs, and finding their own places to live, friends, companions, and life in the community.

The Individualized Education Program (IEP) is the document used to facilitate an individualized planning process during the transition years (14-21). The IEP must include a youth’s present level of educational performance, his or her transition service needs, and measurable annual goals. In addition, the IEP must include any interagency responsibilities, accommodations or modifications, and a statement of the special education and related services to be provided to the youth for the youth to be involved and progress in the general curriculum. Since the IEP is one of the tools used to measure compliance with IDEA, comprehensive and ongoing support is important for teachers and others who are responsible for implementing the IEP.

NCSET Education Principles

The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition (NCSET) has developed a set of education principles and indicators that not only help frame transition, but also are applicable to all youth and their future planning. These principles and indicators were developed from a broad range of disciplines and perspectives and are useful not only for analyzing or evaluating policies, practices, curricula, and interagency collaboration, but for developing efforts in these areas and for planning system improvement. Education principles and indicators developed by NCSET include:

  • Vision and Mission: All youth benefit from a caring and supportive learning environment that helps them to reach their highest potential in school, the community, at home, and in life.
  • Leadership and Accountability: All youth benefit from effective leadership and responsive schools.
  • Teaching and Learning: All youth participate in a variety of learning opportunities that help them to achieve high academic standards and that reflect the knowledge and skills needed for full participation in adult life.
  • Learning Environment: All youth benefit from caring and dynamic learning environments within the school setting and the community at large.
  • Partnerships: All youth experience and benefit from supportive teams made up of caring adults and their peers.
  • Youth and Family: All youth and their families are encouraged and supported to be involved with developing policy, curricula, and evaluation methods that will raise expectations and improve the quality of education and individual student outcomes.


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National Center on Secondary Education and Transition
Institute on Community Integration
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This page was last updated on January 12, 2022.