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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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Frequently Asked Questions

What are the legal requirements in IDEA for transition?

Student Notification and Participation: IDEA requires that for students, beginning no later than age 14, one of the purposes of the annual meeting will always be a discussion of transition service needs. Beginning at least by age 16, the discussion will focus upon planning for needed transition services. The school shall invite a student of any age with a disability to attend the IEP meeting if the purpose of the IEP meeting will be the consideration of transition services. This may include discussing what the student wants for his or her future, what needs or challenges are perceived as barriers to reaching student goals, and what accommodations and supports will support student efforts. This reflects the importance of self-determination for the student in conjunction with the shared responsibility of agencies and personnel in attaining the student’s long-and short-term goals. If the student does not attend the IEP meeting, the public agency shall take other steps to ensure that the student’s preferences and interests are considered.

Parent Notification and Participation: Parents must be notified that the purpose of the IEP meeting will be to develop a statement of transition services needs for their son or daughter, who is also invited to attend the meeting. Beginning at age 16, or younger, if appropriate, this notification must also include any other agencies that will be invited to send a representative. Ensuring that parents are informed in advance gives them an opportunity to prepare for discussion about the future. Informing parents that their child will also be invited provides them with the opportunity to talk with their child prior to the actual meeting. With an understanding that outside agencies may be invited, families can begin to think about what services they may need, want, and how to include additional community members.

Agency Notification, Participation, and Responsibility: IDEA also requires that the school invite a representative of any other agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services. This reflects the value of long-term, child-centered coordination and shared responsibility. School staff need to be knowledgeable about the services and policies of community agencies in order to invite the appropriate people. Some of the possible agencies may include: vocational rehabilitation, employment and training, mental health, mental retardation/developmental disabilities, social security, housing, recreation, and others relevant to the individual’s needs and preferences.

If an agency does not attend, the school shall take other steps to obtain the participation of the agency in the planning of transition services. If the agency fails to provide the transition services described in the IEP, the school must reconvene the IEP team to identify alternative strategies to meet those objectives. Nothing in this part relieves any participating agency, including a state vocational rehabilitation agency, of the responsibility to provide or pay for transition services that they would otherwise provide to students with disabilities who meet their eligibility criteria. The financial responsibility for meeting a student’s transition goals are not meant to apply solely to the education system, but also to the agencies that the IEP team involves in meeting the transition objectives set out in the IEP.

Content of the IEP: IDEA final regulations state the importance of three core concepts:

  1. The involvement and progress of each student with a disability in the general education curriculum;
  2. The involvement of parents and students, together with general and special education personnel, in making decisions to support each student; and
  3. The preparation of students with disabilities for employment and other post school outcomes.

The actual IEP document includes:

  • present level educational performance—may include information as it relates to post school goals and information from families, employers, and others;
  • statement of transition service needs (age 14)—generally based on such factors as transition assessment, environmental barriers, and future adult goals;
  • statement of needed transition services (age 16)—may include instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other postschool adult living objectives, and if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation;
  • annual goals—generally based on long-term future adult goals (using assessment information and adult goals);
  • short-term objectives or benchmarks—are measurable and represent steps to meet annual goals;
  • statement of interagency responsibilities—generally includes information about who will provide needed transition services outside of the local education agency;
  • statement of participation in state and district-wide tests—describes the modifications in the administration of these tests that the student will need. If a test is not appropriate for the student, the IEP must state why the test is not appropriate and how the student will be tested instead; and
  • list of special education and related services—to be provided to or on behalf of the child, including supplementary aids and services, modifications to the educational program, and supports for school personnel, such as training or professional development, that will benefit the student.

Transfer of Rights: In a State that transfers rights at the age of majority, beginning at least one year before a student reaches the age of majority under State law, the student’s IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed of his or her rights, if any, under Part B of the Act, that will transfer to the student on reaching the age of majority. In addition, parents must be notified that all rights will transfer to their youth.


What is the difference between “transition service needs” and “needed transition services”?

When IDEA was reauthorized in 1997, transition was a major focus. Research and practice supported the importance of early planning. Prior to 1997, the law required that addressing transition services and needs would begin at age 16. The intent of starting the process at age 14 was to engage teachers, families, and youth in the process of looking toward the future at middle or junior high school and to plan academically for the courses that would be needed throughout the high school years in order to fulfill a youth’s future adult goals (Storms, O’Leary & Williams, 2000).

What must happen at age 14 and what must happen at age 16 can be confusing because the wording in the first two items is so similar. The following excerpt from Transition Requirements: A Guide for State, Districts, Schools, Universities, and Families (Storms, O’Leary, & Williams, 2000) further clarifies the difference between transition service needs and needed transition services:

IDEA ’97 requires that the student’s IEP include:
  • A statement of transition service needs at age 14 or younger, if appropriate.
  • A statement of needed transition services at age 16 or younger, if appropriate.

For all students, starting at age 14 (or younger, when appropriate) and continuing until the student is no longer eligible for special education services, the IEP team must:
  • Invite the student to participate in his or her IEP development.
  • Base the IEP on the student’s needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests.
  • Can include developing the student’s post-school goals.
  • Identify the student’s transition service needs.

Generally, these “transition service needs” take the form of courses of study or a multi-year description of coursework to achieve the student’s desired postschool goals. The transition service needs are intended to assist the student in making a successful transition to his or her goals for life after high school by selecting courses that are pertinent to the student's future and motivate the student to finish school. The requirement for transition service needs must be reviewed annually and continues until the student graduates with a regular high school diploma or is no longer eligible for IDEA ’97 services.
For all students, starting at age 16 (or younger, when appropriate) the IEP team must:
  • Invite the student to participate in his or her IEP development.
  • Base the IEP on the student’s needs, taking into account the student's preferences and interests.
  • May include refining the student’s desired postschool goals.
  • Review the student’s transition service needs, such as the courses of study or multi-year description of coursework, adjusting them as needed to achieve the student’s desired postschool goals.
  • Develop a statement of needed transition services.

A statement of needed transition services has been required since 1990. Transition services include "instruction, related services (added in IDEA ’97 Final Regulations), community experiences, the development of employment and other postschool adult living objectives; and if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.” (IDEA, 34 CFR 300.29(a)(3)) In addition, the statement of needed transition services must include, “a statement of the interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages.” (IDEA, 300.347(b)(2))


What are some of the basic foundations of adolescent development that should be considered as transition planning occurs?

Supporting youth to plan for the future and to reach their adult goals includes fostering a sense of hope, sense of the future, and helping them stay connected to school so they will remain in school. Youth development and prevention strategies have looked beyond the legal and educational goals to provide a holistic approach to education and transition.

Blum, McNeely, and Rinehart cite ten strategies to foster connections between youth and their schools (2002):

  • Help youth get to know each other
  • Involve youth in planning, problem-solving, and assessing classroom curriculum
  • Promote cooperation over competition
  • Build strong relationships between youth and teachers/administrators
  • Convey attentiveness to youth and passion about learning through non-verbal cues
  • Involve all youth in responsibilities
  • Integrate responsibility and respect throughout all curricula
  • Give youth a stronger voice
  • Involve youth in the criteria by which their work will be assessed
  • Use first person plural (we, us, let’s) to reinforce the concept that ‘we are all in this together.'

There are many institutions, programs, and researchers who are involved in youth and adolescent development, working for positive results in the lives of all youth. Although each may list slightly different words to define essential elements, there is uniformity in concepts. Youth need:

  • academic skills and competencies
  • a sense of safety and structure
  • self-worth and self-esteem
  • a feeling of mastery and future
  • belonging and membership
  • responsibility and autonomy
  • self-awareness and spirituality

(Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, 2003)

Youth also need motivational, emotional, and strategic supports to succeed in life. They must experience opportunities to learn about their world, explore ideas and interests, and believe they belong to their school and local communities and have something to give back that makes a difference. They also need meaningful services that engage them in education, health, employment, and more by using relevant instruction. In addition, they need caring support from adults, and challenging opportunities to express themselves and to take on new roles within groups (Center for Youth Development and Policy Research, 2003; Ferber, Pittman, & Marshall, 2002; University of Minnesota, 1999; Carnegie Corporation of New York, 1995; Simpson, 2001; America’s Promise-The Alliance for Youth, 2000).

There are many educational reform strategies and standards-based educational reform goals for all children and youth. Some special educators and families think about transition as an addition to these initiatives, an extra set of goals and objectives from state and local standards and assessment requirements. How can they be interconnected and viewed as a single, comprehensive strategy in preparing youth for adult life?

Think about transition as a way to gather and document information for each student that is part of the standards-based reform. Standards-based education is an outcome-based process with a goal of improving outcomes for all children and youth and raising the expectations of all. Transition for special education youth is also an outcome-based process that supports students in reaching their adult goals. Transition assessment and planning may involve teaching functional skills for daily living and helping youth to learn what accommodations work for them in the classroom. Some youth will only need support from a special educator to accommodate or modify a curriculum, and will be in general education 100% of the time. Some may be in special education, community, or vocational-based programming a large part of the day, increasing their academics through applied, contextual learning. No matter what program or service is provided, it can be referenced to the standards for all youth.

Start with the end goal in mind. What is the expected outcome for education? If a specific student’s goal is to enter a four year college to study nursing, then the educational program will focus on academic skills in general education. The transition needs of independent living skills, career and job development, recreation and community participation will be learned within the context of those academic courses or as part of the student’s involvement in a community/vocational learning opportunity. The transition goals and academic standards can be met both in activities at the school and outside the school. They should be documented on a student profile and on the IEP. Conversely, if the individual goal is to increase self-help and independent skills, or build job awareness, then the IEP and services may address an academic standard in reading through the job experience or a standard in math through a carpentry class. The importance is that the individual goal for the student be aligned with the academic standards set for all youth within the school.

Parent involvement in the IEP planning process is required by IDEA. The amendments of 1997 strengthen the importance of parent involvement and require documentation of parent notification and attempts at gathering information from parents before an IEP is developed to address transition. What are the ways to increase parent involvement in transition planning?

Parents will be actively involved if the environment is welcoming and their input is heard, respected, and acted upon. They will need accurate and honest information ahead of time and presented in a manner that is understandable. Additional skills may include training in communication, collaboration, and advocacy.

The first thing to think about when developing policies and practices for increasing family involvement is to assess school climate and attitude toward family involvement. Ask the following questions:

  • Do staff and administrators believe that families have valuable information to share and are experts on their own children?
  • Do schools develop ways to invite families into the building for events, and also for feedback on policies, curricula, and evaluation?
  • Is there a physical place in the school in which families can meet with other families, school staff, or adult agency members?
  • Are teachers provided with education on how to work with families and given the time to communicate on a regular basis?

Parents and families often have a lot of emotion with regard to the transition planning process and having a child with a disability. This emotion will often surface during meetings. Staff who are comfortable with this emotion promote a comfort level for families.

Families frequently may not participate in IEP meetings, because they do not understand the information presented, nor do they sense that they have anything to contribute. Clear, accurate, family-friendly information about transition is usually very helpful at times like these. In addition, information about the impact a disability can have on learning, continuing education, working, having relationships, and developing autonomy is also very helpful. Schools can establish an ongoing parent group that meets for support and also for information. Including families in site-based councils, transition interagency committees, special education advisory committees, and any other school planning committees increases their knowledge of specific content areas, and also of the school and district-at-large.

Parents and families also need skills in how to communicate, collaborate, and advocate for their child. If they have access to ways of increasing those skills, either through a formal class or a program that matches parents with parents, it will support their active involvement. For many, if a parent is a good advocate for his or her child, it creates a “them versus us” relationship with professionals. Yet when professionals view themselves as advocates and parents as collaborators in identifying needs and services, there is reciprocity and equity in the relationship. Professionals are welcoming, and families will participate.

IDEA requires that students be invited to their IEP meetings if a purpose of the meeting will be the consideration of transition services. Many youth still do not attend their IEP meetings or seem disinterested. Families may be hesitant to have their sons and daughters at the meetings. What can be done to increase students’ involvement and active participation in the whole transition process?

Wehmeyer and Ward (1995) describe student involvement in the transition process as the heart of good transition services. The involvement of students increases ownership of their plans and responsibilities for carrying out their own wishes and dreams. Many of the current educational reform initiatives focus on outcome-oriented results, and literature supports the evidence that youth who are actively engaged and feel a sense of control over their lives have better outcomes as adults (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998).

When students are involved, they have opportunities to learn about their strengths and skills, as well as their disabilities and their impact on learning, careers, relationships, and independence. They can also learn about the accommodations they will need at a job, in further education, in relationships, and more. Speaking up for themselves is vital for success in adult environments.

In order for adults to fully engage youth in the assessment, planning, and the follow-through process, teens must believe that they are heard, that adults will respect them and have high expectations for them, that they will support their needs and let them take risks and fail, and that they will look at them as people in multiple environments. Youth will benefit from classes in student-led IEPs or self-determination, but they must also have experiences and opportunities in many settings that allow them this leadership role (Furney & Salembier, 2000).

The National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY) offers some suggestions for beginning this process in their Student's Guide Set 1 ( which includes A Student’s Guide to the IEP and Technical Assistance Guide, Helping Students Develop Their IEPs (Note: These guides have not been reviewed by the U.S. Department of Education, OSEP, for consistency with the IDEA Amendments of 1997 and the final implementing regulations).

Some of NICHCY’s suggestions include:

  • Use a structured tool (NICHCY has audiotapes and booklets for students, parents, and teachers);
  • Photocopy each student’s IEP;
  • Read through the IEP and identify sensitive issues. Many teens have never read any assessment information, and this could be the first time that they are hearing their diagnosis and any test results. Make sure there is time to let them process the information and express their feelings;
  • Inform parents about student involvement and how their child will be reading their assessment and IEP information. This can be a challenge for parents who may have tried to keep this information hidden in order to protect their child from the “bad” news. Invite parents to be part of this process and to work with their child at home to talk about their future plans and ask questions about their disability;
  • Prepare any worksheets or materials that are appropriate to the level of disability. Some youth with more significant disabilities may need or want more visual ways to learn about themselves and express their wishes for the future;
  • Ask students how they think they learn and what things are difficult for them;
  • Talk about disabilities in terms that are specifically related to them;
  • Inform students of their rights under the law and also the intent of the law (to support their successful transition to adulthood and quality of life);
  • Discuss accommodations as they relate to learning, job skills, social skills, and independent living skills;
  • Discuss transition and its importance in planning for their future;
  • Practice the IEP meeting and role-play with a group of students.

Part of healthy development includes a sense of self, a sense of purpose and usefulness, a sense of achievement and independence, and a sense of belonging and caring. Involving students not only in the IEP meeting, but also with the entire process can help instill these essential components for healthy adult outcomes.

Who else should be invited to participate in transition planning meetings?

IDEA requires that in addition to parents, the child, and school personnel, that other agency representatives participate in the transition planning process as needed. At age 16, or younger, if appropriate, the student must be invited along with representatives of any other agency that is likely to be responsible for providing or paying for transition services.

Outside agency representatives who could be invited to the IEP meeting may include:

  • rehabilitation counselor
  • county social worker
  • employment agency staff (day training and habilitation DTH)
  • independent living center staff
  • disability support staff from a postsecondary educational or technical school
  • person knowledgeable about assistive technology
  • person knowledgeable about financial benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Medicaid or Medical Assistance (MA)
  • personal care or health care providers, including mental health care providers
  • probation officer or teacher from a juvenile justice center
  • community park and recreation staff, and
  • transportation agency staff

Families may invite an advocate from an advocacy organization to assist them with interpreting information and follow along.

If an agency does not send a representative, the public agency shall take other steps to obtain participation of the agency. If a participating agency fails to provide a transition service that was agreed upon, the IEP team must reconvene to explore alternative ways of meeting those needs or revise the IEP.

Each agency or service provider generally has a different set of criteria for eligibility and often has a waiting list for services. Families can become overwhelmed with the amount of information and paperwork required for application and follow-through. Part of transition planning can address those issues and identify whom families can call on for support and coordination. It can be very beneficial to the whole team if one person is identified as the single point of contact and service coordinator for the family and other team members.


The following sources were cited in this Frequently Asked Questions. For additional research and resources, see our links to other pages on this topic below.

America’s Promise Alliance. Retrieved from

Blum, R., McNeely, C., & Reinhart, P. (2002). Improving the odds: The untapped power to improve the health of teens. Minneapolis, MN: Center for Adolescent Health and Development, University of Minnesota.

Carnegie Corporation of New York, (1995). Great transitions: Preparing adolescents for a new century. Retrieved from

Center for Youth Development and Policy Research. What is Youth Development? Retrieved from

Ferber, T., Pittman, K., & Marshall, T. (2002). Helping all youth to grow up fully prepared and fully engaged. Takoma Park, MD: The Forum for Youth Investment.

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Furney, K., & Salembier, G. (2000). Rhetoric and reality: A review of the literature on parent and student participation in the IEP and transition planning process. Issues Influencing the Future of Transition Programs and Services in the United States. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 34 C.F.R. § 300.347, § 300.29 (1997).

Simpson, A. (2001). Raising teens: A synthesis of research and a foundation for action. Boston: Center for Health Communication, Harvard School of Public Health.

Storms, J., O’Leary, E., & Williams, J. (2000). Transition requirements: A guide for states, districts, schools, universities and families. Minneapolis, Minnesota: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration.

University of Minnesota Extension Service. (1999). Keys to quality youth development. Retrieved from

Wehmeyer, M. & Ward, M. (1995). The spirit of the IDEA mandate: Student involvement in transition planning. Journal of Vocational Special Needs Education, 17, 108-111.


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