A Brief Overview
- By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. You can attend any time, and leading your own meeting is a great way to learn important skills.
- If you need more help at school or aren’t learning what you need to learn, then your IEP might need some fixing. Your voice matters on the IEP team.
- A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
- Read on to learn more about the parts of an IEP and how to get more involved in your own education.
If you are a student with an Individualized Education Program (IEP), read this article to find out how you can be a leader on your IEP team. Your future is counting on you!
By the time you are 16 years old, the school is required to invite you to your IEP meetings. From that year on, your school program is matched to your long-term goals. It’s important to plan your time carefully so that every school day gets you closer to where you want to be when you are an adult.
Learn to be a self-advocate
An advocate (pronounced ad-vo-cut) is someone who asks for something in a public way. Public schools get money from the government, so they are considered public entities. When you ask the school to provide you with something that you need to succeed, then you are being a self-advocate.
The word advocate can also be an action word (a verb), but then it’s pronounced ad-vo-cate (rhymes with date). You advocate for yourself when you ask for what you need to succeed.
Here’s another way to use this hyphenated word: You can say that you “practice self-advocacy.” Leading your own IEP meeting is a great way to practice self-advocacy and develop important adult skills.
Your Transition Plan focuses on where you want to go
The part of the IEP that focuses on your adult goals is called a Transition Plan. The Transition Plan is added to the IEP by the school year when you turn 16. The plan includes details about:
- when you plan to graduate (you can stay in school through age 21 if your IEP goals require more time)
- what jobs you might choose
- whether college is part of your plans
- what lifestyle you imagine for yourself (will you drive, cook, shop, live alone?)
- how school is getting you ready for all of that
The Transition Plan is all about you and your future. You can start taking charge of your future by going to your IEP meetings. You may want to lead all or part of the meeting, and you have that right.
The law says it’s all about you
Your rights as a student with an IEP are part of a federal law called the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The IDEA says that schools must include family members and students on the IEP team. If you don’t play on the team, you can’t win the game, right? This is more important than a game—it’s Your Life!
The IDEA is a unique law because it says you get what you need in order to access school and learning. Getting an education that is specially designed just for you is called an entitlement. What you are entitled to is called FAPE, which means Free Appropriate Public Education.
You can become a leader on your IEP team by learning more about FAPE and how to talk about what it means to you. Public education is free for all school-age students in the United States, but consider this question: What makes your education appropriate?
Here are some questions to help you think and talk about FAPE:
- What is it like to have a disability?
- What about your disability makes school hard?
- What do you need at school that helps you learn?
- Are you getting better and better at the skills you need to be good at?
- Are your teachers helping you see what you do well?
If you are learning important skills at school, and your learning is helping you build on your strengths, then you are probably getting FAPE. If you need more help or aren’t learning the skills that you need to move forward, then your IEP might need some fixing. Keep in mind that the school is responsible to provide you with FAPE. You have the right to ask for FAPE.
Learn what your IEP can do for you
Here’s a starter kit to help you understand what your IEP says and how you can ask for changes. When you go to your IEP meeting, you have the right to ask the teachers and school administrators to help you read and understand your IEP.
These are some important parts of an IEP:
- Category of Disability: This is on the “cover page” of the IEP document. It lists the type of disability that best describes why you need individualized help at school. You should know this category so you can understand how and why teachers are supposed to help you.
- The Present Levels of Performance: This is the long section at the beginning of the IEP that describes how you are doing and what the school is helping you work on. The beginning of this section lists what you are good at. Make sure that section is complete so you can be sure the teachers help you build on your strengths.
- Goals: When you qualified for an IEP, the school did an evaluation. You showed that you needed to learn certain things with instructions designed just for you. To help you learn, the teachers provide Specially Designed Instruction. They keep track of your progress toward specific goals in each area of learning. You can learn what your goals are and help track your progress. A website, I’m Determined.org, provides videos of students describing their goals. You can also print a goal-tracking worksheet from that website.
- Accommodations: You can ask for what you need to help you learn in all the different classrooms and places where you spend the school day. Do you learn better if you sit in a specific part of the classroom, for example, or if you have a certain type of chair? Do you need to be able to take breaks? Do you do better on tests if you take them in a small, quiet space instead of the regular classroom? Do you need shorter assignments, so you don’t get overwhelmed? Helping your teachers know how to help you is part of your job as an IEP team member.
Get Ready for Your IEP Meeting
You can get ready for your IEP meeting by looking over the IEP document. You may want to ask a family member or a teacher to help you read through the document. If you don’t understand what’s in your IEP, plan to ask questions at the meeting.
PAVE provides a worksheet to help you prepare for your meeting. It’s called a Student Input Form. You can use this worksheet to make a handout for the meeting or just to start thinking about things you might want to say. If you don’t want to make a handout, you might draw pictures or make a video to share your ideas.
These sentence starters might help you begin:
- I enjoy…
- I learn best when…
- I’m good at…
- It’s hard for me when…
- I want more help in these areas…
- I like school the most when …
- Teachers are helpful when they…
- I want to learn more about …
- It would be great if…
You may want to think about your disability and how it affects your schoolwork. You could work on a sentence or draw a picture to help the teachers understand something that is hard for you. These might be the parts of a sentence that you can personalize:
- My disability in the area of …
- makes school difficult because…
Your handout can include a list of what you want to talk about at the meeting. Here are a few ideas, but your options are unlimited:
- A favorite class, teacher or subject in school?
- A time during the school day that is hard for you?
- Your IEP goals?
- Something that helps you feel comfortable and do well?
- Something you want to change in your school schedule or program?
- Graduation requirements and when you plan to graduate?
- Your High School and Beyond Plan? (see information below)
- Anything else that’s important to you?
High School and Beyond Plan
Maybe you started talking about what you might do after graduation when you were in middle school. Washington State public schools are required to help all students begin a High School and Beyond Plan by 8th grade. Ask a teacher, a school counselor and/or your parents if you haven’t started one of those: It’s required so you can graduate from high school.
It’s never too soon to think about what you want to do in the future. When you start building an IEP Transition Plan, it’s critical to think and talk through your ideas and how you see yourself moving forward. Here are some starter questions:
- Where am I now? (strengths, interests, abilities)
- Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations)
- How do I get there? (goals, courses, activities, helpers, accommodations)
Here are some additional questions to help you plan:
Jobs, Trades, & Work
- What jobs would be a good fit?
- What training and/or supports will you need?
- Does your IEP include community work experience?
Education after high school
- Do your personal goals include college or technical school?
- What accommodations will you need?
- Have you contacted Disability Support Services on campus?
- Will you live with family, a friend or on your own?
- How will you cook, clean, shop, & get around town?
- Does your IEP have goals for Independent living?
- What will you do for fun?
- Will you join a club or support group?
- How will you make friends and keep in touch?
It’s never too soon to plan ahead!
Setting goals and making some plans now will help your school and family help you make sure you’ve got the right class credits, skills training and support to make that shift out of high school easier.
Being a leader at your IEP meeting is a great way to build skills for self-advocacy and self-determination, which is another great two-part word to learn. Self-determination means you make choices to take control of your life. At your IEP meeting, you can practice describing what helps you or what makes your life hard. You get to talk about what you do well and any projects or ideas that you get excited about. In short, you get to design your education so that it supports your plans to design your own adult life.
Here are links to more ideas and tools to help you get involved in your own future planning:
The Washington State Legislature passed a law in 2019 that changes graduation requirements and may impact students who receive special education services. House Bill (HB) 1599 changes the rules about which tests students must pass in order to graduate and how they can earn a diploma.
The new law removes the direct link between statewide assessments and graduation requirements by discontinuing the Certificate of Academic Achievement (CAA) after the graduating class of 2019 and the Certificate of Individual Achievement (CIA) after the graduating class of 2021.
Students in the class of 2020 and beyond will need to demonstrate career and college readiness through one of eight graduation pathway options that align with the High School and Beyond Plan, a requirement for all Washington students. The High School and Beyond Plan (HSBP) is expanded by the new law, and districts will be required to provide an electronic HSBP platform available to students beginning in 2020–21.
After-high-school plans are a critical aspect of the Transition Plan written into a student’s individualized Education Program (IEP) by age 16, and the expansion of the HSBP provides for improved alignment between these future-planning tools.
The Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) is the agency responsible for oversight of all public schools and non-public agencies in Washington State. OSPI maintains a website page with information about graduation requirements. Visit OSPI’s Graduation Requirements page for compete and updated material. The page includes a link to Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).
This article provides a brief overview of the new requirements, and parents can take this list to an IEP meeting to ask questions and create a plan to ensure graduation success. For more general information about planning for the transition from high school, take a look at a Recorded Webinar on PAVE’s website and/or read an article called Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School.
Class of 2019, Take Note!
Some students in the Classes of 2014 through 2019 may be eligible to have their assessment graduation requirements waived in English language arts (ELA), math, or both. The Expedited Assessment Appeals Waiver requires that the student show that he/she has the skills and knowledge to meet high school standards and possesses the skills necessary to successfully achieve college or career goals established in the High School and Beyond Plan.
Students may use one of the following to meet the assessment graduation requirements:
- Graduation standard on Smarter Balanced or WA-AIM (ELA and math)
- Passing a dual credit course
- Passing a Bridge to College course
- ACT or SAT score
- Advanced Placement score
- Passing Locally Administered Assessment (COE-Local)
- Grades Comparison
- CIA cut-score on Smarter Balanced (“L2 Basic”) (for some students with disabilities)
- Locally Developed Assessment (LDA) (for some students with disabilities)
- Off-grade assessment (for some students with disabilities)
- Expedited Assessment Appeals Waiver
Further information about the waiver is provided in an OSPI Bulletin.
Class of 2020: What will change?
Students will need to demonstrate readiness for post-secondary career or college via one or more pathways. Students in the Class of 2020 will also have access to a waiver. The pathways available to the Class of 2020 are:
- Graduation standard on Smarter Balanced or WA-AIM (ELA and math)
- Dual credit
- Bridge to College
- C+ in AP, IB, or Cambridge class or achieving certain score on AP, IB, or Cambridge tests
- ACT or SAT score
- Also, if completed during the 2018-19 school year: Locally Administered Assessment (COE-Local) This option is not available in 2019-20.
Students must demonstrate skills via a pathway for ELA and math. The above options can be used interchangeably to meet both requirements.
Tips to Make a Well-Informed Transition into Life After High School
A Brief Overview
- Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) need to have a Transition Plan written into the IEP by the school year when they turn 16, but it’s never too soon to start talking, planning and envisioning the future.
- Students can stay in school until they are 21—an option for youth who need more time to learn and prepare for adulthood. The IEP team determines a projected graduation date and writes this date into the IEP document.
- Transition Services in the IEP can support a High School and Beyond Plan, Washington State’s toolkit that is a state requirement for all students to get ready for next steps. Various state agencies serving transition-age youth provide a comprehensive guidebook that describes how to align the HSBP with IEP Transition Planning. Included are career-planning tools and linkages to current information about graduation pathways, which changed in 2019 when the Washington State Legislature passed House Bill (HB) 1599.
- In Washington, a student takes charge of educational programming at 18 unless other arrangements are designed. Read on for more details.
- See our companion articles about Student-Led IEP meetings and a new option for pre-employment support through the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).
Senior year is loaded with projects, planning and a big push to finish requirements and figure out what happens next. For students with special needs, there can be a few extra steps, and it’s never too soon to start thinking and planning for this important transition.
Here are some practical tips and a range of resources to help youth and families make well-informed decisions.
The Individualized Education Program (IEP) must include a Transition Plan with individualized Transition Services by the school year in which a student turns 16. Best practice is to start planning for this in seventh or eighth grade, as outlined in the state-required High School and Beyond Plan. If you are starting later than that, don’t worry! Get started now, and your efforts will certainly reap benefits into the future.
When a Transition Plan is added to an IEP, consider that this life-after-high-school planning now focuses the IEP on post-secondary goals and outcomes. Helping the student engage with the IEP team in conversation around these three questions can help direct planning and school supports that will help the student reach the written Transition Plan Goals:
- Where am I now? (strengths, interests, capacities—the Present Levels of Performance in the IEP)
- Where do I want to go? (aspirations, dreams, expectations—Transition Plan Goals in the IEP)
- How do I get there? (transition services, courses, activities, supports, service linkages, community connections, help to overcome barriers—Annual Goals, Accommodations and other provisions included in the IEP)
The graduation standards for a student eligible for special education are the same as for all other students. In our state, a district’s flexibility in determining how a student fulfills those requirements comes from the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 180-51-115). Each school district will have its own policy for implementing these state rules, and you can request a copy of your district’s policy. If there is any confusion, you can encourage the school to consult the district special education office for guidance.
In short, the student’s IEP team determines how the student will meet graduation requirements and how long she/he will stay in school.
A student doesn’t have to graduate at the end of a traditional senior year. A student remains eligible for special education until graduation requirements are met and the student has earned a high school diploma (WAC Section 392-172A-02000). However, a school does not have to hold back credits for a student to remain eligible. The student’s IEP team determines the student’s graduation plan, including the planned graduation date. The student could potentially meet all graduation requirements, but if the IEP team has determined that the student needs further schooling to receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), then the student has a right to stay in school to age 21.
In the meantime, a student can participate in commencement ceremonies at the end of a traditional senior year, with peers, under a Washington provision called Kevin’s Law. Students and families should communicate with a special education teacher, case manager or school counselor to ensure that all information about graduation and senior year events is clearly understood and shared. Plan early for needed accommodations at senior year events.
When assessing the Transition Plan in the IEP you can ask these questions:
- Is the plan age appropriate?
- Is information provided by more than one source?
- Do the post-secondary goals consider all areas of life after high school, including employment, further education, independent living and community engagement?
- Are the goals SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Timely?
- Is a target graduation date included in the IEP?
In Washington State, the Office of Superintendent for Public Instruction (OSPI) has provided a guidance document for all students called the High School and Beyond Plan. You can access that plan and the state’s graduation requirements on OSPI’s Website.
For Special Education students, the plan is not replaced but can be further supported by the plan that includes Transition Services in the IEP. Each school district determines the precise guidelines for students to meet the requirements of the High School and Beyond Plan, and some schools use tools with different names. Becoming familiar with the state-recommended format and then comparing this tool to your school’s requirements and the student’s specific IEP programming is a good way to participate in making sure your student has a robust plan.
A student takes charge of educational planning and programming at the Age of Majority, which is 18 in Washington. According to the Washington Administrative Code (WAC Section 392-172A-03090), “Beginning not later than one year before the student reaches the age of 18, the IEP must include a statement that the student has been informed of the student’s rights under the act, if any, that will transfer to the student on reaching the age of majority.”
Parents have a few options if they wish to continue to have rights to participate in their child’s education:
- Guardianship (org)
- Power of Attorney (Washington State Legislature)
- The student can choose to include “other individuals who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the student” on the IEP team (WAC Section 392-172A-03095).
- Another option is supported decision-making. Informing Families has a helpful tool for designing this voluntary, informal plan.
Families will want to clarify what specific roles and powers parents will retain under the arrangement designed by your family and the school. The special services office at your school may be able to help with this; without legal guardianship or Power of Attorney your student will need to sign consent for you to attend meetings and participate in decision-making.
Regardless of the arrangement, families will want to have some conversations to help a student envision a future and start to see how to get there. A variety of tools are available, including these:
- OSPI’s Guide to Transition Services
- Person-Centered Planning: PAVE has a video and an article about PCP
- PACER Center’s Guide to Preparing your Child with a Disability for Life Beyond High School
- Informing Families High School Transitions Toolkit
- Transition Coalition Workbook
For youth who struggle with behavioral health challenges, transitions can trigger some additional challenges. These resources may provide some helpful tips:
- PAVE’s article about the transition to adult services
- Pathways Research and Training Center
- CASEL Core Competencies
Another resource that might help with planning is the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR). Each school is assigned a DVR counselor to assist with pre-employment training. You can look up the name and phone number for your school’s DVR counselor online through a link provided by the Department of Health and Human Services. A new option for youth and families to receive pre-employment counseling is from a program called Foundational Community Supports. Check out PAVE’s companion article about this program.
Good luck with your planning! If you need more specific support unique to your situation, get help from one of our Parent Training and Information (PTI) resource coordinators by filling out a Help Request Form or by calling 1-800-572-7368.
Employment and housing can be critical to good health, and the State of Washington has recognized that more supports are needed in these key areas. In January 2018, the state launched a new program to support individuals with complex care needs because of physical or mental impairments by helping them to find and keep jobs and homes.
The pilot project provides housing and employment supports to individuals who qualify to receive them. The program doesn’t pay the rent or subsidize a job but rather offers counseling and resource navigation help so that individuals can maintain relationships and stabilize in their work and home circumstances. The program is available to persons 16 and older, who are Medicaid eligible and meet the criteria for the program. This may include students transitioning from high school into adulthood.
“This program is open to a new population,” says Krystal Baumann, an employment program manager for Region 2 in the northwestern part of the state. Bauman says the new initiative may share referrals with the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) and the Developmental Disabilities Administration (DDA) but is a separate program that offers unique services for individuals who may not qualify for supports through DDA or DVR. These new services cannot duplicate other state and federal programs, so individuals already receiving supports may need to choose which service or agency best suits their needs.
The pilot program is part of the Healthier Washington Medicaid Transformation led by the Washington Health Care Authority (HCA) in conjunction with the Aging and Long-Term Support Administration (ALTSA) and Behavioral Health Administration (BHA). A multi-tiered effort to transform Medicaid services to address social factors that contribute to lifelong health challenges, Healthier Washington includes multiple phases being introduced over a five-year period in what has been called the Medicaid Transformation Demonstration.
“The purpose of transforming Medicaid is to build an integrated, whole-person health care delivery system,” the HCA states. “The success of this effort will provide Washington State with definitive evidence that better health, better care, and lower costs are possible, now and in the future.”
The new project that targets housing and employment comprises Foundational Community Supports (FCS)—also called Initiative 3. “FCS providers can play a critical role in achieving better health, better care and stronger communities,” organizers conclude in an HCA FAQ sheet released in December.
Supported housing services are designed for people who experience:
- Chronic homelessness
- Frequent or lengthy institutional contacts
- Frequent or lengthy stays in adult residential care
- Frequent turn-over of in-home caregivers
- PRISM (Predictive Risk Information SysteM) score 1.5 or higher
Housing supports are ongoing to help people find and maintain stable, independent living. Services include:
- Housing assessments
- Identifying housing resources
- Support for obtaining a lease
- Independent living skills development
- Crisis management
Supported employment services target:
- People enrolled in the Aged, Blind or Disabled Cash Assistance Program
- People enrolled in the Housing and Essential Needs Program
- People diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illness, substance use disorder or both
- Vulnerable youth and young adults with behavioral health needs
- People who receive long-term services and supports from ALTSA
Employment supports can help people find jobs (in competitive, customized or self-employment settings) and gain the skills to succeed. Services include:
- Vocational/job-related discovery or assessment
- Planning for employment
- Job placement, development, coaching
- Skill-building for negotiating with prospective employers
Eligibility is determined using a variety of tools and factors. DSHS recommends that families and individuals reach out with their questions to determine whether they might qualify and benefit from this new program.
Families and individuals can reach out directly to Amerigroup Washington, the Foundational Community Services Third-Party Administrator by calling 844-451-2828 or emailing FCSTPA@amerigroup.com.
If you are a customer of Home and Community Services (HCS) or the Area Agency on Aging (AAA), you may qualify for Supported Employment services under FCS. ALTSA has designated Supported Employment staff positioned throughout the state that are assisting with ALTSA specific referrals.
Region 1 (Eastern Washington) Jim Bischoff: 509-585-8073, BISCHJ@dshs.wa.gov
Region 2 (Northwest) Krystal Baumann: 360-522-2363, SmithKA1@dshs.wa.gov
Region 3: (Southwest) Vicki Gilleg: 360-870-4918, GILLEV@dshs.wa.gov
ALTSA HQ: Mike Corcoran: 360-725-2561, Michael.Corcoran@dshs.wa.gov