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.
- 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.