Nearly four decades have passed since the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) ensured access to public education for students with disabilities in the United States. During the years following its adoption, there was growing recognition that to lead productive and fulfilling lives as adults, many students need support in the transition from secondary school to post-high school environments. As a result, several reauthorizations of IDEA have emphasized transition planning in helping students with disabilities to obtain employment, pursue postsecondary education and training, and live more independently.
Despite the efforts of policymakers and practitioners, a gap remains between post-high school outcomes of students with disabilities and outcomes for other students. To help close that gap, this report reviews the research literature on programs (strategies, interventions, or sets of services) designed to help students with disabilities make transitions.
It deviates in the following ways from previous evidence reviews on this topic (for example, Cobb and Alwell 2009; Test et al. 2009):
• It updates earlier reviews by including studies publicly released between April 2008 and June 2011.These criteria focus the evidence review on research results in which we are most confident, and that can best help us identify programs that are likely to improve the post-high school outcomes of students.
• It reviews studies using the standards and process developed by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) What Works Clearinghouse (WWC).
• It focuses on direct measures of students’ post-high school outcomes as evidence of a program’s effectiveness. Applying the WWC standards and procedures meant that we did not include some types of studies that were included in previous reviews.
Our review of transition research studies from the past two decades indicates that relatively few studies meet the WWC standards for credible evidence of effectiveness. Based on the 16 studies that met WWC standards, the review rated the effectiveness of programs designed to help students with disabilities make transitions to post-high school employment, postsecondary education, and independent living. Community-based work-experience programs were found to have mixed effects on employment outcomes based on a medium-to-large extent of evidence. These programs were found to have potentially positive effects on postsecondary education outcomes, although the extent of evidence was small. Functional life-skills development programs were found to have potentially positive effects on independent living outcomes. But, again, the extent of evidence was small. On the whole, evidence across eight program categories allowed us to review only two of the categories, providing little support from high-quality intervention research for identifying a range of programs to help students with disabilities make successful transitions to employment, postsecondary education and training, or independent living.
Cobb, B., and Alwell, M. (2009). Transition planning/coordinating interventions for youth with disabilities: a systematic review. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(2), 70–81.
Test, D.W., Mazzotti, V.L., Mustian, A.L., Fowler, C.H., Kortering, L., and Kohler, P. (2009). Evidence-based secondary transition predictors for improving postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 32(3), 160–181.