Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015 - (Page 16)
Common Core: Will Bar Rise
For Students With Disabilities?
While it's hard to say, some data point to improved transition planning
s nearly all
college- and career-ready
past five years,
in the special
education community crossed their
fingers, hoping that the trend would
press the K-12 world to extend those
higher expectations to students with
special needs, too.
But whether high schools are
doing a better job building those
expectations into their postsecondary-transition
plans for students
remains an open question.
The Individuals with Disabilities
Education Act requires schools to
work with students with disabilities
who are 16 and older, and their families,
to craft plans for finishing high
school and moving into college or the
working world. The 2004 version of
the law emphasizes that transition
planning should set "appropriate,
measurable postsecondary goals,"
prepare students for "further education,"
and define courses of study
that will help them meet those goals.
States must report annually to
the U.S. Department of Education
on the percentage of their individualized
education plans, or ieps, that
comply with those transition-planning
requirements, including the
mandate that students themselves
participate in it. Those state reports
show an improving picture.
In 2012-13, the most recent year
for which data are available, states
reported that on average, 87 percent
of the ieps for students in transition
planning met the law's requirements.
In some states, that number
was as low as 23 percent. But
the overall average is 7 percentage
points higher than in 2009-10.
Melody Musgrove, the director of
the Education Department's office
of special education programs, said
she believes that the common core is
among the forces influencing a shift
in transition planning.
"I think it is driving up expectations
for students with disabilities,"
she said. "We see more interest in
that secondary transition in states
More states are beginning to embrace
standards-based ieps as a
way to ensure that special-needs
students have access to the general
education curriculum for their grade
level, she added.
And while the trend lines are positive
for ieps that reflect the requirements
of transition planning, Ms.
Musgrove said, states must start
focusing more on outcomes than
on compliance. The department is
EDUCATION WEEK s JUNE 4, 2015
trying to bring that about with its
"results-driven accountability" initiative,
which requires states to craft
comprehensive plans for improving
student achievement for students
with disabilities. In the first phase
of those plans, which states submitted
in February, 13 states chose
graduation rates as their focus, and
two chose postsecondary outcomes,
Ms. Musgrove said. She sees that
as a promising sign that students
with special needs will be included
in states' plans to improve those indicators.
Whether the program will
strengthen transition planning,
however, remains to be seen. And a
lot rides on those plans, since they
have the potential to bolster students
with disabilities at a crucial
juncture of their lives.
Jen Leitzke is pinning high hopes
on the process, which begins this
spring for her 16-year-old daughter,
who is deaf and blind and a student
at the Minnesota State Academy
for the Deaf in Faribault. Marissa
runs track and spends many hours
a week volunteering in camps and
outdoor education programs. But
she needs concrete plans to help get
her over some key hurdles.
"She is college-bound, so those
transition goals should go along with
helping her graduate and be collegeready,"
Ms. Leitzke said. "She's a big
reader, but she's still not passing
state standardized tests. And she
needs help with her study skills. So
we need to discuss what she needs
to help her with those things."
The process of transition planning
has come in for its share of criticism.
"Many plans lack depth, breadth,
and personalization; have low expectations
for students with disabilities;
do not include plans for
postsecondary education; and do
not map out how the K-12 education
system should connect to other
systems, such as postsecondary,
vocational rehabilitation, workforce
training, or independent services,"
says a 2013 report from the
American Institutes for Research.
"As a result, many students with
disabilities leave high school with
amorphous and generic plans that
fail to address their individual circumstances
Transition plans have limited
value in the effort to gauge how
well students with disabilities are
progressing toward postsecondary
goals, said David R. Johnson, the
co-director of the National Center
on Secondary Education and Transition
at the University of Minnesota's
Institute on Community Integration.
All too often, schools lack
the resources or focus to meet the
plans' goals, he said.
"It's easy to sit down and say,
'Yes, Mary should go to college.'
But then you look at the curriculum,
and there are no acceptable
courses to get her there," Mr. Johnson
said. "The proof in the pudding
would be to ask, ' To what extent
have the goals in those ieps been
attained a year or two out?' "
To set more meaningful goals, he
said, it's crucial to offer appropriate
coursework that leads to a regular
diploma. Schools must do a better
job, too, of integrating self-determination
skills into the curriculum, instead
of simply stating in an iep that
they're a goal, he said.
David W. Test, the co-director of
the National Secondary Transition
and Technical Assistance Center, a
federally funded group at the University
of North Carolina at Charlotte,
said that while ieps are "not an
exact measure" of how well schools
are preparing students with disabilities
for their postsecondary lives, he
sees states focusing much more intently
on meeting those goals than
they did before. They're providing
better professional development on
that planning process, and working
with districts to do a better job at
providing services, he said. Mr. Test
doesn't attribute that trend to the
common core, since he saw it taking
shape before most states adopted
the standards in 2010 and 2011.
Joanne Cashman sees an improving
picture that predates the common
core, too. As the director of idea
partnerships for the National Association
of State Directors of Special
Education, Ms. Cashman says she
sees states helping districts get an
earlier start in planning students'
futures, and taking steps to build in
the right skills.
She singled out Pennsylvania as
a state that's done a particularly
good job at using standards-based
ieps, and embracing the necessary
accommodations to enable students
with disabilities to learn the same
curriculum as their peers.
Virginia, through its I'm Determined
program, is working to get
students prepared for the decisionmaking
skills needed in charting a
successful postsecondary life, Ms.
Cashman said. Starting in elementary
school, the program teaches
students how to organize their time,
reflect on their choices, and make
States are increasingly presuming
that college is part of the future for
students with disabilities, and that
can bring about a shift in transition
planning in high school, said Debra
Hart, the principal investigator of
Think College, a project at the University
of Massachusetts Boston
that works to expand higher education
options for people with intellectual
"What I'm hearing more teachers
say in high school is, if these kids can
be supported to take authentic college
courses, why can't they be supported
in general ed[ucation] courses
in high school?" she said.
Think College is the national coordinator
of a program that provides
supports for students with intellectual
disabilities at 27 two- and fouryear
colleges in 23 states. Four years
into the program, 39 percent of its
students are in "integrated, competitive"
jobs that pay minimum wage
or higher, offer promotions, and include
workplaces that blend adults
with and without disabilities. That's
more than double the national average
rate for that kind of work for
that student group, Ms. Hart said.
She pointed out another positive
development: Seven states now
offer endorsements that recognize
a specialization in transition planning
for school-based personnel,
including teachers and counselors.
The air report notes that a dearth
of such expertise often "contributes
to [the] inadequate outcome" of
most transition plans.
Even as states and districts take
steps to improve postsecondary
plans for students with disabilities,
however, the heavy burden they're
shouldering to implement the common
core can sideline that process,
Mr. Test said.
"Because of the pressure to give
kids access to the general curriculum,
to help them pass the assessments,
transition services are sometimes
becoming secondary," he said.
More and more, he sees districts setting
up programs for 18- to 21-yearold
students, to allow more time to
meet the goals in their transition
plans while students still qualify
for services under the idea.
That can be beneficial if the programs
simultaneously launch students
into the work world, or expose
them to the rigors of a college
campus, he said, but weak programs
can simply warehouse students
for too long in high school. s
Coverage of the implementation of
college-and career-ready standards
is supported in part by a grant from
the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Education Week retains sole editorial
control over the content of this coverage.
By Catherine Gewertz
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015
Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015
After Special Ed., Path Is Less Certain
DATA OVERVIEW: Students with Disabilities In School and Work
BY THE NUMBERS: Hearing Impairment
Md. Senior Opts For University Geared To Students With Hearing Impairments
In College, Students Face Choice: Seek Help or Go It Alone?
BY THE NUMBERS: Emotional Disturbance
At Lab School, Pennsylvania Student Prepares for Career In Culinary Arts
After K-12, Students Must Be Self-Advocates
BY THE NUMBERS: Specific Learning Disability
On Road to College, Georgia Student Learns To Speak for Herself
For Job-Oriented Students, Work Experience Is Critical
Discipline Policies Push Students Off College-and-Career Path
BY THE NUMBERS: Autism
Budding Politician Sets Sights on College
State Diploma Requirements Vary
Common Core: Will Bar Rise For Students With Disabilities?
BY THE NUMBERS: Intellectual Disability
In Virginia, Jobs Enable Twin Brothers To ‘Walk Taller’ After High School
Graduation Rates Reach New Highs, But Gaps Remain
TABLE: Graduation Rate Tops 80 Percent
Education Week - Diplomas Count - Issue 34, 2015