Transition Time: The Role of Vocational Assessment in Transition Planning

by Dale Pennell

What is vocational assessment?

Vocational assessment is the process of gathering information about a student's interests, abilities, and aptitudes as they relate to his or her vocational potential (Instructional Materials Laboratory, 1998).

How does vocational assessment support transition planning?

Vocational assessment supports the process of transition planning by:

  • Determining the student's strengths and challenges

  • Determining the student's interests and preferences

  • Preparing the student for postsecondary education, vocational training, and adult life

  • Teaching the student how academics relate to career choices

Information gathered through vocational assessment provides a foundation for developing an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that facilitates effective transition from school to work (Center for Innovations in Special Education, 1991).

What areas are included in vocational assessment?

The Center for Innovations in Special Education (1991) has established seven components in the vocational assessment process.  These include:

  • Cognitive skills

  • Sensory and motor skills

  • Perceptual skills

  • Learning preferences

  • Vocational skills and development

  • Career awareness and development

  • Knowledge of jobs, job requirements and rewards, aptitude strengths, and employment challenges

Do all students with disabilities require assessment in each of these areas?

Not necessarily.  The Missouri Transition Alliance Partnership (1999) organizes vocational assessment into three levels:

  • Level I assessment provides a summary of pre-existing information about a student's skills.  Sources of data include:

    • Cumulative data review to interpret existing evaluation and cumulative file information

    • Informal interview with the student to determine his or her interest in vocational education and adaptive behavior

    • Informal conference with the teacher to gather information about a student's interests, abilities, and adaptive behaviors

    • Informal conference with parents to determine their career expectations for their son or daughter and their perceptions of the student's adaptive behavior

    • Observations of student behavior and academic performance

  • Level II assessment incorporates data related to a student's vocational needs, interests, and aptitudes (Center for Innovation in Special Education, 1991).  According to the Instructional Materials Laboratory (1998), a Level II assessment includes:

    • Aptitude, achievement, and interest inventories

    • Work readiness assessment of job-seeking and job-keeping skills

    • Work-related behavior inventories

    • Learning style inventories

    • Functional living skills assessment that indicates a student's preparedness to live and work independently

  • Level III assessment incorporates comprehensive vocational evaluations conducted when Level I and II evaluations have not produced sufficient data to identify a student's long-range goals in an appropriate vocational education program.  Methods to gather and interpret Level III assessments include:

    • Formal assessment instruments that provide detailed instructions for administration and scoring

    • Situational assessment to observe and evaluate a student's work-related behaviors in a controlled or semi-controlled work environment

    • Work samples/simulated job stations to simulate specific jobs

Information gathered from these vocational assessments should be summarized in the present level of educational performance and become the framework for developing a secondary student's IEP.  Goals and objectives of the IEP should reflect those areas in which the student needs to develop the necessary knowledge or skills to achieve his or her postsecondary goals.  Through a systematic process such as this vocational assessment can facilitate comprehensive transition planning (Instructional Materials Laboratory, 1998).


Instructional Materials Laboratory. (1998).  Vocational assessment for students with special needs. Columbia, MO: Author.

Center for Innovations in Special Education. (1991). Vocational assessment. Columbia, MO: Author.

Missouri Transition Alliance Partnership. (1999). Fundamentals of transition. Retrieved November 28, 2001 (link no longer available)

Date:February/March 2002