Transition Time Self-Determination, Part 1: Assessment

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

"Self-determination is a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior" (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998, p. 2). These skills, knowledge, and beliefs include:






Goal setting and attainment


Choice making

Self-observation skills


Control (internal locus)

Self-evaluation skills


Decision making

Self-reinforcement skills

(Adapted from St. Peter, Field, & Hoffman, 1992; St. Peter, Field, Hoffman, & Keena, 1992; Wehmeyer, 1997.)

Students who develop self-determination are better able to direct their career development in adulthood (Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, & LeConte, 1996). Therefore, self-determination skill development is an important consideration for IEP teams of students of transition age. Since assessment and instruction are linked in all successful educational efforts (Field et al., 1998), "assessment is integral to the self-determination process for all students with disabilities, even those with the most severe conditions" (Sitlington et al., 1996).

A variety of assessment methods are available and should be used to assess student characteristics related to self-determination. These include analysis of background information contained in school records; interviews with the student, family, friends, and coworkers; behavioral observations in natural environments; curriculum-based assessment techniques; and psychometric tests (Field et al., 1998).

In 1992, the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), funded the development of a series of instruments to assess self-determination skills. These include:

  • Self-Determination Scale and User Guide (Wolman, Campeau, DuBois, Mithaug, & Stolarski, 1994)

  • The Arc's Self-Determination Scale (Wehmeyer, 1995)

  • Choicemaker Self-Determination Assessment (Martin & Marshall, 1996)

  • The Self-Determination Assessment Battery (Hoffman, Field, & Sawilowsky, 1995)

  • The Self-Determination Profile: An Assessment Package (Curtis, 1996)

Through the combined use of multiple types of assessments IEP teams can develop the comprehensive and accurate picture they need of students' self-determination skills and instructional needs. These skills and needs can then be incorporated in the Present Level of Educational Performance and be reflected in students statements of Transition Service Needs, Needed Transition Services, annual goals, and objectives/benchmarks.


Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). A practical guide for teaching self-determination. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Sitlington, P. L., Neubert, D. A., Begun, W., Lombard, R. C., & LeConte, P. J. (1996). Assess for success: Handbook on transition assessment. Reston, VA: The Council for Exceptional Children.

St. Peter, S., Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (1992). Self-determination: A literature review and synthesis. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University. The Developmental Disabilities Institute and The College of Education.

St. Peter, S., Field, S., Hoffman, A., & Keena, V. (1992). Self-determination: An annotated bibliography. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University. The Developmental Disabilities Institute and The College of Education.

Wehmeyer, M. (1997). Self-directed learning and self-determination. In M. Agran (Ed.), Student directed learning: A handbook of self-management. Pacific Grove, CA: Brooks/Cole.

Date: September/October 2004