Goodness-of-Fit: Transition Planning, Individualized Educational Programs, and Secondary Courses of Study

When comprehensively planned and thoughtfully executed, well-developed transition goals provide the blueprint for the student's Individualized Education Program (IEP), academic course of study, academic goals and objectives, and modifications/ accommodations needed for success throughout the student's secondary school career. Further, strategic interagency transition planning facilitates congruency between the student's high school experience and his post- secondary success. It is the "goodness-of-fit" among transition planning, individualized educational programs, and the courses of study for adolescents with disabilities that is the subject of this article.

Let us begin by considering the case of Thomas.

Thomas is a student with a learning disability in the area of mathematics. At the end of eighth grade, his special education case manager organized the IEP team to consider transition planning for Thomas. At the first meeting Thomas announced to his team that he would like to be a Navy pilot after he completed his formal education.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 1997 (IDEA '97) requires that, by age 14, a student's IEP must include a statement of transition service needs that focuses on his course of study, such as participation in advanced-placement courses or a vocational education program (I U.S.C. §614(d)(1)). It is a timely requirement, for at this age, school guidance counselors routinely ask each student to consider his post-secondary goals, select an appropriate diploma option, and plan a concomitant high school course of studies. Similarly, transition planning begins with the development of post-secondary employment, educational, and adult living goals that reflect the student's preferences and interests. This series of decisions, also, impacts the selection of the desired diploma option and a collateral course of study. Since federal law prescribes that transition planning focus on the student's course of study by age 14, it is logical to do so within the context of developing a secondary course of study that leads to the diploma selected by the student and/or his parent(s)/guardian(s). Therefore, communication and coordination between the members of the IEP team and the guidance department is essential to establish this goodness-of fit.

As part of the initial transition planning process, Thomas' IEP team identified his present level of performance and mapped out a four-year high school course of study that would enable Thomas to pursue a career as a Navy pilot. Thomas' coursework included the appropriate sequence of math courses that would enable him to complete Algebra II by the end of his senior year and earn a 22-credit standard diploma. It also provided for his enrollment in the Naval Junior Reserve Officer Training Candidacy (NJROTC) program in lieu of physical education.

An annual review of the student's IEP monitors the continued applicability of Thomas' career goal. Students' initial goals may be unrealistic, their interests may change, and academic endeavors may not always go as planned. As IEPs are reviewed, revisions can be addressed. Such was the case for Thomas.

By the mid-point of the second quarter of 9th grade, Thomas was failing Algebra I, and it was necessary for him to drop back to Algebra I - Part 1. His IEP team realized the long-term impact this would have on his chances to successfully complete Algebra II in high school. Based upon the nature of his disability and his difficulty in completing necessary mathematics requirements, Thomas and his IEP team determined that it was probably not realistic for him to pursue his dream of becoming a Navy pilot. However, Thomas was having a wonderful experience in the NJROTC program, and he was learning that the Navy offered many career options. One of these was in the field of aircraft maintenance. The IEP team revised Thomas's course of study to include an electronics course in 10th grade and a plan for him to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) in May of his sophomore year.

By age 16, the scope of the IEP broadens to include goals related to post-secondary employment, education, and adult living (U.S.C. §602(a)(19)). A statement describing interagency responsibilities and linkages is also required. Once again, goals and objectives of the student's IEP should be designed to reflect and facilitate the accomplishment of the student's transition goals. Representatives of adult service agencies and other linkages should be considered. Coordination among new IEP team members is critical.

By the spring of his sophomore year, Thomas was successfully completing the second year of his high school course of studies. Algebra continued to be an area of difficulty for him. H did not particularly enjoy his electronics course. A Navy recruiter administered the ASVAB to Thomas in May. The results showed that he had aptitude in the area of communications. Thomas' IEP team reviewed the results of this assessment and with his enthusiastic agreement, revised his IEP to reflect an amended goal of pursuing a naval career in the field of communications. Thomas expressed interest in taking a public speaking course and joining the newspaper staff. These opportunities were also noted in his IEP.
Since Thomas would be turning 16 the following fall, his IEP team included the expanded requirements of his IEP that spring, as well. Thomas's IEP for his junior year reflected the course of study changes agreed upon during the most recent IEP discussions, including participation in a public speaking class and a regional television production program. The IEP team had been planning for the eventuality that he would secure part-time employment during high school. Since Thomas still had an interest in aviation, an officer in his Civil Air Patrol unit suggested that he apply for a job at the local airport. IEP goals and objectives were written to support Thomas's acquisition of selected pre-vocational competencies in the areas of personal-social skills and occupational guidance and preparation as a means of preparing him to acquire and keep a part-time job.

Educators may question the efficacy of such extensive transition planning and coordination of services for students so young. But the goals of many students with disabilities tend to change dramatically when tempered by academic experience, maturity, and their changing interests, requiring changes in academic courses of study. For this reason, there may be a need for IEP teams to meet more than once a year for the required annual review. It is by this conscientious development, review, and revision process that a student with disabilities receives the comprehensive, individualized services that are essential for successful transition from middle school to high school to the adult world.

This coordinated effort enabled Thomas to complete the requirements for a standard diploma, pursue his interest in aviation, and prepare for enlistment in the Navy, where he received extensive training in the field of communications.


Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, U.S.C. § 602 (1990).

Amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act of 1990, I U.S.C. § 614 et seq. (1997).

Date: February/March 2001