Transition Time School Counselors' Roles in Transition Planning for Students with Disabilities

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Secondary school guidance counselors occupy strategic positions that can support their schools' efforts to comply with federal and state regulations governing transition planning for students with disabilities. Counselors' job descriptions typically fall into seven areas of responsibility: guidance, counseling, consultation, coordination, assessment, program management, and professionalism (Henderson & Gysbers, 1998). A careful review of these areas may clarify the unique contribution guidance counselors can make to the transition planning process.

Guidance and Program Management

A comprehensive guidance program is developmental in nature. That is, it is systematic, sequential, clearly defined, and accountable (American School Counselor Association, 1997). It includes strands such as the following for which specific competencies may be delineated by grade level:

  • Self-Knowledge/Acceptance

  • Decision Making/Problem Solving

  • Interpersonal/Community Skills

  • Motivation to Achieve

  • Responsible Behavior

  • Goal Setting

  • Conflict Resolution

  • Career Planning

(Austin Independent School District, 1996)

Counselors who teach a developmental guidance curriculum and guide students with disabilities through the development of educational career plans play a critical role in supporting students' successful postsecondary adjustment to adult life.

Assessment and Coordination

School guidance counselors routinely receive and interpret vocational assessment data. Much of these data, such as standardized achievement test results, is compiled in students' cumulative records. Counselors generate vocational assessment data when they interview students or administer measures such as aptitude tests and career interest inventories. Many guidance counselors also coordinate the administration of comprehensive vocational evaluations conducted by vocational evaluators. As Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are developed, counselors are in a key position to ensure that pertinent vocational assessment data are reflected in students' present levels of educational performance (PLEPs). Additionally, guidance counselors, who often have established relationships with agencies to which certain students with disabilities need to be connected, can facilitate these linkages.

Counseling and Consultation

Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, and Leconte (1996) have identified several responsibilities guidance counselors routinely assume that are required in the transition planning process for students with disabilities. These include post-assessment counseling and helping students express their individual strengths, limitations, and preferences. Counselors can also assist students in developing secondary school courses of study that are consistent with their interests, needs, and learning preferences. Finally, guidance personnel can provide information for future planning in postsecondary education, vocational/technical training, postsecondary employment, independent living, and community participation.

Given the above, guidance counselors may in fact be the linchpins in the transition planning process for secondary students with disabilities. School counselors who accept the assignment of these students from the time they enter a school until they leave are in a superior position to provide continuity and alignment among students' interests, preferences, needs, assessment results, and programs of study. Most important, these counselors are in a superior position to participate in the development of a series of IEPs infused with the results of transition assessment and aligned with one another to produce positive long-range outcomes for students with disabilities.


Austin Independent School District. (1996). Curriculum design and management manual for guidance curriculum. Austin, TX: Author.

American School Counselor Association. (1997). The professional school counselor and comprehensive school counseling programs. (1997). Alexandria, VA: Author.

Henderson, P., & Gysbers, N. C. (1998). Leading and managing your school guidance program. Alexandria, VA: American Counseling Association.

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

Date: Feb./Mar. 2003