Transition Time Virginia's New Self-Determination Curriculum

by Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Shortly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Olmstead v L.C. & E.W., the nation's governors were asked to develop state plans to ensure that citizens with disabilities have the necessary resources to live independently in their communities whenever possible. In response, Governor Mark Warner established an advisory committee to make recommendations for Virginia's plan to improve independent living outcomes for citizens with disabilities. This advisory committee was comprised of individuals with disabilities, family members of people with disabilities, and representatives of organizations that provide supports to citizens with disabilities and their families. One recommendation from this committee was to develop a self-advocacy curriculum for all ninth graders in Virginia's public schools.

Subsequently, Governor Warner's office asked the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) to act upon this recommendation. After reviewing relevant research, the VDOE concluded that self-advocacy is only one component of a broader set of competencies, self-determination skills, that should be included in Virginia's curriculum. The VDOE then asked Dr. Colleen Thoma, Virginia Commonwealth University School of Education, to coordinate a project to develop and pilot a self-determination instructional program for Virginia's public schools.

Virginia's self-determination curriculum has now been completed. Its intent is to ensure that students with disabilities exit school competent in the self-determination skills necessary to realize their postsecondary goals, since research suggests that people who are self-determined are more successful in adult life than those who are not (Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998; Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard, & LeConte, 1996). Virginia's program is based upon Dr. Michael Wehmeyer's Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction, an educational process that can be used in a variety of settings with an array of students. Curricular components are keyed to Virginia's Standards of Learning and include assessment tools, goals and objectives, lesson plans, follow-up activities, and suggestions for incorporating self-determination instruction into SOL and other required high school coursework.

Educators in Richmond City, Franklin County, Montgomery County, and Prince Edward County are piloting the new curriculum this fall; the Training and Technical Assistance Centers at Radford University and Virginia Commonwealth University provide follow-along support.
Pilot efforts will be completed by December 2005, after which time Dr. Thoma's project group will evaluate the program's effectiveness. Appropriate revisions will be made, and Virginia's Self-Determination Curriculum will be posted on TTAC Online at in spring 2006. (Source: Virginia Department of Education, 2005)


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.

Date: September/October 2005