Transition Time The Connection Between IEP Development and Successful Transition to Adult Life

by Debbie Grosser, M.Ed., and Dale Pennell, C.A.S.

Traditional models of secondary education that focus largely on academic skill attainment have proven to be inadequate for preparing most students with disabilities for the demands of adult life (Zigmond & Miller, 1992). Secondary students with disabilities need a blend of academic and functional skills instruction (Brolin, 1997) because both are critical for successful functioning in the adult world (Brolin, 1995). A functional skills curriculum emphasizes skills and abilities that generalize to the community, such as such as personal-social skills, independent living, occupational skills, recreation and leisure, health and grooming, and communication skills (Clark, 1991, 1994).

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004) requires that transition planning begin as soon as students are found eligible for special education services. Specifically, Individualized Education Program (IEP) teams must address functional and academic achievement in each IEP component listed below.

  • Present Level of Performance - A statement of the child's present levels of academic achievement and functional performance (20 U.S.C. §1414)

  • Annual Goals - A statement of measurable annual goals, including academic and functional goals (20 U.S.C. §1414)

  • Accommodations - A statement of any individual appropriate accommodations that are necessary to measure the academic achievement and functional performance of the child on state and district-wide assessments (20 U.S.C. §1414)

While transition planning begins from the time students' initial IEPs are written, IDEA 2004 includes one additional transition planning requirement referenced below for secondary students with disabilities.

  • Transition Services - A coordinated set of activities focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child's movement from school to postschool activities (20 U.S.C. §1401)

Effective transition planning is accomplished as a result of attention to functional as well as academic skill development throughout students' elementary and middle school years. The addition in secondary school of transition services that incorporate activities and linkages to adult agencies is the final component in this long-term transition planning process.


Brolin, D.E. (1995). Career education: A functional life skills approach. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Brolin, D.E. (1997). Life-centered career education: A competency-based approach. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.

Clark, G.M. (1991). Functional curriculum and its place in the regular educational initiative. Paper presented at the seventh International Conference on the Division of Career Development, Kansas City, MO.

Clark, G.M. (1994). Is a functional curriculum approach compatible with an inclusive education model? Teaching exceptional children, 26(2), 36-39.

Zigmond, N., & Miller, S.E. (1992). Improving high school programs for students with disabilities: A matter of substance as well as form. In F. R. Rusch, L. DeStefano, J. Chadsey-Rusch, L. A. Phelps, & E. Syzmanski (Eds.), Transition from school to adult life: Models, linkages, and policy (pp. 265-283). Sycamore, IL: Sycamore.

Date: September/October 2006