What the NLTS has to Say about Effective Transition Planning

The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) describes the experiences and outcomes of youth with disabilities during secondary school and early adulthood.  Funded by the Office of Special Education Programs, U.S Department of Education, the study included over 8000 students with disabilities ages 13 to 21.  Findings were examined for the effects of time spent in general education, vocational education coursework, and work experience, and offer important implications for the design of secondary transition services.

Time spent in general education classrooms was positively related to employment and community participation.  Students who spent more time in general education classrooms were more likely to be fully participating in the community, particularly students with physical disabilities.  In addition, time spent in general education was positively related to a greater likelihood of residential independence and post-secondary vocational training enrollment for youth with mild disabilities.  Higher earnings were also positively related to time spent in general education.

Students who took either survey or concentrated coursework in vocational education were significantly less likely to drop out of school.  These individuals enjoyed average annual earnings of approximately $6,200 more than non-vocational students.

Previous studies looking at work experience have found it to be one of the strongest predictors of post-school employment (Hasazi et al., 1985).  The NLTS found the greatest effects to be for students with physical disabilities.  They were significantly more likely to find employment and earned $4,200 more than peers without work experience.  Results were similar but somewhat less significant for youth with mild disabilities.

Results of this and other important follow-up studies clearly establish the need for systematic and effective transition planning and suggest that students with disabilities should receive opportunities to:

  • Be included as fully as possible in general education;

  • Develop skills that promote self-determination;

  • Have paid work experiences with employers committed to working with students with disabilities;

  • Engage in learning that integrates academic and vocational instruction emphasizing post-school outcomes and adult roles and responsibilities;

  • Be linked to community resources that will support and promote student preferences, full access, and participation (Kohler, 1998).

The NLTS offers empirical evidence of what works when promoting positive post-school outcomes for students with disabilities.  For more information on this topic and a summary of the National Longitudinal Transition Study, search the web at: http://www.sri.com


Hasazi, S.B., Gordon, L.B., Roe, C.A. (1985).  Factors associated with the employment status of handicapped youth exiting high school from 1979 to 1983.  Exceptional Children, 51(6), 455-469.

Kohler, P. D. (1998, June).  From research to practice: Improving transition-focused education through professional development.  Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of Model Demonstration and Transition System Change Project Directors, Washington, D.C..

Wagner, M., Blackorby, J., Camento, R., Newman, L. (1993).  What makes a difference?  Influences on postschool outcomes of youth with disabilities.  The third comprehensive report from the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students. Menlo Park, CA: SRI International.