The IDEA is filled with edicts intended to benefit students with disabilities. Sometimes these result in unintended negative consequences. Many of these consequences begin with the IDEA’s performance indicators. One of twenty present in the IDEA, Indicator 13 is the percent of students with IEPs who have appropriate transition plans. Per Indicator 13, students sixteen and over should have measurable post-secondary goals and sufficient opportunities for making progress towards these goals. Teams are expected to discuss and plan for post-secondary education or services. Teams also must invite students to be part of this planning.
Though they appear to be student-centered, the performance indicators are not measures of student achievement. Along with its companions, Indicator 13 is a measure of school compliance with the IDEA. It is a reactionary provision. The authors of the IDEA and its revisions have understood that despite previous special education mandates, students with special needs continue to struggle after high school. These students have been getting better services in school, but post-secondary outcomes have been comparatively poor. Scant opportunities exist for some adults with disabilities, a problem schools might not be able to correct. Despite this, the IDEA’s authors have insisted schools work to improve transition planning as a means of formally addressing the issue. Indicator 13 serves to provide proof that these school-level interventions are happening. It stops short of requiring much information about student progress post-graduation.
To avoid noncompliance, schools must respond to Indicator 13’s requirements. This is a positive consequence in most respects. IEPs for students over sixteen should include ample information regarding transition readiness. Reading and mathematics levels and results from interest inventories or transition skills assessments are crucial. From these, teams can plan post-secondary outcomes and create annual goals meant to move students towards outcomes.
The dangers of Indicator 13 begin with whether or not teams can create such plans. Schools sometimes fail to collect worthwhile data and may design inadequate goals. If so, they have themselves to blame. However, even with appropriate information and goals, parents may feel the school’s efforts aren’t enough. They may misunderstand the relationship between outcomes and goals and may not accept certain steps in pursuit of outcomes. For example, parents may argue that improving direction following isn’t a worthwhile transition goal, even if a student needs to improve this before pursuing competitive employment as an outcome. Parents may question the suggested outcomes. Disagreement about pursing post-secondary education is a frequent and turbulent battle. Schools regularly placate parents in transition planning, sometimes resulting in inappropriate plans.
Disagreement over plans isn’t necessarily a problem because of Indicator 13, but other problems are. While well-designed transition plans would benefit most students with IEPs, Indicator 13 makes some plans exist for the sake of existing. With the most disabled students, fulfilling all of what Indicator 13 requires can be facetious. Teams may need to create nearly arbitrary goals for students with barely measurable skills. This can set a school up for failure, because goals either have to be rudimentary and meaningless, or too far beyond the student’s reach.
Parents may misinterpret outcomes as guarantees. Schools create achievement summaries for exiting students, which list what steps parents and students can take in pursuit of outcomes. These are recommendations alone. Parents and students are expected to follow through, possibly with outside agency assistance. Schools are obligated to help families make connections with agencies involved in post-secondary outcomes, but schools can’t assure these outcomes will develop as planned. A parent may take exception and fault the school if the student can’t reach the given outcome. Sometimes parents seek reparations over such issues. They may ask for students to be reenrolled after graduation, or they may seek compensatory education. Instances of similar sentiment have occurred at the collegiate level, with students suing colleges because career service offices didn’t get them a job. The threat created by such sentiment drives some schools to try to keep as many students with IEPs as possible until twenty-one, an obviously costly venture.
Keeping up with the expectations of Indicator 13 should make for better transitioning planning for students. In most cases, it does. It also creates some casualties, as many other well-intentioned components of the IDEA have done.