George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

5 Tips for Navigating Conversations about Transition

    IEP meetings for high school students need to be about transition. This might be the most important aspect of a special education program.

    Years before graduation, teams should start discussing possible post-secondary outcomes and how to reach these. Teams have a legal obligation to do so, but also should be doing so per the student’s best interests.

    Deciding what these best interests are can be where everything becomes tricky. Conversations about outcomes have the potential to make all involved uneasy, especially if team members disagree about what the outcomes should be. Stakes are high when discussing transition, so teams need to be prepared for how to handle dissent. Below are tips for what the school members of the team should do before, during, and after the meeting.

    Get the best of Edutopia in your inbox each week.

    1. Have a consistent message. The various professionals on an IEP team would do best to come to an IEP meeting on the same page regarding transition. While meetings are forums for addressing differences, they tend to flow better when the school members of the team are unified. For example, everyone should be in agreement about whether or not college is a realistic and accessible option. Inconsistency will make this more confusing for the parent and student.

    2. Be transparent about this message with the parent and (if appropriate) the student. The IEP meeting shouldn’t be the first time the school team discusses transition with the parent. Ongoing dialogue can take many forms. The school team can seek input via instruments such as interest and skill inventories. Teachers and counselors can initiate frank conversations with the parent and the student about goals and what will be necessary to pursue them. Venues can include parent-teacher conferences, phone calls, and email exchanges. School team members should document these conversations, making email exchanges advantageous, even if impersonal. The important part is that the school team’s message shouldn’t surprise the parent at the meeting.

    3. Have ample data to support any position. Whatever the school team’s position is, ample supporting data must be available. Let’s say a student has overall academic deficiencies that would make attending college prohibitively difficult, even with accommodations (note: college is a theme in this article because discussions about it tend to breed controversy). The school team needs to prove this is the case. Sources might include reading and math achievement test scores, IQ scores, benchmark and state test results, and grade level progress in the curriculum. Having a student participate in assessments like the PSAT and SAT, attempt completing a reading assignment from a college-level text, or go forward with completing a college application and essay all could serve as good barometers, so long as results are documented. School teams should supplement any of this information with data about attendance, completion rate of assignments, ability to meet deadlines, behavior and disposition, and overall self-efficacy. In the IEP, the present levels section under transition should be dense. This achieves two aims. It gives the whole team a clear point from which to work on any deficiencies, and it provides evidence of any gap should team members disagree about the readiness for and the likelihood of specific outcomes.

    4. Be willing to consider options and have these ready to discuss. Yes, the school team should have a clear position regarding post-secondary outcomes. It also needs to be ready to discuss multiple outcomes and multiple paths to said outcomes. Creativity might be needed here. For example, if a student wants to design video games but lacks the aptitude to get into a corresponding program, the school team might suggest exploring lateral ways to approach the industry, such as video editing as a means to start a game review channel (which that student might even be able to monetize). For a more practical example, consider the high school junior with a 2nd grade reading level seeking to be an RN. The school team might recommend related avenues such as being a medical records clerk or an RA. Presenting several options—realistic options—is critical.

    5. Document any pushback from a parent. No one in this field should want to tell a student something isn’t possible, but letting a student who is highly unlikely to succeed at an endeavor think it’s a worthwhile option might be unethical. This becomes especially critical when considering a path as expensive as college. School team members should feel an obligation to be forthright, even if suggesting lateral options is wildly uncomfortable. Parents and students might balk and refuse to accept transition plans that are more grounded. Should this be the case, the school team needs to document what it offered along with the parent’s response. Such notes should appear in the IEP, the NOREP, and the Summary of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. If plans preferred by the parent and student fail to materialize after high school, the school team has a record of what additional paths and supports it recommended.

    These tips won’t account for every scenario that can arise during transition planning, but incorporating them into the school team’s preparation might cap some tension in a frequently contentious arena while facilitating more productive planning.

    This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.