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Evidence Lacking On Transition Programs


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A federal report suggests that far too little is known about the effectiveness of various types of transition programs in preparing students with disabilities for adulthood.

Despite significant emphasis in special education policy on the importance of transition, a new review from the National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance at the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences found that not much is known about what approaches work best.

Researchers looked at studies conducted between April 2008 and June 2011 examining the post-high school outcomes of students with disabilities who participated in transition programs. Specifically, they sought to examine whether or not students who participated in the programs were likely to be employed, live independently or continue their training or education after leaving high school.

Just 43 studies were deemed worthy of consideration for the review. Findings from the report indicate that community-based work programs show “mixed effects” on employment outcomes though there’s some evidence that such offerings have positive effects on postsecondary education outcomes.

Meanwhile, programs focused on functional life-skills development appear to have positive effects on independent living outcomes, though the evidence was minimal, the review found.

Overall, however, the researchers indicated that a lack of meaningful studies meant they could not make broad assessments about what types of programs are best equipped to help students with disabilities make successful transitions to work, independent living or further training or education after high school.

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Comments (9 Responses)

  1. soricobob says:

    Oh really. Why don’t they look at programs that have existed for 20+ years (like the one I started in Westport, CT in the 70’s).

  2. June Peoples Mallon says:

    I applaud this study and hope it will spur the federal government to fund additional research in this area. One of the most difficult things about working to develop transition programming for young adults with disabilities is the lack of best practice models for schools and agencies overwhelmed by the sheer number of students emerging from school districts. Looking at autism alone, more than one million students will transition in the next decade … and there is pitifully little for them on the other side. I work for a non-profit called 3LPlace, and we just finished four years of research and development on a Transition Curriculum model aimed at helping to fill this daunting gap. (The curriculum, published earlier this year and available free of charge to individuals, families, providers, school districts and non-profits, can be found on our website.) This February we are putting the Curriculum to work as the framework for the 3LPlace Life College, opening in February in the Greater Boston area. We will be conducting a pilot study that will allow iterative evaluation and course correction of our program, and are hoping that many more agencies will do the same!

  3. Melinda says:

    Transition from school to work sounds great on paper.. the reality doesn’t exist in Mississippi hardly at all! I have a child transitioning this year and have had to get an advocate and fight for her to be able to participate in a bare bones transition program. She only gets it one day a week and should have been getting the program for the last three years but we were denied due to transportation issues and funding. The other students in her class get… nothing! Their parents aren’t aware of what is available or even what they can ask for. If you are a parent of a child transitioning from school to work in the next couple of years, pay attention and fight for them, otherwise they will be sitting at home after graduation or in a day program that is nothing more than a glorified baby sitting service with no meaning and opening them up to more opportunities to be abused. Fight for your child’s independence and give them every opportunity you can to learn more, even if you have to be the one teaching them yourself.

  4. Jakki says:

    My daughter is 25 years old, living at home, not going to school and not working. Transition services at her high school prepared her for absolutley nothing in life. She fell through the cracks despite my advocacy for her. Special Ed professionals often don’t “get it” and/or they are too lazy to do the work that needs to be done. I HOPE and pray the system will change

  5. Kevin D says:

    Which program is that, #soricobob? I was surprised there were that many to study. Maybe spend less studying and more training and creating programs? Pretty sure anything is better than the large amount of nothing facing adults on the spectrum.

  6. Carolee M. says:

    This article states that, “Just 43 studies were deemed worthy of consideration for the review.” It would be helpful to have more detail about these studies, particularly, the names/sources, so they can be located by anyone interested in learning more.

  7. mcoonerty says:

    Project SEARCH is a proven Transition to work program that has been operating for about 20 years in about 200 sites internationally has proven to be highly effective with an over 80% success rate in placing individuals with developmental disabilities in competitive employment. Google it and see the wonderful results and videos outlining this program. It is a WOW!

  8. Messymissy says:

    I too agree with soricobob that there are good programs that they could have studied and mcoonerty is very correct about Project Search. What a great program but I am not sure if it is universally available. My sense is that the programs that work seldom are but I could be wrong. If they waste any more money on studies I am going to scream. We know adult programs like supported employment and IPS work and could easily be adapted for transition purposes. More money for studies and not actually doing much of anything real angers me more than it probably should. Public policy seems based on the political whims of the “folks in charge” and not on evidence based research THAT WE ALREADY HAVE!

  9. Amber says:

    The lack of data and research on this topic is really unfortunate. There are programs out there that work but more research is definately needed. I recently learned about a program called “Let’s Get to Work” which is being piloted in 5 school districts in WI right now. The theory behind is straight to the point and based on research (two positives in my book). Individuals with disabilites have the highest potential for employment after high school when they have two things; 1) work experience before graduation and 2) family support and belief in their potential.
    …My point is that there are options and some research out there but the funding and recognition does not seem to be there. I will be connecting with my legislative rep. about this issue. Thanks for bringing it up!

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