System-Based Opportunities for Improving Transition Services
By Joanne Malloy, Ph.D.
The following changes in special education policy and practice are recommended to help improve transition services for New Hampshire’s special education students.
The Multi-Tiered System of Support
High schools should incorporate transition-focused supports using the Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) framework and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). While MTSS for Behavioral Health and Wellness is an effective organizational framework to address the social and emotional needs of students, it can also be used to implement future-oriented, career-focused, and individualized supports for all students, including students with disabilities. MTSS, when implemented with fidelity, focuses on screening students to determine their level of need, delivering a continuum of evidence-based interventions (with a particular emphasis on meeting the needs of students in typical educational settings), collaborating with community providers and specialists, and individualizing supports for students who need intensive, additional instruction. The MTSS framework could be applied to help each student explore their pathway beyond high school as early as freshmen year, with varying degrees of complexity and individualization as they move through the grade levels.
Universal Design for Learning
Universal Design for Learning can also be applied to academic and career-related instruction so that every student has access to the same curriculum in a typical educational setting. Guidance and counseling services, which have traditionally been the mechanism by which students learn about and begin to develop post high school goals, should be included as part of universal instruction. In other words, while special education policies in New Hampshire require that students with disabilities receive school-to-career transition planning beginning at 14, it should actually be integrated into the curriculum for all students and should include scaffolding from year to year.
Opportunities to Demonstrate Competency
As students develop through adolescence, individualized opportunities to demonstrate competency should be encouraged and incorporated in universal instruction. This is best accomplished through student-designed inquiry and projects that include work-related experiences. While the state standards for high school diplomas have been revised to allow for competency-based instruction and demonstration of mastery, they are not being used consistently.
Alternatives to Exclusionary Discipline
While school dropout rates have improved over the past decade, students with disabilities, low-income youth, African American students, and LatinX youth experience exclusionary discipline at disproportionately higher rates than other students. These students are at a much higher risk of dropout and disengagement. Using our new understanding of institutional racism, implicit bias, and developmental impact of trauma, all educators at all levels should examine their school district data disaggregated by these subgroups. They should implement policies and strategies to support alternatives to exclusionary discipline and, for high school students, promote individualized transition supports. Highly effective transition supports include work-based learning, mentoring, and working with community-based organizations to help with both treatment and transition activities.
Increased Funding for Professional Development
Funds to train general and special educators on research-based, individualized school-to-career transition planning should be increased in New Hampshire. This funding should include a centralized data and reporting system that includes accountability for implementation. Professional development should also focus on outreach for students with disabilities who have complex needs and those who are disengaged from school.
By adopting the Multi-Tiered System of Support framework and Universal Design for Learning, educators and support staff will have proven tools to build individualized transition support for all students, provide new ways to demonstrate competency, and promote programs to aid in post high school planning.