In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues

  • Introduction
  • Frameworks
  • Textbooks
  • Organizations and Resources
  • Data Sets
  • Journals
  • History
  • Post-School Outcomes
  • Legislation
  • Transition Planning
  • Interagency Collaboration
  • School and Community-Based Preparation
  • Personnel Preparation
  • Research Needs

Education Secondary to Postsecondary Transition Issues
David W. Test, Lauren K. Bethune, Karen M. Diegelmann, Debra G. Holzberg, Kelly Clark, Misty Terrell, Dana Rusher
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 July 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 November 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0037


Secondary transition was formally defined by the federal government in the 1990 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 1990). In addition to defining transition, IDEA 1990 required the student Individual Education Program (IEP) to include a transition component by age sixteen and transition services for youth with disabilities be coordinated between the school and community service providers. Since 1990, IDEA was amended in 1997 and 2004. IDEA 2004 clarified that the purpose of a free, appropriate public education for a student with a disability was to “prepare them for further education, employment and independent living,” as well as defining transition services as “a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that (1) is designed to be within a results oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation; (2) is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and (3) includes instruction, related services, community experiences, the development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives, and if appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation” (IDEA; 34 CFR 300.43 (a)] [20 U.S.C. 1401(34)]). While IDEA 2004 provided a formal definition of secondary transition, Halpern 1992 (cited under History) informally defined it as “a period of floundering that occurs for at least the first several years after leaving school as adolescents attempt to assume a variety of adult roles in their communities” (p. 203). As a result, secondary transition is about helping students with disabilities prepare to successfully move from high school to adulthood.


Because secondary transition encompasses a wide range of topics, there have been attempts to develop a framework to organize effective practices. At present, three such frameworks exist. The first and most widely used framework is The Taxonomy for Transition Programming (Kohler, et al. 2016). This is an applied framework of secondary education practices associated with improving post-school outcomes for youths with disabilities. The Taxonomy for Transition Programming 2.0 was developed from four studies that sought to identify effective secondary transition practices supported with evidence through a review of the literature, an analysis of exemplary transition programs identified through evaluation studies, a metaevaluation of model demonstration transition program outcomes and activities, and a concept mapping process as well as two studies that identified in-school predictors of post-school success for students with disabilities (Mazzotti, et al. 2016, cited under Post-School Outcomes; Test, et al. 2009, cited under Transition Planning). Second, the National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth 2010 provides guidance to help families, schools, and youth through the secondary transition process. The National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth 2010 was developed through a group consensus process and includes current issues such as youth leadership and inclusion in general education. Finally, Morningstar’s “Quality Indicators of Exemplary Transition Programs Needs Assessment (QI-2)” provides schools with a framework for evaluating transition programs using quality indicators.

  • Kohler, P. D., J. E. Gothberg, C. H. Fowler, and J. Coyle. 2016. Taxonomy for transition programming 2.0: A model for planning, organizing, and evaluating transition education, services, and programs. Kalamazoo: Western Michigan Univ.

    Organized practices into five categories, including student-focused planning, student development, interagency collaboration, family involvement, and program structure based on the latest research on predictors of post-school success, increasing school completion, school climate, and vocational rehabilitation strategies for preparing students with disabilities for college and/or careers.

  • Morningstar, M. E., A. G. Erickson, D. L. Lattin, and H. Lee. Revised June 2012. Quality indicators of exemplary transition programs needs assessment [Assessment tool]. Lawrence: Univ. of Kansas, Department of Special Education.

    Using quality indicators, this framework allows schools, programs, and districts to identify and prioritize critical needs of a transition program in the areas of transition planning, family involvement, student involvement, curriculum and instruction, inclusion in the general curriculum, interagency collaboration, and transition assessment. Available online.

  • National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth. 2010. Guideposts for success for transition-age youth. 2d ed. Washington, DC: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth.

    The Guidepost organizes secondary transition practices into five key areas, including school-based preparatory experiences, career preparation and work-based learning experiences, youth development and leadership, connecting activities, family involvement and supports.

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