How High Schools Help California Youths Prepare for Adult Life
Determining Postsecondary Goals for Students The reauthorized version of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1997 was written, in part, to improve postschool outcomes data for students with disabilities. However, after the reauthorization was enacted, these students continued to lag behind their nondisabled peers in all areas (An Overview of Findings from Wave 2 of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2. 2006. http://ies.ed.gov/ncser/ pubs/20063004/index.asp).
As a result, the more recently reauthorized IDEA of 2004 included even more specific language to address what schools must do to prepare students with disabilities for adult life. Specifically, schools must now help students identify postschool goals and prepare to realize those goals.
What exactly are postschool goals?
Simply put, postschool (or postsecondary) goals specify the job or career that students will ultimately have when they leave school and the education or training they will need to attain that job or career. Some students will also need postsecondary goals for independent living. This involves such issues as where the students will live, how they will participate in the life of their communities, and what supports they will need in order to live as independently as possible.
How well students are prepared to meet the challenges they face after high school is the truest measure of the success of the K–12 education system. And it is not a success easily achieved. Many, if not most, teens do not know “what they want to be when they grow up.”
Many still have childhood fantasies of becoming celebrities, many have aspirations that do not match their abilities or skills, and many are simply not ready to think beyond the next school dance or football game. Adequately helping young people make decisions and plans for the future requires a coordinated effort between school and home.
Starting at Home
Families can have a tremendous influence on their children’s ability to think about, plan, and prepare for the future. Ideally, parents and guardians begin having discussions about career goals when their child is in elementary school — sharing their work experience.
Section 4: “Family Involvement,” page 59 – 68. This book, developed by the California Department of Education’s
Special Education Division, is a comprehensive guide to the transition process and a free download at www.calstat.org/transitionGuide.htm). Once young people are able to see the connection between school and adult
life and the importance of thinking about the future, families and schools can begin the more detailed work of helping them make decisions about their postschool goals.
Selecting a Course of Study
Most students with disabilities will take a course of study that leads to a general high school diploma, which entails taking a certain (district-determined) number of units and courses, including algebra, as well as earning a passing grade on the California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE). However, some students will not be able to meet these requirements and will instead earn a Certificate of Completion or achievement by attending school and meeting their IEP goals. How do IEP teams determine which of these paths to recommend to a student? The statewide assessments that a student takes throughout elementary and middle school can serve as very effective guides. If, for example, students took the California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA) or consistently performed “far below basic” on the California Standards Test (CST) from kindergarten through eighth grade, their chances of passing the CAHSEE are very slight. These students may be better served through a course of study that leads to a Certificate of Completion or Achievement and that focuses on basic or functional skills Goals, for instence, taking their children to their jobs, and making connections between their child’s strengths and potential careers. When adults make career-related comments — such as “You are really good at math; you could be a scientist or mathematician,” or “You are such a helpful person; you could be a teacher or social worker”— they help children make a habit out of thinking about their future.
For students with significant disabilities, families are a school’s most important source of information about the young person’s interests and abilities. Knowing what these are allows IEP and transition teams working with a student to determine the focus of his or her schooling and develop work preparation activities that match the students’
preferences (Transition to Adult Liv8u Transition to Adult Living Autumn 2008 u The Special EDge and employability skills (Transition to Adult Living, Section 7: “Preparing Students for a Certificate of Achievement/Completion,” pages 85 – 91).
Conversely, if a student has performed at least “below basic” (and in certain cases, even “far below basic”) on the California Standards Test, then, with intensive intervention in high school, he or she should be able to pass the CAHSEE and earn a general diploma (See Transition to Adult Living, Section 6: “Preparing Students for a General Diploma,” pages 79 – 82).
The decision about determining a course of study in high school is critical — and required by the IDEA because it sets the stage for selecting transition activities and postschool goals.
Making It Personal
The next set of decisions that lead to developing postschool goals centers very specifically on the student and begins with a series of important questions:
What are the student’s academic and functional skills? What is the student’s personality type? What are the student’s interests, abilities, and skills? What accommodations does the student need in school and ultimately in work? Does the student have a career interest? Is there a match between the student’s career goals and his or her strengths, interests, and preferences? What are the student’s work skills (the level of supervision needed and the ability to ask for help and complete tasks, for example)?
Does the student know how to select a realistic and healthy lifestyle or living arrangement, manage money, and find health care? Does the student have transportation or mobility needs, such as getting a driver’s license or travel training? Does the student know how to get involved in the community, and does he or she have access to community resources? Does the student know how to make connections with adult service providers?
To answer these questions, schools will need to offer both formal and informal assessments that help the student and the IEP team gain insight into the young person’s unique makeup. In addition to standardized and curriculumbased assessments, schools can use interviews with students and their families, questionnaires, interest inventories, and situational and career assessments. One of the most common mistakes made in career planning is that of not taking enough time to explore answers to these questions — a mistake that can lead to a mismatch between the individual and the educational path and career he or she chooses. By engaging in self-awareness activities, which include actively exploring jobs and careers, as well as taking assessments, a student and the supporting team can begin to develop a clear picture of the student’s unique interests, strengths, needs, and abilities. This information helps students discover who they are, thus allowing them to make informed decisions about their futures. Clearly, the information also helps the transition team develop, alongside the student, the best postschool goals possible (Transition to Adult Living, Appendix E: “Transition-Related Assessments,” pages 129 –139).
Finally, because young people are continually developing and changing, with their interests changing right along with them, it is critical that the assessment process be ongoing throughout high school.
Sequencing Transition Plans
There is a logical sequence to transition planning and preparation that helps students develop meaningful postschool goals. This sequence first involves gaining self-awareness through the assessment process described above.
Based on the information obtained from these assessments, the next step involves a focus on career awareness, which includes learning about the careers that match the student’s unique profile; then preparing for the career of choice through instruction and work-related activities.
Finally, the student should be given work experience (Transition to Adult Living, Section 3: “Scope and Sequence for Transition Instruction,” pages 56 – 57). Offering a course of study that is relevant to the student and that follows the sequence of transition instruction, activities, and services described here will enable students to develop postschool goals that are individualized, meaningful, and possible.
Supporting Postsecondary Goals
The IDEA requires that postsecondary goals be measurable. The National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (www.nsttac.org) defines a measurable postsecondary goal as something that occurs after the student leaves school and that can happen or not happen. For example, a student may choose the following postschool goal: “I will enroll in a certificate program in industrial maintenance technology at a community college.” The student will either enroll or not enroll. Either way, the goal is measurable. Since postsecondary goals specify what the student wants to accomplish on leaving high school, some parents and educators may wonder about the annual goals and services that occur while the student is still in high school.
Annual goals in the IEP are an integral part of transition services and consist of activities and supports that occur while the student is in high school — and that support postschool goals. For example, a student who does not know what career interests him or her could have an annual goal of exploring careers that match his or her interests and abilities and of taking advantage of such services as career counseling and work experience. Students who know what career interests them but do not know how to become qualified could have an annual goal of researching the requirements for that career and the schools that provide the necessary preparation.