When preparing students in K-12 special education programs for the transition from high school to careers or higher education, it must be done in a way in which students won’t notice the upheaval in their lives — which can be achieved via internships or coursework at a community college, David Test, a professor of special education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, tells District Administration.
Students are now more involved in planning their individualized education programs (IEPs) so the post-graduation transition mirrors their interests and goals, and administrators are working more closely with outside employers to ensure a smoother entry to life after graduation.
The 2008 recession took a toll on these transitional programs, but funding has finally rebounded, with some examples including a partnership between Boston Public Schools and Roxbury Community College called "Knowledge. Enrichment. Engagement.," which teaches soft skills like time management that can be particularly difficult for students with special needs. Another program, at Cleveland County Schools in North Carolina, provides coursework that includes all the requirements needed to obtain a high school diploma in that state, along with soft skills training.
Though they aren't often spotlighted in college and career readiness conversations, special education services are critical components of what public school districts offer the community. And failure to be on par with these offerings can also have legal ramifications under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
When it comes to preparing for college and career readiness, these students need at least the same level of support as their peers — even if it’s modified. And, in part because of the Higher Education Opportunity Act, colleges have expanded options for career, academic and skills-related college programs. Universities often have options catered to students with special needs, and some community colleges also provide training for specific occupations including medical assistance, computer programming and criminal justice.
Special education students graduate high school in lower numbers than their peers: During the 2015-16 school year, the nation's public high school graduation rate was 65.5% for students with disabilities, compared to 84.1% for the total student population. Preparing for a post-graduate transition is important for any student, and for those with disabilities, a clearer, more structured path can help prevent any hurdles they could face after getting their diplomas.
Regardless of whether students transition into college or the workforce, schools should be on the lookout for programs — at either the local, state or national level — that support those with disabilities beyond their high school graduation. And the effort is worth it: these students often have high IQs and can flourish after high school if given the proper support. Schools should measure students' interests, help them set goals and provide appropriate support for the next stage by helping them make a post-high school plan.