Jennifer Rowan,Educationalconsultant at Tennesseeworks (615) 875-9801

Jennifer Rowan,Educationalconsultant at Tennesseeworks (615) 875-9801

Jennifer Rowan,EducationalConsultant at TennesseeWorks
(615) 875-9801

Erik Carter, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Vanderbilt University
(615) 322-8150


Welcome to Launching Students With Disabilities Toward Adulthood, a new webinar series developed by TennesseeWorks and the Department of Education. I’m Jennifer Rowan, Educational Consultant with the TennesseeWorks Partnership and Vanderbilt Kennedy Center. And I’m here with Erik Carter, Associate Professor of Special Education with Vanderbilt University, Alison Gauld, behavior and low-incidence disability coordinator with the Tennessee Department of Education, and Joshua Stanley, coordinator of high school intervention and transition with the department of education. We are saving the last 15 minutes of our webinar to address your questions and reflections, so please type them in the comments box throughout the presentation.


We are thrilled you’ve joined us! And we are so grateful for the investment you are making for youth and young adults with disabilities living and learning in communities across Tennessee. Our conversation today—the first in a series of webinars this year—will focus on what high-quality transition is and why it matters so much for your students. The instruction, supports, experience, and linkages you provide--in partnership with families, agencies, and others in your community--can make such a powerful difference in the outcomes of young people with disabilities.


To launch this conversation, we want to begin by transporting you back to high school, to sophomore, junior, or senior year. Breathe deep. We know this may be traumatic! [Maybe one of these yearbook pictures resembles yours.]

Think about the things you looked forward to most after high school…


As a young person on the brink of adulthood…perhaps you had great excitement about the future…or maybe worries and concerns about what lay ahead after graduation. Most likely you felt a bit of both. Regardless, I bet you had your own dreams of living the “good life,” however you defined that. You probably wanted a good job, a close circle of relationships, and a comfortable and safe place to live. You probably expected to be involved in your community, to have a reliable (and maybe cool) way to get around, and a chance to give something back. You probably held on to some important hopes and dreams.


Students with disabilities across our state share many of those same hopes and dreams. They too want to live a good life after high school. Listen to just a few of the students we met last month at the Think Employment! Summit in Nashville as they respond to a simple question we have all been asked ourselves: What do you want to be when you grow up?

At the end of the day, students with disabilities want a good job, a chance for further education, and a life in their community.


It turns out that helping youth with disabilities make this transition to adulthood successfully is among the very central purposes of special education. Our primary charge as special educators is to equip young people with disabilities with the skills, opportunities, and relationships they need to flourish after high school. To live a good life however THEY and their families define it.


For those of you who--like me--enjoy curling up at night in bed with the latest piece of federal legislation, you already know this. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act--the federal law guiding special education services--explains one of the purposes of special education just a few pages in: ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living....


Notice this last bolded section. Helping students with disabilities attain good outcomes in these three specific areas is a big part of why we all do what we do for so many years of schooling. How do the services and supports you provide point to these outcomes? Can you draw a clear line between the instruction you provide in your school and the skills needed to attain these outcomes?


It takes a coordinated set of planned efforts to make this happen. And here is where we find the mandate for those of us working with students ages 14 and older in our state. Turn a bit deeper into the IDEA law and you’ll find this definition of transition.

Transition is a “coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that 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.”

And those post-school activities include: “post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education,

adult services. independent living, or community participation”


Here is perhaps the key take-away from this mandate: The outcomes our students attain in early adulthood tells us something important about the quality and effectiveness of our transition services and supports. Put simply, their outcomes are heavily influenced by what we do or don’t do while they are still with us in high school.

Transition is defined as a “results-oriented process,” rather than a process-focused activity. In other words, we can’t consider ourselves to be successful based on what we have written down on a transition plan; but on the degree to which the goals students have for life after high school actually materialize.


This is why Indicator 14 is so very important. It is a measure of the percentage of young people with disabilities from your district who have left secondary school and are enrolled in in higher education, are competitively employed, or are in some other postsecondary education or training program within one year of leaving high school. It is a marker of whether the vision students have as they look out to their future related to college and career ever materializes.

SLIDE 11[JENNIFER ROWAN] are we doing as a state in terms of promoting successful transitions? How are you doing in your school or district? What is going well? What might you do even better, more of, or entirely differently? In our later webinars, we’ll be sharing more about the specific outcomes of Tennesseans with disabilities. For now, we want to give you a national picture of where we have been, where we are, and where we might go next. In the first two of those post-school outcome areas mentioned in IDEA—postsecondary education/training and employment.


Let’s begin with postsecondary educational opportunities. Exciting things are happening in Tennessee. Conversations about college for students with disabilities—especially intellectual and developmental disabilities—are becoming more and more common.


We are seeing more of our two- and four-year colleges and universities in Tennessee offer enrollment options for young adults with intellectual disability, autism, and other developmental disabilities. And most other colleges already offer disability support services for students with other disability labels.

For example, the Think College project lists more than 200 formal college programs for students with intellectual disabilities in their databases. Four of these programs are here in Tennessee—Next Steps at Vanderbilt, Futures at UT-Knoxville, TigerLife at the University of Memphis, and IDEAL at Lipscomb. Other colleges are also having conversations about starting such programs. We’ve put a short “practice brief” on your screen that describes these programs. We’ll include the link when we post this webinar online on the TennesseeWorks website.


Yet, we still have a ways to go on this leg of the journey. According to findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2--a representative ten-year study of more than 11,000 students, including about 1000 students in each of the disability categories--postsecondary enrollment remains elusive for substantial numbers of youth with disabilities . The figure I’ve put up on the screen show that less than half of youth with autism are enrolled in any type of postsecondary school (vocational, business, technical, 2-year, 4-year) up to two years after exciting high school, despite more than two-thirds (66%) having this as a transition goal during high school. And very, very few are attending four-year colleges or universities.

Think about the pathways your own students take? What steps could you take to improve these outcomes in your district? What are the skills we should teach, the experiences we should provide, the coursework we should offer, the linkages we should make, and the encouragement we should offer?


What about the world of work? More and more young people with disabilities in our state are being provided opportunities to develop and contribute their skills and talents in the workplace. And more and more employers are discovering the contributions to productivity and workplace culture young people with disabilities can make--when the right fit is found. Graduating to unemployment…or even to sheltered employment…is no longer considered an acceptable expectation.


And there are plenty examples of employment successes all across our state in Tennessee. These are screenshots from the TennesseeWorks website. We are highlighting stories, videos, and other illustrations of the impact young people in our state can have if given the right preparation and linkages. It really can be done.’


Yet, we still have a ways to go on this leg of our journey. On the screen, you’ll see the percentage of students in each of the 12 different disability categories you have worked at any point up to 4 years after leaving high school. That is the blue bar. This is not continuous working…just even a single day. Some students are doing quite well. But others are struggling. It is the green bars where we have lots to do.


In Tennessee, less than 16% of all adults (ages 16-65) with cognitive impairments are employed. That means we have an unemployment rate of about 84%, perhaps even higher.


What can we do to change the post-school landscape for our students? Our secondary schools really do represent a critical juncture. A period when we have the strongest chance of changing the trajectories—the post-school pathways—of our students. And the good news is that as a field, we have a growing number of research-based practices we can draw upon in this work.


We have put on your screen several free guides on research-based practices in transition. They all highlight things we can do that predict better outcomes for students after high school. They all point to skills we can teach, experiences we can provide, expectations we can hold, supports we can provide, and linkages we can make. And they are surprisingly consistent in what they suggest. You can download these and read them.


We can’t address every important practice in this webinar series. Instead, we chose to highlight five of transition practices that are especially powerful and are considered absolutely essential to improving in- and post-school outcomes. These five practices are: (1) assessment, (2) early work experiences, (3) self-determination, (4) family engagement, and (5) strong partnerships with agencies and other community supports.


No two students with disabilities in our state (or in your school) are quite the same. Just like we heard in the video that opened this webinar…our students have their own personal visions of what they want to do, how they want to live, and who they want to be after high school. And so our services and supports have to be individually tailored to align with those personal goals. Strong transition assessment helps us do that.


The first IEP to be in effect when a student with a disability turns 14 must include “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills.”

The law doesn’t tell us which specific assessment tools we need to use. But best practice suggests transition assessment should be an ongoing process of collecting information on the student’s strengths, needs, preferences, and interests as they related to the demands of current and future living, learning, and working environments.

There is much to unpack in that statement. And we’ll do so in the next webinar.


For now, the important point is that we ought to be very intentional about doing the sort of data-driven assessment that helps our students (and their families) have solid answers to the types of questions we’ve listed on your screen.

As you reflect on your own school, what types of assessment are you already using to learn about the strengths, interests, needs, and goals of your students? How are you determining which skills, supports, and linkages a particular student needs to achieve their goals for life after high school?


The second practice we will address is involves connecting students to early work and career-related experiences. It is a common experience for most teenagers to have a part-time job, an internship, or some type of volunteer experience at some point during high school. But not so for students with disabilities. This is a missed opportunity.

Early work and career exploration experiences provide a meaningful context for learning functional and social skills, informing future career plans, expanding social networks and community connections, and promoting self-determination skills. When those high school work experiences are successful, they also raise the career-related expectations of youth, their parents, employers, and community members.


If you want to change the post-school employment outcomes of your students, one of the most powerful things you can do is connect them to well-supported paid work experiences when they are still in high school. It makes a lot of sense. But our own research finds that students with severe disabilities who have had a paid job during high school are 2.5 times more likely to be employed after high school.

How early should those work experiences come? Maybe not this early. But students with disabilities should have opportunities in middle and high school for career exploration experiences, job shadowing, service-learning, internships and apprenticeships, involvement in school-based enterprises, and job sampling. And before they graduate: paid employment.

As you reflect on your own school, what types of work-related experiences are you already providing to your students? What sort of resume-building experiences are they getting? Where are they learning about what they want to do for a future job, what they definitely don’t want to do, and what skills they will need to find and keep such a job? These are all topics we’ll explore in greater depth in the third webinar.


The third practice we will address is all about promoting self-determination. This has become a big buzzword in our field. It means equipping students with the skills and opportunities to more actively direct their own lives and learning and to do so in ways that lead to personally important outcomes. Put simply, students benefit immensely from learning skills related to choice making, decision-making, goal setting, problem solving, self-advocacy, leadership, and self-awareness. All of these can foster greater self-determination as students move through middle and high school.


The challenge for many of us as teachers and parents during this period of adolescence is to begin to shift our own focus. When students are younger, parents and teachers are the primary determiners of educational goals. But as students get older, youth really do need to be at the forefront of determining what they want for their lives. When the youth with disabilities we work with have complex communication or behavioral challenges, this can require the best of our creativity and persistence. But it is important work!


Students don’t become self-determined overnight. It takes time to learn these skills. Think about your own lives. Perhaps these are skills you are still refining. I know I am.

How are you and your colleagues at your school providing students with opportunities to learn and practice these skills? In the classroom?In the community?As part of their transition planning meetings? In the fourth webinar, we’ll explore more fully some very practical steps you can take to promote self-determination throughout all aspects of transition education.