Quality Indicators for Adult Student 18-21 Transition Programs  

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA) guarantees a free appropriate public education (FAPE) to students ages 3-21 who have a disability and an educational need for special education services. When students with individualized education programs (IEPs) complete the graduation requirements of their school and state but still need additional special education services for the transition to post-school environments, educators do not always know what or how to teach these students. Schools may be at a loss for how to meet this unique population of students’ needs.

The What of 18+

What is clear is that these transition services (referred to by different names including 18-21 services, adult transition programs, 18+ programs, etc.) should not look like what the student was doing in high school–taking multiple academic and elective courses to learn the state curriculum standards. The focus of 18-21 services is to prepare the student for their transition to their living, learning, and working adult environments, not to teach then the state curriculum standards–unless learning those standards directly relate to the student’s postsecondary goals.

Because educators focus on teaching the state curriculum standards to their students, it can be a difficult transition (pun intended) for the special educator to not teach students the state curriculum standards their students have not mastered. I am not saying special educators in adult transition programs should not assess their students’ needs in relation to standards; I am saying that the K-12 state curriculum standards are no longer applicable for 18-21 services. So, the question is, “What standards should special educators use with their students in 18+ programs?” The answer is, “Standards of adult environments.” Standards can be loosely defined, as shown in some of the examples in the table below.

Postsecondary GoalStandards of Adult Environments
After high school, Emma Grace will receive on-the-job training to learn how to be a floral clerk at Brookshire Brothers grocery store.Brookshire Brothers employee training standards

Occupation-specific information from O*Net on Floral Designers

American Institute of Floral Designers certified floral designer standards
After high school, Monty will work part-time at Mister Car Wash as a Guest Service Specialist.Mister Car Wash employee training standards

Occupation-specific information from O*Net on Cleaners of Vehicles and Equipment
After high school, Lyla will communicate her personal healthcare needs, including needed necessary accommodations and disability-related medical
needs, with medical professionals.
Healthcare transition standards and resources from Got Transition
Examples of Standards of Adult Environments as Identified by Postsecondary Goals

The How of 18+

Colleagues and I published an article in Teaching Exceptional Children, titled “Assessing and Improving Adult Student (18+) Transition Programs” to help schools with developing and implementing quality 18-21 services. In the article, we provide a tool for assessing the school’s adult transition program as well as a process for using the tool. The tool is aligned with research on evidence-based practices and predictors for successful post-school outcomes.

Landmark, L. J., Mitchell, V. J., Gushanas, C. M., & Tayebianpour, T. (2022). Assessing and improving adult student (18+) transition programs. Teaching Exceptional Children. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1177/00400599221084367

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