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Study: Postsecondary Transition Programs Lack Effectiveness Evidence

Compared to their same-age, typically developing peers, students with disabilities are less likely to take postsecondary classes (60 percent versus 67 percent) and be living on their own eight years after leaving high school (45 percent versus 59 percent)

But, despite the emphasis on transition planning in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, relatively little research on transition programs meets What Works Clearinghouse standards for evidence of effectiveness, according to a report released this month, "Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Transition-Age Students with Disabilities: An Evidence Review."

The federally funded clearinghouse, an initiative of the Institute of Education Sciences at the Education Department, collects and vets studies on the effectiveness of various educational practices.

For the review, researchers compiled information on studies conducted between April 2008 and June 2011 that offered direct measures of students' post-high school outcomes as evidence of the program's effectiveness. That restriction meant that the report authors, by design, did not include studies that offered indirect assessments, such as "vocational self-awareness" or job satisfaction. Only 43 studies conducted in that time frame met the standard.

The research found that community-based work programs were found to have potentially positive effects on postsecondary education outcomes, though the effect on students' employment outcomes were mixed. Functional life skills development programs had potentially positive effects on independent living outcomes. For both types of programs, though, the amount of evidence supporting them was small.

The lack of research in this area makes it difficult to identify a range of programs that would successfully help students with disabilities bridge the gap from high school to independent living, college, or the workforce, the authors said. However, the research offers some suggestions for educators and policy makers. For example:

  • Linking program components may be critical. Community-based work experience may be more effective if it is integrated into career or technical education.
  • Employment in at least one job before students with disabilities leave high school may be an integral part of transition support.
  • Inclusive education settings may be a key dimension of transitioning to postsecondary education.
  • Several strategies, such as computer-based instruction and prompting, may help students with intellectual disabilities to live more independently by increasing their functional skills.

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