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Postschool Success for Students With Disabilities Linked to Goal-Setting Skills

San Diego

Emerging evidence suggests that students with disabilities have better outcomes after school if they set their own goals, have parents who expect them to be self-supporting, and are able to travel independently outside the home, according to a new review of postschool transition research presented Wednesday at the Council for Exceptional Children convention here.

Valerie Mazzotti, Dawn Rowe, and James Sinclair, all associated with the University of Oregon in Eugene, were presenters at a session on recent research from a federally funded longitudinal study of students with disabilities. (Mazzotti and Rowe are research associates at the university; Sinclair is a doctoral student.) 

Previous studies have found that certain factors are linked to postschool success. Among them are inclusion in general education, social skills, and paid employment and work experience. The University of Oregon researchers wanted to expand on those older studies to find if additional factors are tied to positive outcomes. Eleven studies published between 2009 and 2014 were deemed to be of high enough quality to include in the review.

"We have to think about how we support parents in having high expectations," Rowe said.

And the findings also help narrow down some huge categories. For example, "self-advocacy" is already a known factor linked to postschool success. But what does that mean? Sinclair said the findings suggest that a specific focus on decision-making and goal-setting could be useful.

The findings, however, come with lots of caveats, all three said. For example, the research cannot say whether particular factors are more meaningful for students in certain disability categories than in others, or for male students compared to female students, or for students in different racial or ethnic groups. In the 11 studies examined, about 70 percent of the students were white males. 

And some of these effects could be linked to the severity of a student's disability. For example, a student with a mild disability may be more likely to travel independently and have parents with high expectations. But more jobs and educational opportunities are open to people with mild disabilities compared to those available for people with severe disabilities. 

The findings do offer some guidance for teachers to maintain high expectations for students and to work on goal-setting and decision-making skills, the presenters said. But the review of research also revealed the need for additional studies into the ingredients for postschool success for students with disabilities.

"This is a great area for you researchers out there," Rowe told the audience. 

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