Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) have poor school outcomes and serious problems in life after school. Transition services are intended to promote more positive outcomes for these individuals and other students with disabilities. Recent trends in society and education appear to be changing the nature of the current generation of secondary students and young adults, potentially rendering aspects of traditional transition planning obsolete. We review these trends, transition guidelines, and current research and outline an approach that may have merit in dealing with transition for students with EBD in the twenty-first century.
Brigham, F.J., McKenna, J.W. and Brigham, M.M. (2019), "Memories of the Warmth: Transition for Students with Emotional and/or Behavioral Disorders", Special Education Transition Services for Students with Disabilities (Advances in Special Education, Vol. 35), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 35-52. https://doi.org/10.1108/S0270-401320190000035007Download as .RIS
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Transition is probably the least understood and most poorly implemented aspect of special education service provision in American schools as we complete the first 20% of the twenty-first century. Support for this contention appears in the first line of David Scanlon’s introduction to the section regarding transition in the Handbook of Special Education (Kauffman, Hallahan, & Pullen, 2017). Scanlon correctly stated, “Special education is in need of a transition plan” (Scanlon, 2017, p. 687).
Among the reasons Scanlon included as the basis for his critique of current special education transition practices is the failure of special education policy to keep up with current changes in society, the demands of education, and the nature of work. To his list, we add the changes in attitudes toward work, independence, and goals expressed by members of what psychologist Jean Twenge refers to as iGen (Twenge, 2017). Twenge noted that iGen is the first generation (those born after 1995) that has always had access to instant media through cell phones and has never known a time without internet. Twenge identified ten specific trends that affect children and youth both with and without disabilities that we suggest will render current ideas, practices, and policies regarding transition irrelevant if not counterproductive. See Table 1 for a brief summary of the Trends that Twenge noted in members of iGen.
|In no hurry||Childhood has been extended into adolescence. iGeners are less likely to date, have sex at an early age, drink, drive, or hold jobs during adolescence. In short, they engage in adult behaviors at later ages than did previous generations.|
|Internet||It appears that iGeners have replaced activities like going out with friends or working with spending more time on their phones, as much as six hours per day. Media has replaced reading books and magazines, going to movies, or watching TV.|
|In person no more||The decline in in-person social interaction has led to sharp decreases in social skills, negotiating relationships, and navigating emotions. The more time that people spend on-screen activities, the less they report being happy and the more they report feelings of loneliness and depression.|
|Insecure||“iGeners are experiencing the worst mental health crisis in decades with rates of teen depression and suicide skyrocketing since 2011” (p. 3). With instant communication of social events, usually edited to make them seem more impressive than is the case, iGeners experience greater social insecurity. The acronym FOMO is given to “fear of missing out.” FOMO seems to be a direct path to loneliness and insecurity, particularly for girls. Additionally, many iGeners are sleep deprived because of the time that they spend on their phones. Sleep deprivation increases emotional vulnerability and decreases emotional resiliency.|
|Irreligious||iGeners are less religious and also less spiritual than are previous generations. This extends from public to private religious and spiritual thought. iGeners have lost the sense of community that religion once offered.|
|Insulated but not intrinsic||“Teens are physically safer than ever, but more mentally vulnerable” (p. 3). This has led to increased interest in safety coupled with a decline in civic involvement. Additionally, wanting to feel safe all the time can lead to wanting to protect against being emotionally upset “that can include preventing bad experiences, sidestepping situations that might be uncomfortable, and avoiding people with ideas different from your own” (p. 153). This tends to infantilize students because they don’t learn how to deal with such situations on their own and in an environment where the stakes are lower than one’s job, home, or marriage.|
|Income insecurity||New attitudes toward work, including increased emphasis on making money, decreased concern about social aspects such as making friends at work, avoiding jobs that demand overtime, lead to less devotion to careers and less certainty in future economic security.|
|Indefinite||New attitudes toward sex, relationships, and children have led to less interpersonal sexual and emotional involvement. Trends suggest fewer marriages and fewer marriages with more than one child or any children at all.|
|Inclusive||Acceptance, equality, and free speech debates are common themes in iGen. The acceptance of racial and sexual differences, however, may be simply a demand that one avoids discussion of sensitive topics (e.g., racial bias). Rather than reasoning through communication that challenges them, iGen tends to react in subjective and emotional response, insisting that their discomfort is substantive indication of harassment.|
|Independent||Political views not necessarily aligned with party affiliations. Instead of interacting in the public square or watching news broadcasts, iGeners surround themselves with a cocoon of like-minded individuals and become more polarized.|
Twenge’s analysis is for the nation as a whole and has no analysis of trends for individuals with EBD. Nevertheless, the trends for the general population of adolescents is alarming, suggesting increasing levels of isolation, depression, and the failure to develop self-confidence, self-reliance, and effective social skills including problem solving as well as failure to develop interpersonal social skills or the ability or even the interest in understanding those different from oneself.
Additionally, we suggest that many current practices in special education service delivery themselves undermine the long-term goals of education and, specifically, transition. The retreat from substantive interpersonal engagement and interest in others may be in part behind the concomitant retreat from instructional effectiveness as the valued outcome in special education programs in favor of attending to the setting of instruction.
Brigham, McKenna, Lavin, Brigham, and Zurawski (2018) suggested that such an imbalance is now unsupportable given the Endrew F decision (Turnbull, Turnbull, & Cooper, 2018) in the Supreme Court. However, there is a great deal of pressure upon school officials to list individuals as being served in general education settings even though many schools appear to be using “school within a school (SWIS)” programs as a way to maintain student enrollment on general education rosters despite many of them spending substantial parts of the day in SWIS rooms working on nonacademic tasks (Brigham, Ahn, Stride, & McKenna, 2016). In this way, students who could be benefitting from interactions that are associated with skills useful in life after school are shielded from the very experiences that would be beneficial to them.
In the case of individuals with disabilities, transition to adult living can be considered the ultimate outcome of special education (Scanlon, 2017). We believe that Scanlon’s statement should be strengthened to “should be considered” the ultimate outcome of special education. Before we turn to the unaddressed issues relating to transition of students with EBD, we briefly summarize transition requirements and review a sample of representative research related to transition with this population.
Requirements of Transition
Among the sources available to individuals concerned with this topic, we find that the presentation of transition requirements as summarized by the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDAA, 2013) to be quite comprehensive. Even though the target of this chapter is students with EBD, the transition requirements are generally the same. According to the LDAA summary, transition planning must: (1) start before the student turns 16; (2) be individualized; (3) be based on the student’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and (4) include opportunities to develop functional skills for work and community life. The transition plan is developed by several individuals including (1) the IEP team, (2) the student, and (3) the parent(s) or guardian(s). It is also acceptable, if not recommended, to include other individuals such as employers, college representatives, and student advocates in transition planning (Luecking & Luecking, 2015).
Tasks for the Transition Team
The LDAA document further describes the tasks required of the transition team and suggests some ways that students can be prepared for transition planning. The job of the transition team is to: (1) identify the student’s vision for his/her life beyond high school; (2) discuss what the student is currently capable of doing in both academic and functional areas; (3) identify age-appropriate, measurable goals; (4) establish services designed to build on strengths and identify needed accommodations; and (5) define each transition activity on the IEP regarding who is responsible for the activity and when each activity will begin and end.
Preparing the Student for Transition
Clearly, waiting for the student to turn 16 or whatever earlier age a state or district might adopt for the onset of transition activities allows for too many missed opportunities. This is particularly the case for individuals with EBD because they often have multiple behavioral and academic problems that will carry forward into the workplace without adequate intervention (see Mitchell, Kern, & Conroy, 2019). Nevertheless, the LDAA recommendations include several sensible suggestions. Among these are having the school teach the student: (1) the purpose and benefits of an IEP as well as (2) the procedures of an IEP meeting, including who is there and why and (3) the purpose of the transition planning part of the IEP meeting. In addition to these more procedural elements, LDAA suggests teaching the student: (1) the importance of the student’s input, (2) how to describe their own strengths and challenges (academic and nonacademic), (3) how to describe their vision for their future, (4) how to participate in setting goals for themselves, and (5) how to self-advocate for the kinds of supports they will need to meet their goals.
The tasks suggested for preparing a student for transition alone will require a great deal of intentional effort and time. They are a part of what might be called the “unrecognized curriculum” in that, although the outcomes are worthy of pursuit and explicitly stated, there is often no allocated time for these tasks within the secondary school day. Further, these tasks are required in addition to the standard curriculum. Given the higher probability of unsuccessful school completion for students with EBD (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education, & Rehabilitative Services, & Office of Special Education Programs, 2018), it seems likely that the standard curriculum alone presents a substantial challenge for many individuals (Kauffman & Badar, 2016; McKenna, Solis, Brigham, & Adamson, 2019).
Two more important elements of transition requirements are the “transfer of rights” to the student and the requirement that students with IEPs leave school with a “summary of performance” (SOP) (LDAA, 2013). Each of these tasks serves a different purpose and requires more than cursory understanding of the requirement.
Transfer of Rights
The transfer of rights requirement specifies that at least one year before the student reaches the “age of majority” and legally becomes an adult, the school must: (1) alert the student of their new, upcoming responsibilities and (2) provide notices of upcoming meetings to the student as well as the parents, while all other notices will go only to the student. It is possible that the age of majority can vary from state to state, but, in most cases, it will be on the student’s 18th birthday. When the student reaches that age, she or he will assume legal control over decisions related to special education identification, placement, and service delivery as well as any mediation or legal actions carried out to resolve disputes.
Summary of Performance
Schools must provide students with IEPs with a written SOP document when they graduate from high school or exit special education services at age 22. The SOP describes in summary form, the academic and functional performance levels and transition needs at the time the student completes school. Further, it is required to be specific, meaningful, and written so the student can understand it and make recommendations to promote the achievement of his or her postsecondary goals. The SOP should be reviewed at the student’s final transition planning meeting.
How Transition Reflects Images of Society
The foregoing description of transition requirements reflects a model of development and integration of the individual into society that is clearly embedded in the time period in which it was written. The model of adult life that is supported by the current transition requirements seems to be one of acquiring a given set of marketable skills, using those skills to move into relatively stable employment, and then moving on to independent living. There are many different models of instruction that have been developed to support these goals (Bakken & Obiakor, 2008). Some models focus on specific settings (e.g., rural living) while others focus more on developing systems of support for individuals with more extreme needs (e.g., person-centered planning, Taylor & Taylor, 2013). In the field of behavioral disorders and mental health, the ideas related to person-centered planning have been extended into a model called person-centered care planning (PCCP, Taylor & Taylor, 2013).
Not Your Grandparents Transition Plan
The goal of attaining stability, independence, and, perhaps, security in adult life is certainly laudable, but such elements are often defined in the context of their times. Columnist George Will (2019) noted:
Two centuries ago, the great source of wealth in America was land. It was so plentiful that eventually, with the Homestead Act of 1862, it was essentially given away. A century ago, the distinctive source of wealth was heavy fixed capital: Think of Andrew Carnegie’s steel mills, Cornelius Vanderbilt’s New York Central Railroad, and then Henry Ford’s River Rouge assembly plant. Today’s distinctive source of wealth is what is called human capital – knowledge, information, cognitive skills. Although these are widely distributed by nature and augmented by universal free public education, there are limits to how much education – even if competently conducted, which it not always is – can do to equalize the ability of individuals to thrive in a competitive society. (p. A20)
Will makes two points that are relevant to the present discussion. First, as times and technologies change, so too must the educational and training programs that prepare individuals for participation in the societies of their times. Second, even the best education and training programs available to us cannot enable each individual to become whatever she or he dreams of being, even when the programs are implemented with great intensity, precision, and fidelity. Implementation of special education services with intensity, precision, and fidelity is rarely reported in the literature. Rather, programs tend to be implemented in a slipshod manner (Hill, King, Lemons, & Partanen, 2012; O’Donnell, 2008), often the result of poorly trained personnel and/or failure to allocate sufficient temporal and fiscal resources to the effort.
Supposing that special education and its accompanying transition requirements had been in place since the mid-nineteenth century, it is likely that the aims of transition plans would have followed the trends in society. In general, workers moved from primarily working with their backs in rural environments, to working with their hands in urban settings, to working with their heads in information-based occupations. These occupational trends were also accompanied by changes in family structure and living arrangements as well as concentrations of people with similar levels of education, political and other belief systems (Bishop & Cushing, 2008).
Experiencing and Interpreting Change
Changes in societies affect the way that family and community members interact with one another (Bengtson, Burton, & Schaie, 1995), and the way that workers and employers regard the nature of work and employer–employee relationships (Blackwood, Livingstone, & Leach, 2013) (to name only two important aspects). Societies hold belief systems about the reasons for societal change as well as the need for change (Bain, Kroonenberg, & Kashima, 2015).
Believing that one’s nation changes over time in meaningful (rather than chaotic) ways is associated with increased personal well-being and lower alienation (Sani, Bowe, & Herrera, 2008). Believing that society is improving over time can reduce existential anxiety (Rutjens, van der Pligt, & van Harreveld, 2009) and increase a sense of personal control (Rutjens, van Harreveld, & van der Pligt, 2010). In more dramatic cases, believing our group is threatened with cultural or actual extinction in the future motivates people to strengthen their group’s traditions and norms (Bain et al., 2015, pp. 635–636; Wohl, Branscombe, & Reysen, 2010).
Clearly, many societal groups in the United States and other parts of the world are under stress and experiencing feelings of political, economic, moral, and personal insecurity. How one interprets these economic insecurities is, at least in part, determined by the societal group to which one belongs. Thus, experiencing such challenges as opportunities is likely to be rooted in a belief system that finds change to be meaningful and oriented toward improvement. Conversely, individuals or groups who find little meaningful pattern in life, little personal control or influence in the events of their lives, and feel threatened rather than challenged by change will experience the same events as negative and believe themselves to be imperiled. This latter world view leads to negative interpretations of experience and a perception of peril in action appears to be most in concert with the experience of individuals who are identified as having EBD.
Selecting Desirable Outcomes
Somewhere in the middle of their teenage years, schools ask students with disabilities to decide on educational, occupational, recreational, and living arrangement goals. Actually, most adolescents are asked about those things. The difference is that decisions are recorded for individuals with disabilities, and the school is expected to produce and track results relative to those stated goals. Selecting goals is an element of self-determination. “Self-determination reflects the capacity to direct one’s life in ways that are personally valued” (Carter, Lane, Crnobori, Bruhn, & Oakes, 2011, p. 100). Students with EBD appear to be more limited in knowledge about self-determination and less capable in the demonstration of the behaviors that increase one’s self-determination (Carter et al., 2011).
Having a clear goal makes it more likely that the goal will be attained. Indeed, there is an old saying that asks, “If you don’t know where you are going, how are you going to know when you get there?” However, that truism may represent a fundamental flaw in the way that educational decisions including transition programs are conceived and elaborated (Brigham et al., 2016). In past eras, it was very likely that an individual would train formally or through apprenticeship for an occupation, and then work in that occupation, often for the same employer for the majority, if not the entirety of one’s working life. Many of those occupations required engagement in fairly routine tasks that often involved manual skills. Those days are over for the majority of contemporary workers. Increasing use of technology is automating many manual tasks and assigning them to robots or other devices, thereby eliminating many jobs that were held by individuals with a high school education or less (Burrus, Mattern, Naemi, & Roberts, 2017). Further, the jobs that currently exist are changing at an increasing rate due to changes in technology and the increasing interconnectedness of international trade.
Students with EBD can expect to enter a job market with increasing emphasis on nonroutine and nonautomated occupations. This emphasis, in turn, will alter the requisite education and skills required to fill these jobs. Second, many of these jobs require strong noncognitive skills – “noncognitive” in the sense that they are typically not highly correlated with cognitive ability (Kyllonen, Lipnevich, Burrus, & Roberts, 2014). Noncognitive skills have also been referred to as personal skills, personal qualities, character traits, soft skills. and psychosocial skills. Among these noncognitive skills, social skills seem to be especially important to the changing world of work. For instance, Deming (2015) found that most US job growth since 1980 could be attributed to an increase in difficult-to-automate jobs that require strong social skills to work with others to solve problems and evaluate decision options. Additionally, he found that jobs requiring high levels of analytical and mathematical reasoning, but low levels of social skills have experienced poor growth since 1980. Survey research of US employers also suggests that noncognitive skills, as well as more broad cross-cutting capabilities, are greatly valued in today’s workforce.
A 2006 survey of US employers found that skills such as communication, work ethic, teamwork, and critical thinking were often considered more important than traditional academic skills (Casner-Lotto & Barrington, 2006). A 2010 survey found that US employers thought that colleges should put more emphasis on teaching and developing students’ communication, critical thinking, complex problem solving, ethical decision-making, teamwork, and creative skills (Hart Research Asscoiates, 2010). Subsequently, a study developed a parsimonious framework of the most important skills needed for college-educated workers based on O*NET data (Burrus, Jackson, Nuo, & Steinberg, 2013). Specifically, a principal component analysis of the importance ratings of knowledge, skills, abilities, and work styles of the 536 occupations in O*NET that require at least some college education informed the development of the framework. The final framework included five skills, of which three were noncognitive in nature: teamwork, communication skills, and achievement/innovation. The other two skills were problem solving (which may also have some noncognitive components) and fluid intelligence. Fluid intelligence is described as the ability to reason and think flexibly. It is contrasted with crystallized intelligence which refers to the accumulation of knowledge, facts, and skills acquired throughout life (Flanagan & Harrison, 2018). It should be noted that the need for noncognitive skills is not merely an American issue but, rather, of great consequence throughout the world. For example, policy issues regarding noncognitive skills are increasingly being recognized as important in large-scale testing programs such as the Programme for International Student Assessment (Naemi et al., 2013).
The evidence seems clear that today’s students will need to be more educated and to possess a different set of skills than students in previous generations in order to succeed in the twenty-first-century workplace. These demands appear to have arisen, at least in part, because technological innovations have changed the way in which work is accomplished, which, by extension, has influenced the very makeup of the labor market (Burrus, 2017). We next turn to a brief description of recent research affecting transition-related skills and upon transition itself.
Recent Research and Implications for Transition
Preparing students with EBD for adult life likely involves services and supports that are beyond the scope of how K-12 education is currently conceived for this student population. The majority of students with EBD currently receive a significant amount of instruction in general education classrooms, as indicated by placement data for students receiving special education services for Emotional Disturbance (ED; U.S. Department of Education et al., 2018). This reliance on placement in general education is based in part on the perceived benefits of improved access to the general education curriculum and nondisabled peers (e.g., “inclusion”) and concerns with the use of “segregated” or substantially separate classrooms. Although we believe these terms do not accurately represent the true intention of specialized or “dedicated” school settings, we will refrain from elaborating upon this debate to pursue another relevant issue related to inclusive instruction: In regard to inclusive instruction for students with EBD, what research-based practices have been identified for promoting the acquisition of academic content and skills consistent with college and career readiness standards (e.g., the primary focus on instruction in general education classrooms)?
A recent synthesis of syntheses provided an overview of intervention studies conducted in general education classrooms that included students receiving special education services for ED as participants (McKenna et al., 2019). The researchers noted that, overall, few intervention studies met selection criteria. Studies also tended to rely on designs that did not permit causal inferences and failed to disaggregate outcomes for students with ED, which are necessary to determine the degree to which they were able to access and benefit from instruction. Due to the absence of high-quality intervention research, the researchers conclude that school-based practitioners must primarily rely on their professional judgment and values when engaging in evidence-based practice as a decision-making framework (see Cook, Cook, & Collins, 2016).
Civics and social studies education is central to the preparation for participation in democratic societies and to the development of critical thinking and communication skills (Hamot, Shokoohi-Yekta, & Sasso, 2005; Railey & Brennan, 2016). Providing students with EBD opportunities to develop the skills necessary for active citizenship and positive engagement within their community may be particularly critical due to their tendency to perform challenging behaviors that may adversely affect the attainment of transition goals related to community engagement, employment, and postsecondary training and education.
The current political and social climate exposes students with EBD to models of challenging, if not antisocial, behavior that are performed by persons in positions of relative authority and influence (see Chait, 2019; MacSuga-Gage, Ennis, Hirsch, & Evanovich, 2018). At least for some, these behaviors may be considered inconsistent with our democratic values, if not basic notions of kindness, respect for others, and civil discourse.
Additionally, these negative behaviors appear to be at least somewhat efficient and effective at achieving desired outcomes (i.e., they meet a need) and are reinforced by at least some aspects of society. However, if students with EBD were to perform similar behaviors, they would likely experience transition difficulties in the areas of community engagement, employment, and postsecondary education and training if not independent living. Thus, the condition of our current political and social climate suggests that civics and social studies instruction may be particularly critical to the successful transition of students with EBD to adult life (e.g., community participation, critical thinking, communication skills, college, and career readiness).
Social Studies and Civics Education
Garwood, McKenna, Roberts, Ciullo, and Shin (2019) completed a systematic review of social studies content knowledge interventions for students with EBD. Although the researchers identified few studies overall, most were conducted with students in the secondary grades. Studies that met selection criteria tended to focus on interventions designed to promote retention of factual information rather than the development of critical thinking, problem solving, and other skills salient to positive transition outcomes. Peer tutoring; Cover, Copy, and Compare; and graphic organizers were identified as promising practices for improving content knowledge. Content mastery is one element of school success that is linked to more positive outcomes in adult life. The researchers noted that additional intervention studies were needed to identify research-based practices in this area.
Social Skills Interventions
Gresham (2015) provided a comprehensive overview of the importance of social skills to school success and access to effective social skills interventions. Gresham noted that, although a number of meta-analyses of social skills interventions have been completed, the majority of social skills intervention studies included in these investigations can best be considered Tier 2 1 interventions. Additionally, Gresham noted that research-based Tier 3 social skills interventions have yet to be identified, and the identification of such practices is critical to addressing the needs of students with EBD who require intensive intervention. He also suggested that replacement behavior interventions may be an effective method for providing intensive social skills interventions to this student population. In fact, findings from a recent synthesis of replacement behavior interventions for students with and at risk for EBD suggested that this approach may be a promising practice (McKenna, Flower, & Adamson, 2016). However, the majority of studies meeting selection criteria were conducted with students in the elementary grades. As a result, additional research is necessary to determine the potential effectiveness of replacement behavior interventions for secondary grade students with EBD.
Perceptions of School Satisfaction
State and Kern (2019) conducted a two-year investigation focusing on the quality of life perceptions of high school students with social, emotional, and behavioral problems. Students were included if they scored in the at-risk range or higher on the internalizing or externalizing composite of the Teacher or Parent version of the Behavior Assessment for Children (BASC-2; Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2004), scored at least one standard deviation above the mean on the Multidimensional Anxiety Scale for Children (MASC-2; March, 2012), or scored at least one standard deviation above the mean on the Reynolds Adolescent Depression Scale-2 (RADS-2; Reynolds, 2002). Participants also experienced school difficulties as evidenced by having five or more tardies or absences in a month that were not attributed to illness, at least four office referrals in a semester, two or more suspensions during the current school year, or at least one grade of F or two or more grades of D in a core academic class in the most recent marking period. The 39 students (7.3% of the participants at the start of Year 1) in this investigation received special education services for ED. All of them reported low levels of school satisfaction as indicated by scores on the Brief Multidimensional Students’ Life Satisfaction Scale (MSLSS; Seligson, Huebner, & Valois, 2005). State and Kern (2017) pointed to a need to identify and employ interventions that improve satisfaction within school, as this may be a key mechanism for improving academic performance and addressing issues related to low levels of engagement and high levels of school dropout. The researchers also noted the importance of aligning school services with the transition needs of students.
Sullivan and Sadeh (2016) completed a systematic review of research focusing on interventions to prevent school dropout and promote high school completion of students with EBD. Studies meeting selection criteria used a quasi or experimental design, reported disaggregated outcomes for students with EBD, and used school completion or dropout as a dependent variable. Unfortunately, the researchers were only able to identify one study that met selection criteria despite completing a comprehensive search of peer-reviewed and gray literature. Thus, there is little that can be generalized from these findings.
Transition Planning and Services
Test, Cease-Cook, and Bethune (2015) provided an overview of research-based transition practices and predictors of transition success for secondary grade students with learning disabilities and behavioral disorders (BD). Practices and curricula considered to be effective for students with BD included those that promote student involvement in the IEP process (e.g., Self-directed IEP, Self-advocacy Strategy, Check and Connect), development of self-determined behaviors (e.g., Self-determined Learning Model of Instruction), social skills interventions (e.g., embedded instruction with role play and a hierarchy of prompts), school engagement and dropout prevention (Check and Connect), and interventions for improving academic performance (e.g., peer tutoring and support, cooperative learning activities, and mnemonic devices). Predictors of successful transition included career awareness (e.g., profession-specific skills, interviewing, choosing a profession that aligns with one’s interests and skills), performance on state tests, achieving graduation with a standard diploma, access to the general education curriculum, independent living skills, participation in occupational training, employment and job related work experiences, vocational coursework, work-study experiences, high parental expectations and involvement, self-determination skills, social skills, and transition planning and services.
Remarkably, there is comparatively little research regarding students with EBD and transition. The majority of research that we located dealt with skills that could be embedded within the context of regular instruction. It is difficult to argue against this trend. After all, instruction is, arguably, the most important mission of public education, and federal regulations state that general education is the preferred but not required location for service delivery. However, given the poor outcomes associated with individuals with EBD and the federal requirement of explicit transition programming, it is even more difficult to argue that embedded activities are sufficient for the challenge to which they are directed. It is clear that experiencing academic success is one major predictor of transition success. Other indicators include having a clear set of vocational and/or vocational skills and communication abilities. Nevertheless, the landscape is changing.
Darling-Hammond (2010) suggested that workers in the first part of the twenty-first century will change jobs as often as every year if not more frequently than that. Some of the job changes will be in pursuit of better opportunities, some in search of more personal satisfaction, but more is likely to be the result of changes in the workplace. Jobs will no longer offer a secure future. Rather, they are viewed by many of those who are currently adolescents and young adults as merely a temporary means of support. In such a job market, personal characteristics may become the primary indicator of success in the job market and in other aspects of adult life. These interpersonal skills were described earlier in the present chapter as noncognitive skills. Such skills have also been referred to as personal skills, personal qualities, character traits, soft skills, and psychosocial skills. It is unclear how or if current transition activities address these. Such aspects of living are intensely personal and possibly not transmissible through general curricula. However, Brigham and Weiss (2015) suggested a program called Step-taker by which students could acquire multiple sources of feedback regarding self-selected and self-directed transition goals.
Step-taker: A Suggestion for General Self-directed Transition Development
The Step-taker program was conceived to provide support in preparing for postsecondary education or employment outcomes for high school students with high incidence disabilities. It is intended to provide instruction in four distinct phases within the intervention: (1) long-term goal setting through letter writing (survey of interests, strengths, and needs; template for letter writing; spelling and grammar check), (2) obtaining meaningful external feedback (review by at least two community professionals related to postsecondary goals), (3) taking action (task analysis of goal with specific, achievable activities), and (4) reaping the rewards (certificate, contact with community professionals). Additionally, it was intended to be a web-based program that students could access from any device and, therefore, would be available to students at any time. The program has not yet been formally implemented, but we believe that it has sufficient merit that it is worth outlining for individuals wishing to develop it further or to conduct formal research on the plan.
Phase One: Goal Setting through Letter Writing
Step-taker guides the student through a series of questions that will help the student develop concrete ideas about his/her strengths, weaknesses, and goals. Once completed, students would be provided instruction in writing a letter of recommendation. It is a letter of recommendation for the student’s future self. This letter contains the attributes that the student hopes that future authors of similar letters of recommendation could attribute to him- or herself. In short, the letter of self-recommendation boils down to “What kind of a person do you want to be?” We believe that such a question is becoming more important to transition than traditional questions regarding what kinds of work or education one wishes to pursue. In fact, Michelle Obama (2018) stated that asking what do you want to be when you grow up? was one of the most useless questions an adult could ask a child. She noted that growing up is far from a finite process and that becoming something is the end of the process. Rather, attaining one goal or accomplishment should establish the basis for reaching toward the next goal.
Phase Two: Feedback
Brigham and Weiss suggested that the student’s letter (with permission of the parents) be sent to a minimum of two designated volunteer community business leaders or other professionals for review. These reviewers could be human resource professionals, college admissions office personnel, and other community leaders from both within the local rural community and outside of it. A local chapter of Rotary Club International became very enthusiastic regarding this idea and its members willingly agreed to take on such a commitment. Other community organizations may be similarly willing to be a part of such an initiative.
The respondents provide the student with specific feedback about the strengths of the letter and the actions the student could take to provide support or strengthen the substance of the letter. The student could then review the feedback with a school representative (e.g., a trained peer or a teacher) to determine areas to target. Once completed, the student would enter phase three.
Phase Three: Iterative Improvement
Phase three is intended as an iterative phase that could be carried out many times throughout the transition process. Brigham and Weiss (2015) suggested that the student would identify up to three goals to pursue related to the target areas. Teachers or counselors could then provide a list of activities within the curriculum (e.g., English or math) and school (e.g., participate in specific club or organization) that the student could complete addressing these goals.
For example, the reviewer might indicate that the student describes herself as being responsible but provides no evidence to support the claim. The student, along with teachers and parents, could develop a list of activities from the curriculum or community-based experiences that would either provide evidence of being responsible or would provide practice in developing that skill. Similarly, the student would develop a list of activities to achieve each goal. If schools allocated web-based storage space, students could store artifacts of each activity, such as a scan of a grade report stating all homework completed on time or a teacher signature of hours spent in the daycare service area in an electronic portfolio of evidence. In this way, students could see the progress that they were making and also catalog their accomplishments. Once a student has completed activities related to areas of need, he/she enters Phase Four.
Phase Four: Reaping the Rewards
Brigham and Weiss (2015) suggested that the student should periodically return to the original recommendation letter, revise it with the addition of the completed activities as examples, and, optimally, resubmit it to reviewers. The established patterns of behaviors that are documented in the iterations of the letter of self-reference are the rewards of participation. The letter is merely the vehicle through which the efforts are guided.
Potential Benefits of Step-taker and Similar Initiatives
As we noted, this is an untested idea but it seems in concert with the trends affecting students in the current generation. We think that such a program has the potential to foster written and oral communication skills about one’s aspirations, abilities, and accomplishments to date. Step-taker can be viewed as highly individualized in that each student selects personally meaningful goals and selects activities that will be pursued in support of the self-selected goals. It provides the student with opportunities to engage in self-directed learning and to assume responsibility for his or her own progress, both elements considered to be important in establishing self-determination for adult life. Further, it is aspirational and hope driven. Instead of “What do you want to be?” this plan asks, “What kind of person do you want to become?” In the next decades, such a question seems to be an issue of increasing importance for all students, and particularly for students with EBD.
Parents often refer to the experience of students leaving school and exiting the support that they were provided through their IEP services as “going over the cliff.” Author Kevin Hearne describes a woman suffering from exposure to the cold while traveling through the mountains of Tibet who noted that memories of the warmth bring little comfort in the cold (Hearne, 2014). Leaving school, even for students with EBD who often rebel against school, can place them in contact with cold realities of employment and adult living in ways that they may come to recall the supports of school as memories of the warmth. Effective transition programs are intended to provide students with the preparation to meet the icy challenges of postsecondary life and the autonomy of adulthood.
Many individuals without disabilities are increasingly underprepared for adult life and are unaware of the chilling impact that could have on their future. If this is the case, there is little reason to wonder why students with disabilities, particularly disabilities such as EBD, have such difficulty. Further, the job market is changing at an ever-increasing pace. Individuals will be very likely to hold several different jobs, often because the jobs that they previously held no longer exist. Transition programs, therefore, need to focus on developing the individual’s understanding of her or his abilities and aspirations and to promote flexibility in interacting with others, in working and in considering other forms of employment across the life span.
Current research regarding students with EBD and transition supports the idea that school success is important to postgraduation outcomes. The amount of existing research in this domain is woefully inadequate unto the challenges faced by students with EBD and their teachers and parents/guardians and establishing concrete plans for entering adult life that regulations require.
It appears that educators have little in the way of clear, evidence-based guidance in transition planning and, therefore, must rely on professional judgment and personal values in making such decisions. This is a particularly troubling observation given that many special education teachers leave the field after only a short career span (Billingsley, 2004). Good professional judgment requires the union of training, time, and experience (Garb & Boyle, 2015; Spengler, White, Ægisdóttir, & Maugherman, 2009; Südkamp, Kaiser, & Möller, 2012). It is uncertain that early career teachers possess sufficient expertise to carry out these tasks. Thus, the expertise needed to effectively guide students through the transition process is too-often unavailable to the students with disabilities – the students who need it most.
We suggested a potential plan to support such activities. Although we admit that there is presently no data in support of the idea, we believe that the concepts embedded in the plan are sound. A general plan like Step-taker can be implemented at nearly any age. The earlier students are given the chance to make decisions about their life and become responsible for pursuing those goals, the more likely they are to be the kind of self-determined and self-directed citizens that we hope for through our efforts in public education.
A three-tiered model is currently considered to be a useful way to consider intervention. Tier 1 includes all of the things that are carried out for every student in the general education program. Tier 2 includes interventions of low to moderate intensity that can often be implemented in general education settings for individuals who are unsuccessful under Tier 1 conditions. Tier 3 interventions include the most intensive methods that are designed for individuals who have been unsuccessful under Tier 1 and Tier 2 conditions. Tier 3 interventions often require more highly trained interventionists and specialized or dedicated treatment settings.
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- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Disabilities: An Introduction
- Transition Services for Students with Learning Disabilities
- Memories of the Warmth: Transition for Students with Emotional and/or Behavioral Disorders
- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Intellectual Disabilities
- Special Education Transition Services for Students Who Are Deaf/Hard of Hearing
- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Visual Impairments
- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Autism
- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Extensive Support Needs
- Special Education Transition Services for Students with Traumatic Brain Injuries
- Speech-language Pathologists’ Role in Promoting Student Participation in Interprofessional Transition Planning Teams
- Transitioning Students with Physical Disabilities and Other Health Impairments
- Foundational Assumptions for Successful Transition: Examining Alternatively Certified Special Educator Perceptions