Friday, March 18, 2011

Failing Grades for Transition Services

A disturbing report, released this month by the the Arise Coalition, points out the continuing failure of the New York City Department of Education to meet the transition needs of students with disabilities (including learning disabilities) who are completing high school.

The Arise Coalition is a group of organizations and individuals who are committed to improving education for all students in New York City public schools. The new report is essentially a follow-up to a 2007 report issued under the auspices of Advocates for Children, entitled "Transitioning to Nowhere." The new report, entitled "Out of School and Unprepared: The Need to Improve Support for Students with Disabilities Transitioning to Adulthood" includes an examination of students with a wide variety of disabilities -- and thus a wide variety of needs and plans as high school education comes to an end.

The report highlights such grim statistics as the fact that only one in four students with disabilities in the class of 2009 graduated from high school in 4 years and that less than 17% of students with disabilities are "college and career ready" when they graduate.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) has expanded its requirements for transition planning in its most recent revision and requires that schools undertake a meaningful transition process that is designed to be "coordinated," "results oriented," and "based on the individual child's needs, taking into account the child's strengths, preferences, and interests." The failure of New York City to make transition a meaningful experience for too many students includes such recurring issues as not including outside agencies (upon which the student may be relying for services after high school) in the post-secondary planning process and not addressing students' diploma status and goals. As alternatives to New York's Regents examinations are being slowly cut back, students who find it problematic to pass the required number of Regents exams need careful guidance so they are not relegated unnecessarily to what is called an IEP diploma, but is really just a certificate and does not have the same status as a high school diploma.

Transition to adulthood is not an easy process for most young people and for those who have struggled in school, it is even more complex. The legal scaffolding is in place to provide meaningful guidance for this process, to begin here in New York at age 14 (age 15 in other states). What is needed is for the New York City Department of Education and those charged with implementing its policies to understand that failure to provide meaningful transition services is setting vulnerable students up for future difficulties.

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