Compliance Corner – January 2023

By Cindy Soo Hoo, TAP Consultant

Transition Services

If asked what the most desired outcome is for educating children, one may receive a variety of answers.  Some may say it’s to:

  • prepare students to compete in a global marketplace,
  • prepare students to be skilled workers,
  • teach students to become critical thinkers or
  • teach students to become independent and self-sufficient.

No doubt, everyone would agree that preparing students for post-secondary experiences requires a lot of attention, oversight and coordination.  For students with disabilities, this is especially true given the areas in which members of the Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team must address when determining the post-secondary needs of students.  IEP Team members, including the student and their parents, determine the plan by which the student will work toward their post-secondary goals.  This would include goals for future education, employment and independent living, if appropriate. 

Addressing a student’s transition needs is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  (34 CFR §300.43) Transition services are defined as:

(a) Transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that –
(1) Is designed to be within a results-oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation;
(2) Is based on the individual child’s needs, taking into account the child’s strengths, preferences, and interests; and includes –
(i) Instruction;
(ii) Related services;
(iii) Community experiences;
(iv) The development of employment and other post-school adult living objectives; and
(v) If appropriate, acquisition of daily living skills and provision of a functional vocational evaluation.
(b) Transition services for children with disabilities may be special education, if provided as specially designed instruction, or a related service, if required to assist a child with a disability to benefit from special education.

While IDEA requires school districts to address these needs no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the student turns sixteen (16), the state of New Mexico requires IEP Teams to address these issues no later than the IEP to be in effect when the student turns fourteen (14). 

“When developing an IEP for students in New Mexico who are or will be 14 or older during the year the IEP will be implemented, the vision statement should be reflected in and incorporate the student’s goals for appropriate measurable post-secondary goals”. (New Mexico Public Education Department Technical Assistance Manual:  Developing Quality IEPs, October 2011, p. 32)

The focus of the IEP from this point on, unless determined to be necessary at an earlier age, is to address the post-secondary needs of students.  Information included in the IEP begins with information in the Student Profile section of the IEP detailing the strengths and areas of need of the student.  Information obtained here would originate from age-appropriate transition assessments as well as other data such as results from state and district-wide assessments and any other evaluations.  IEP Teams would discuss the student’s academic and functional strengths as well as needs as they pertain to employment, community participation, recreation and leisure, post-secondary training and learning as well as daily/independent living, as appropriate. 

The Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP) section of the IEP would detail the student’s present levels related to the student’s academic and functional skills. Information may be provided by the student, parent(s), teachers, related service providers or any other IEP Team member or from any other sources of data.  Transition services for students with disabilities may be considered special education if provided as individually designed instruction aligned with the state standards.  It may be considered as a related service if it is required to assist a student with a disability to benefit from special education.  

In addition to the Student Profile and PLAAFP sections of the IEP, team members must develop appropriate and measurable goals that are designed to focus on post-secondary outcomes for the student.  Measurable post school goals refer to goals the student wants to achieve after graduating from high school and are based on age-appropriate transition assessments.  These assessments are in the areas of training, education, employment and independent living skills, as appropriate.  While the goals are geared toward post-secondary activities, the goals must be measurable while the student is still in high school.

According to IDEA (34 CFR §300.320), IEP Teams are required to develop:

(b)(1 ) Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and
(2) The transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the child in reaching those goals.

In New Mexico, students ages 14 and older must be invited to participate in their own IEPs. School personnel should take steps to ensure that students have been invited to attend.  It is recommended that a separate invitation be provided directly to the student.  Ultimately, it is the decision of the parent as to whether the student will be in attendance unless the student has reached the age of majority, which is the age of 18 in the state of New Mexico, or the parent has retained guardianship of the student.  If the student does not attend their IEP, school personnel must take steps to ensure the student’s preferences and interests are considered.  Each annual review thereafter, but not less than one year prior to the student reaching the age of majority, the IEP must include a discussion of the rights that will transfer when the student turns 18 and, if appropriate, a discussion regarding the parents’ plans to obtain guardianship prior to the student reaching the age of majority.

In addition to the requirements listed above for a student whose IEP will be in effect when the student turns 14, NMAC states:

At the end of the eighth grade, each student’s IEP must contain a proposed individual program of study for grades 9-12.  The program of study must identify by name all course options the student may take and must reflect the student’s long-range post-secondary goals.  This program of study must be reviewed on an annual basis and adjusted to address the student’s interests, preferences and needs…

This IEP also begins the process of connecting with outside agencies that will provide assistance, recommendations and support regarding the transition needs of the student from high school to post-school activities. School personnel are responsible for inviting such agencies, and parental consent is required beforehand.  The student’s educational team is responsible for ensuring that a student is linked to, and will receive, needed post-school supports, services, or programs. 

Beginning the year the student reaches the age of 14 and each annual review thereafter, the IEP Team must discuss not only transition needs but also the options to a regular high school diploma as well as the requirements for graduation under each option.  IEP Teams are to discuss whether the student is to pursue their diploma through a standard, modified or ability option.  Decisions regarding the appropriate option to a diploma should be based on the student’s needs as well as the impact of their disability.   The discussion should include the differences among the various options, the course requirements for each and the course of study necessary to graduate under the designated option.    

In New Mexico, students who are eligible for special education services are entitled to a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) through the age of 21, provided the student has not been awarded a diploma regardless of the option to the diploma. If a student turns 22 during the school year, the student is permitted to complete the school year and continue receiving special education and related services. If the student turns 22 prior to the first day of the school year, the student is no longer eligible to receive special education and related services.

Any student whose eligibility terminates due to graduation from high school with a regular diploma or due to reaching their twenty-second birthday, the school district shall provide the student with a summary of their academic achievement and functional performance (SOP), which shall include recommendations on how to assist the student in meeting their post-secondary goals.  The SOP must be completed during the final year of the student’s programming, include the most updated information regarding the student and be shared with the student. 

While your IEP forms or other documents may provide areas in which to indicate compliance with requirements such as informing parents regarding the transfer of rights due to the student reaching the age of majority, inviting the student and outside agencies to attend the IEP, etc., it is recommended to include this information in the Prior Written Notice (PWN).  Including documentation in the PWN would provide additional assurances that required processes were followed. 

Should you need additional information or guidance, please consult the Developing Quality IEPs, A Technical Manual located on the New Mexico Public Education Department website.  Appendix B, pages 106 and 107, offer a transition planning checklist to assist school districts in following requirements involving transition services.  In addition, the Public Education Department is in the process of making changes to practices involving transition services.  Stay tuned for additional information.

The information included herein is not intended to provide legal advice.  Should you need legal advice or guidance on any issue involving special education, please contact the appropriate person for your district.

Read past posts from the Compliance Corner.