Improving Transition to Adulthood Through High School Credit-Bearing Coursework

/ August 28, 2019

By Blake Shearer

About the Author

Blake Shearer has just been named as the transition director for the Tennessee Division of Rehabilitation Services. Blake, until August 2019, had been the director of support services for student readiness at the Tennessee Department of Education.  Blake joined the Department of Education in 2015 and worked to improve outcomes for students with disabilities by providing ongoing training and support to districts in the development of high-quality transition plans, and he will continue to collaborate with other state, local, and independent agencies to improve transition programming. Blake previously spent 12 years in the Putnam County, TN, school system.

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Preparing students for an independent life after high school is one of the primary purposes of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Individualized education program teams, which include the student, are charged with developing IEP transition plans to help facilitate the movement from school to adulthood. An IEP transition plan, which should begin during the IEP in which the student turns age 14, is a coordinated set of activities and services designed within a results-oriented process and includes the following:

  • Age-appropriate transition assessments
  • Measurable post-high school goals
  • Transition services
    • Instruction
    • Related services
    • Community experience
    • Daily living objectives
    • Employment/Post-school living objectives
  • Courses of study
  • Annual IEP goals

The Tennessee State Board of Education recently approved three new courses and standards in a series titled “Principles of Transition for Postsecondary Readiness” for students with disabilities. The courses have been developed to better prepare students with disabilities to enter postsecondary education or training, employment, community involvement, and independent living. There is also an added emphasis on understanding how to navigate the complex adult service systems for people with disabilities. These new standards and courses are available for the 2019-20 school year; however, it is at the local school district’s discretion whether to offer the courses.

The figure below provides a high-level overview of the three courses that can be taken for elective credit in the Principles of Transition course series.

Principles of Transition: Introduction to Self-determination is designed to equip students with knowledge concerning the legal rights of individuals with a disability and how to advocate for themselves in their school and community settings. Due to the IEP transition process beginning by age 14, this course is one that can be offered in middle school to teach important decision-making, problem-solving, goal-setting, and self-determination skills that will benefit moving into high school and ultimately into postsecondary life.

Principles of Transition: Focus on Adulthood is designed to equip students with the knowledge and skills necessary to transition into community involvement and independent living. Through a series of in-class and out-of-class activities, students will refine their self-awareness through a discovery process and then learn about accessing relevant community supports.

When a student leaves high school, the supports that were once in place may not extend to adult independent living and community involvement. While natural and informal supports (e.g., family, friends, employers) may exist for some students, many students need more formalized supports through public and private agencies. To receive these supports, a student needs to know whom to contact and for what reason, as well as the eligibility requirements for the services. At the conclusion of this course, students will be connected to an array of programs, services, accommodations, and supports based on their individualized transition plan as part of their IEP.

Principles of Transition: Planning for Postsecondary is designed to provide opportunities for students to finalize their postsecondary transition plans and develop concrete steps necessary to transition seamlessly into adulthood, including being an active participant in developing a summary of performance.

To better prepare students for adulthood, students need to be well informed of their rights and responsibilities, as well as the responsibilities of adult service agencies and postsecondary institutions. Through the completion of this course, students will understand and practice the soft skills needed to enter the workforce, as well as advocate for any necessary workplace accommodations. In addition, students will be made aware of possible supports available for further education and/or training, including completion of financial aid applications, links to adult service providers, and completion of applications for adult support services.

The course standards for each of the courses can be found by clicking here or by following the click path below:→For Educators→Special Populations and Student Support→Special Education→Secondary Transition→Principles of Transition for Postsecondary Readiness

Thank you, Blake, for explaining this series of courses that are designed to help students learn the skills they need to thrive once they leave high school. This series will also allow students who are earning a regular diploma to have the opportunity to acquire this information, as often these resources and trainings have been more focused on students with disabilities who would exit school at age 22. I’m delighted that our State Board of Education has chosen to make these courses available! As always, if you have questions, you can email me at Thanks for reading!

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