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Special Education

Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1

Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process

To:Middle and High School Principals, Administrators of Special Education, General and Special Educators, and Other Interested Parties
From:Marcia Mittnacht, State Director of Special Education
Date:September 14, 2012

The purpose of this advisory is to:

  1. highlight the central role of appropriate measurable postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in the transition planning process for students with IEPs, ages 14-22.
  2. provide guidance to school districts concerning the inclusion of postsecondary goals in the Transition Planning Form (TPF) (28M/9) and the inclusion of postsecondary goals and annual goals in the IEP.


According to Massachusetts G.L. c. 69, §1,

It is hereby declared to be a paramount goal of the commonwealth to provide a public education system of sufficient quality to extend to all children… including a school age child with a disability… the opportunity to reach their full potential and to lead lives as participants in the political and social life of the commonwealth and as contributors to its economy [emphasis added].

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) states

Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities [emphasis added].1

Furthermore, one of the purposes of IDEA is

to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free and appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living [emphasis added].2

Therefore, the ultimate goal of all professional endeavors in special education is to prepare students with disabilities for adult life.

As expressed in a 2012 report from the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Task Force on Integrating College and Career Readiness,

Every child deserves an education that nurtures their dreams and lays out a navigable pathway to accomplish them.3

Commissioner Mitchell Chester has identified "preparing students for college and careers" as one of five top Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's priorities. The Department's overarching goal is to "prepare all students to succeed in the world that awaits them after high school." All students deserve a world-class education that prepares them for postsecondary opportunities, career training options, economically viable careers, and healthy, productive lives.

A growing body of research indicates that teaching students with disabilities to be self-determined increases their chances of achieving positive adult outcomes.4 This research aligns with findings in the areas of college and career readiness,5 student motivation,6 and student learning plans.7 Self determination can be understood as "a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that enable a person to engage in goal-directed, self-regulated, autonomous behavior. As such, self-determination includes an understanding of one's strengths and limitations, together with a belief of oneself as capable and effective."8 Students who are self-determined are "causal agents in their own lives."9

Therefore, the more students are engaged in planning their own futures, the more promising those futures are likely to be.

In Massachusetts, transition planning for students with disabilities begins at age 14 (or earlier if deemed appropriate by the IEP team).10 From the age of 14, students should be active participants in their own transition planning, to the maximum extent possible. Planning is driven by the student's needs, taking into account his/her "strengths, preferences, and interests."11 If a student who is 14 or older does not attend his/her IEP meeting, steps must be taken to ensure that the student's preferences and interests are considered.12 Since parents are experts regarding their own children, working in close partnership with the families of all students will enable school professionals to more fully understand each student's personal assets, challenges, inclinations, and hopes for the future.

As much as possible, efforts in transition planning should be conducted in concert with whole-school initiatives. For example, whole-school adoption of social and emotional learning (SEL) curricula13 could increase students' self determination by helping them to recognize and manage their emotions, make responsible decisions, and demonstrate caring and concern for others. Using the Massachusetts Model for Comprehensive School Counseling Programs, guidance counselors can collaborate with general and special education teachers to promote students' individualized college and career planning. Through Connecting Activities,14 schools and businesses can connect to provide students with structured work-based learning experiences that support both academic and employability skill attainment.

Postsecondary Goals

A key way to capture students with disabilities' preferences and interests is to include postsecondary goals on the TPF and IEP. Postsecondary goals are those goals that a student hopes to achieve after leaving secondary school (i.e., high school).15 All transition planning is informed by and flows from these postsecondary goals; a truly individualized process uses postsecondary goals - which are an expression of each student's desired future outcomes - as the foundation for the development of the IEP.

Students' postsecondary goals should be recorded on page one of the TPF in the "Post-Secondary Vision" box. The TPF is intended to be a flexible, brainstorming document used by the IEP team to record the transition discussion. Once the TPF is complete, the IEP team documents the transition plan in a more formal manner on the IEP and should transfer the postsecondary goals to the Vision Statement on IEP 1.

IDEA requires that postsecondary goals:
(1) be appropriate,
(2) be measurable (i.e. countable),
(3) be annually updated,
(4) be based upon age-appropriate transition assessment, and
(5) express the student's future intentions in each of the areas of education/training, employment, and — if appropriate — independent living.16

Therefore, each student's TPF and IEP should detail at least two and possibly three postsecondary goals in this general format:

  • Following high school, [STUDENT NAME] intends to pursue a bachelor's degree at a four-year college.
  • [STUDENT NAME] plans to work at [NAME/TYPE OF BUSINESS] after graduating from high school.
  • After exiting high school, I plan to live with my friend and use the public bus to get to my job, the supermarket, and the gym.

Additional examples of possible postsecondary goals are available at Goals Example Sheet . IEP teams are by no means limited to using these examples but should create individualized postsecondary goals for each student, always remembering that postsecondary goals are those that a student hopes to achieve after leaving secondary school and are appropriate, measurable, annually updated, and based upon age-appropriate transition assessment.

Annual IEP Goals

Separate and distinct, yet closely related to postsecondary goals in the transition planning process, are "annual IEP goals related to the student's transition services needs," also required by IDEA.17

Annual IEP goals for students 14 or older are developed from two streams of information: (a) the student's postsecondary goals and (b) the student's disability-related needs. Both of these streams are founded upon age-appropriate transition assessment, which is an "ongoing process of collecting data on the individual's needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal and social environments."18 Transition assessment, both formative and summative, is an essential part of understanding who the student is, where the student wants to go, what strengths the student can capitalize on, and what challenges the student needs to overcome. As with every part of the transition planning process, the student should be involved — as much as possible — in the assessment process and in the development of annual IEP goals. Families, also, are key partners in the creation of these goals.

When developing annual IEP goals for Transition, the team should discuss and complete the TPF before completing the IEP form. The team refers to the student's postsecondary goals and asks:

  1. What skills, strengths, interests, personal attributes, and accomplishments does the student currently have that will contribute to his/her postsecondary success?
  2. What skills and strengths will the student need to acquire in order to achieve his/her desired postsecondary outcomes?
  3. Given the student's disabilities, what supports and services will be necessary for the student to make progress towards achieving his/her postsecondary goals?

To answer these questions, the team may rely on formal and informal transition assessments such as input from the student, his/her family, and others who know the student well; student transcripts; MCAS results; teacher notes; previous IEPs; achievement tests; functional behavioral assessments; life skills and/or interest inventories, etc. Additional examples of possible transition assessments are available at Transition Assessments Example Sheet .

Discussing and mapping out the Action Plan on page two of the TPF can also help the team to fully understand and articulate the intersection between the student's postsecondary goals, the student's skills and disability-related needs, and the supports and services that the student requires in order to achieve his/her desired postsecondary outcomes.

On page one of the TPF, the team documents the student's disability-related skills that require IEP goals and/or related services.

Next, the team should turn to the IEP form to complete Present Levels of Educational Performance A & B and to write annual IEP goals that are skill-based and are related to the student's transition services needs. In other words, a clear and direct link should exist between the student's annual IEP goals and his/her postsecondary goals as delineated in the Vision section of the TPF and IEP.

For example:

  • A student who wishes to work in a bank and has language-based learning disabilities and social skills deficits may require annual IEP goals that will enable her to improve her reading comprehension and math skills, and to develop customer service skills.
  • A student who wishes to attend a four-year college and who has Asperger's Syndrome may require annual IEP goals that will help him to develop his self-advocacy skills and avail himself of college disability support services.
  • A student who wishes to have a job and a busy social life, and who has multiple disabilities, may require annual IEP goals that will help her to use her cell phone, access public transportation, and improve her personal care skills.
  • A student with a health impairment who wishes to become a pastry chef may require annual IEP goals that will help him to research culinary schools, take charge of his own healthcare needs, and improve his organizational skills.

Additional examples of possible annual IEP goals are available at Goals Example Sheet . IEP teams are by no means limited to using these examples but should create individualized annual IEP goals for each student, keeping in mind that annual IEP goals should be directly linked to the student's postsecondary goals.

In the final step, the team completes the IEP form, enumerating any required transition services and supports which flow from the postsecondary goals and the annual IEP goals, as well as any other necessary information.


According to IDEA, transition services are a "coordinated set of activities… within a results-oriented process," so as to facilitate a student's "movement from school to post-school activities."19 Through the active inclusion of students in their own transition planning, and through the use of student-centered postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals founded upon age-appropriate transition assessment, IEP teams can actualize a dynamic, coordinated, and student-driven transition process, affording students with disabilities "the opportunity to reach their full potential and to lead lives as participants in the political and social life of the commonwealth and as contributors to its economy."20

1 20 USC §1400(c)(1).

2 20 USC §1400(d)(1)(A).

3 Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's Task Force on Integrating College and Career Readiness (2012, June). From Cradle to Career: Educating our Students for Lifelong Success. Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education., p. 25.

4 Landmark, L. J., Ju, S., & Zhang, D. (2010). Substantiated best practices in transition: Fifteen plus years later. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 33(3), 165-176.

5 Conley, D. T. (2010). The Four Key Dimensions of College and Career Readiness. In College and Career Ready: Helping All Students Succeed Beyond High School. (1st ed.). (pp. 19-52). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

6 Usher, A. & Kober, N. (2012). Student motivation: An overlooked piece of school reform. Washington, D.C.: Center on Education Policy, Graduate School of Education and Human Development, The George Washington University.

7 Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy. (2011). Student Learning Plans: Supporting Every Student's Transition to College and Career. Cambridge, MA: Rennie Center for Education Research & Policy.

8 Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998, p. 2, as cited in Wehmeyer, M. L., & Webb, K. W. (Eds.). (2012). Providing Transition Education to a Diverse Student Population. In Handbook of Adolescent Transition Education for Youth with Disabilities. (1st ed.). (p. 278-294). New York, NY: Routledge, p.287.

9 Wehmeyer, M. L. (2007). Overview of Self-Determination and Self-Determined Learning. In Promoting Self-Determination in Students with Developmental Disabilities. (1st ed.). (pp. 3 - 16). New York, NY: The Guilford Press, p. 7.

10 G.L. c. 71B, §2; Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14.

11 34 CFR §300.43(a)(2).

12 34 CFR §300.321(b)(2).

13 Guidelines on Implementing: Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) Curricula

14 Connecting Activities

15 71 Fed. Reg. 46668 (Aug. 14, 2008).

16 34 CFR 300.320 (b)(1).

17 34 CFR 300.320(a)(2)(i) and What is Indicator 13?.

18 Sitlington, P. L., Neubert, D. A., & Leconte, P. J. (1997). Transition Assessment: The Position of the Division on Career Development and Transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 20(1), 69-79.

19 34 CFR 300.43(a)(1).

20 G.L. c.69 §1.

Last Updated: September 17, 2012

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