Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo
Special Education

Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2014-4

Transition Assessment in the Secondary 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:April 9, 2014

The purpose of this advisory is to:

  1. Clarify the purpose of transition assessment in the secondary transition planning process.
  2. Provide guidance to school districts concerning the selection and use of transition assessments.

This advisory is released in the context of previous Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) secondary transition advisories and other DESE secondary transition resources, both existing and forthcoming.1 The reader is invited to study these materials as an integrated whole.


Through secondary transition planning, which occurs in Massachusetts for students with IEPs aged 14-22,2 IEP Teams facilitate an individualized process that moves a student ever-closer to the successful realization of his or her personal vision for the future. That vision, documented on the Transition Planning Form (TPF) and in the IEP,3 is the beacon which guides the development of the IEP during the transition years.4 Year by year, a student's IEPs detail a sequential and developmental process whereby the student's disability-related needs are addressed in order to build skills necessary to achieve the student's postsecondary goals/vision

Purpose of Transition Assessment

Individualized, age-appropriate transition assessment is integral to the development of the IEP for students aged 14-22 and is required by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA),5 very much as assessments are integral to the special education process for students who are younger. Through ongoing transition assessment, the IEP Team (1) discerns the student's postsecondary goals in the areas of education/training, employment, and - where appropriate - independent living,6 (2) gains an understanding of the student's needs, strengths, preferences, and interests,7 and (3) measures the student's current performance and progress towards the development of skills. The results of transition assessment inform the development of measurable annual skill-based IEP goals and the delivery of transition services. Any reader of an IEP for a student aged 14-22 should be able to see a clear linkage between the student's postsecondary goals and transition assessments, and the student's annual IEP goals and transition services.8 The IEP should contain annual goals and transition services that flow from the student's vision, needs, strengths, preferences, interests, and assessment results.

Rather than adopting a restrictive approach which might seem to imply the required use of highly specialized formal assessments for each student, we encourage IEP Teams to think broadly about assessing students when they are aged 14-22. Age-appropriate assessment (i.e., assessment that is chronologically appropriate for students) is often part of typical school routine. Transition assessment can be conducted through special education, but key transition-related assessment data can also be garnered through routine whole-school programming such as social-emotional learning curricula, work-and-learning experiences, guidance department courses and opportunities, or the standard academic course of study.

Any assessment that is conducted when a student on an IEP is aged 14-22 can be viewed as a transition assessment, in that it affords information which can be used to discern the student's vision; understand the student's needs, strengths, preference, and interests; and measure progress towards the acquisition of skills. DESE has created a sample — but not exhaustive — list of possible transition assessments that can be found on our website as a link from Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process.

The results of individualized transition assessment in the IDEA-defined domains of further education/training, employment, and independent living - as needed for each unique student - will inform the IEP Team's decisions regarding the student's course of study and the student's need for specially designed instruction, modifications, accommodations, supports, related services, and/or assistive technology, so as to gain skills and make progress towards realizing his/her vision.

Scope and Sufficiency of Transition Assessment

When considering an array of possible transition assessments, it may be helpful for IEP Teams to think in terms of an All-Some-Few model. For all students on IEPs, the Team may already possess certain types of information (e.g., data from the MCAS, report cards, achievement tests, work-based learning, preference surveys, student or family interviews, etc.). For some students on IEPs, Teams may have or need additional types of information (e.g., personality surveys, environmental or situational analyses, adaptive skills assessments, etc.). For a few students on IEPs, the Team may have or need more in-depth information (e.g., adaptive behavior assessments, functional vocational evaluation, life skills inventory).

The question often arises: "How do we know we have conducted enough transition assessments?" Transition assessment is an individualized, question-driven process, in that the number and type of assessments which are appropriate to conduct for each student is determined by the number and type of questions about the student for which answers are needed.

Experience demonstrates that a Team is likely to have many questions about a younger student for whom the transition process is beginning; indeed, it is developmentally appropriate for all students who are 14 or 15, with or without disabilities, to have many questions about themselves. Students nearing graduation who have had appropriate transition planning since age 14 are likely to have a clear vision and well-understood skills; therefore there will be fewer questions to address.

The IEP Team's questions to guide transition assessment fall into three general categories:

  1. Who is the student (i.e., what are the student's needs and strengths)?
  2. Who does the student want to be, or what does the student want to do (i.e., what are the student's preferences and interests)?
  3. What is the fit between the student and the requirements of the educational, employment, and living environments into which the student plans to move when he or she exits high school?

The purpose of transition service delivery is to close the gap between the student's current skills and the demands of the student's intended future environment. Transition assessment enables the IEP Team to understand those gaps, and to plan how best to lessen or eliminate them. Depending on the individual needs of each student, examples of questions that can be addressed in post-secondary domains might include:

  • If the student would like to attend college, does the student have necessary academic, social, and functional skills?
  • Given the student's vision for employment, what experiences and educational opportunities does the student require now in order to be successful in that future occupation?
  • If the student currently lacks skills necessary to fulfill a postsecondary goal of independent living, and the Team determines this is an area of need, how will those skills be acquired?
  • If the student does not require an independent living postsecondary goal on his/her IEP, does the student nonetheless require functional IEP goals, perhaps involving the use of assistive technology, that will support the development of skills in areas such as financial literacy, healthcare, and/or self-help?9

As teens develop, it is expected that their postsecondary goals will change over time, as transition assessments and educational experiences in and beyond the classroom help them to clarify, refine, and communicate their vision and skills, and to better understand themselves and the demands of the future towards which they are working.

Types of Transition Assessments

Transition assessments can be formative or summative, and either informal or formal.

Formative assessments, such as quizzes, observations, running records, or short-term projects, are already used routinely on a regular (i.e., hourly, daily, weekly) basis to monitor student learning. They enable school professionals to see whether students are making progress and to create ongoing learning opportunities that are responsive to student needs. This type of "student progress monitoring" generally is summarized for the parent and student in progress reports during the course of the year. While these assessments are rarely specifically included in the IEP, unless there are notable patterns or findings associated with the progress monitoring activity, they provide important information to consider within the transition process and may help to inform annual skill-based IEP goals. Since general education professionals use formative assessments on a routine basis, these assessments can provide one avenue for the active and meaningful participation of general education teachers on the IEP team.

Summative assessments, such as a final exam, thesis, capstone project, or senior recital, are generally administered at the end of a term to provide a cumulative evaluation of a students' progress. This type of assessment is also often communicated to the parent and student in progress reports rather than in the IEP, again, unless there are notable patterns or findings associated with the completion of an activity. These too may provide important information to consider within the transition process and may help to inform annual skill-based IEP goals. Since general education professionals use summative assessments on a routine basis, these assessments, as well, can provide an avenue for the active and meaningful participation of general education teachers on the IEP team.

Informal assessments use non-standardized methods (e.g., interviews, inventories, curriculum-based assessments, criterion-referenced assessment), can be used in many settings and with many stakeholders in the student's life, and are useful in designing and evaluating the effect of instructional interventions. Unlike formal assessments, they may not allow comparisons with other students but can be used to establish a baseline and monitor progress. Informal assessment results may be reported to the parent and student through progress reports or in the IEP, depending on how they are used.

Formal assessments are standardized instruments that have guidelines for administering, scoring, and interpreting, and have been tested for reliability and validity. Scores can be compared across student populations. Formal assessments are almost always reported in the student's IEP unless they are not germane to the student's disability, or academic or non-academic functioning.

If the Team lacks understanding of how the student is likely to perform in varied environments such as the workplace, community, or college, or if a student has irregular and inconsistent performance, transition assessment information may be more helpful if it is collected across multiple settings at school (e.g., in an academic context and during "life of the school" and extracurricular activities), as well as in other settings such as home, community, and the workplace, and over time, and from a variety of people who know the student well (e.g., the student, family, teachers, agency personnel, friends, employers, coaches).10 Informal assessments can be developed to be flexible and well-suited to use in many contexts, with many stakeholders in the student's life.

It is important to remember that the student him/herself should be involved - as much as possible - in planning, implementing, and evaluating the assessment process. Students can be supported over time to assume increasing responsibility for driving their own assessment process. Guiding questions for students may be helpful, such as "What do I enjoy or dislike? What can I do well? What are my challenges? What would I like to do in the future? What skills do I have now? What skills do I need in order to overcome barriers and achieve my vision? How can I track my own progress towards acquiring these skills?" Families, who know the student in multiple contexts outside the school walls, are also essential partners in the transition assessment process.


The question often arises: "Is written consent required in order to conduct transition assessments?" The answer is, "It depends." Several factors determine the need for parental consent, or for the consent of students 18 years or older who have decision-making authority. Parental or student consent for transition assessment is not needed when:

  • the assessment is administered to all students in a class, at a grade level, in a school district building, or district-wide, unless consent is required for all students participating in the assessment.11
  • the assessment is conducted as a routine activity or assignment within the curriculum.

In addition, according to IDEA, consent is not needed for "screening for instructional purposes, because such screening is not an evaluation."12 Consent is not needed, also, to review existing data.13 Good practice dictates that educators conduct regular progress monitoring and discuss results and next steps frequently with students and parents, at least annually and certainly on a routine basis. Consent for progress monitoring is not required.

Therefore, schools are required to obtain consent for only those individual transition assessments that are:

  • not administered to all students,
  • not part of a routine or informal classroom activity, and
  • not part of ongoing progress monitoring.

In this way, consent requirements for transition assessment are the same as those for any special education assessment and are generally required only for formal assessments given specifically to that one student and not to all students in the class or instructional group, in order to determine the student's needs, strengths, preferences, and interests related to further education/training, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills.

For any transition assessment that does require consent, the school district is required to provide or arrange for the provision of the transition assessment of the student within 30 school days upon receipt of consent from the parent, or from the student 18 years or older who has decision-making authority.

Documenting Transition Assessment in the IEP

A student's IEP Team may choose to record transition assessments and their results in several places on the IEP. However, so that all IEP readers can easily obtain a comprehensive overview of each student's assessments, the DESE recommends that all transition assessments be listed on IEP 1, under Student Strengths and Key Evaluation Results Summary, recording the student's educational and functional performance, strengths, and needs; progress towards goals; personal attributes and accomplishments; preferences and interests.

As is the case with any IEP, information from assessments should also flow through the document as a whole. Since each section of the IEP has a different function, results of transition assessments should serve various purposes.14 For example, the PLEP section facilitates instructional planning by providing a bridge from the Key Evaluation Results Summary to instructional intervention. Thus, in the PLEP section a discussion of results from transition assessment(s) can give information on how the identified disability(ies) impact the student's overall participation in the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the life of the school. Under Current Performance Level for each annual goal focus, transition assessment results may shed light on the student's current skill level in that particular focus area. Each focus area, whether academic (e.g., writing, reading, or math skills) or functional (e.g., organization, personal care, career awareness, self advocacy, or self regulation skills), builds skills that will make the biggest difference to the student during one school year. Each year's annual IEP goals build skills, year over year, which will promote the eventual realization of the student's vision/postsecondary goals.


According to IDEA, IEPs for students of transition age must include "appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills; and the transition services (including courses of study) needed to assist the [student] in reaching those goals."15 Our state's goal is that all students will have "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."16 In the rich context of Massachusetts' rigorous general education program, a carefully planned process of individualized, appropriate assessment and corresponding services for students on IEPs aged 14-22 helps prepare our youth to move confidently toward the future they have envisioned.

1 See, for example, Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14, Administrative Advisory SPED 2011-1: Age of Majority, Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process.

2 Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2009-1: Transition Planning to Begin at Age 14.

3 Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process.

4 See Massachusetts Student-Driven Secondary Transition Visual Model.

5 34 CFR §300.320(b)(1).

6 34 CFR §300.320(b)(1).

7 34 CFR §300.43(a)(2).

8 For further discussion of the clear cause-and-effect relationship between the student's transition assessments and postsecondary goals, and the student's annual IEP goals and transition services, please see Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process.

9 For information on which postsecondary goals are required by IDEA 2004 for students of transition age, please see Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process.

10 See Age Appropriate Transition Assessment from the Division on Career Development and Transition (DCDT), in collaboration with the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC).

11 34 CFR §300.300(d)(1)(ii).

12 34 CFR § 300.302.

13 34 CFR §300.300(d)(1)(i).

14 see IEP Process Guide

15 34 CFR §300.320(b)(1)(2).

16 Massachusetts G.L. c. 69, §1

Last Updated: April 9, 2014

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.