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Excerpt of GAO Report on Federal Assistance to States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth

This is an excerpt from the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report, entitled Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth. The full report (66 pages) is available in PDF format at http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-773. You will need a PDF plug-in such as Acrobat Reader to download this file. For more information on viewing PDF files, please go to NCSET's information page on downloading PDF files. You may also view & print this 3-page excerpt in Microsoft Word to share with your colleagues.


July 2003

Government Accounting Office Report: Special Education

Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth


Why GAO Did This Study

States receive federal funds under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to help students with disabilities reach their postsecondary goals, and various federal programs offer services that can assist these youth. However, research has documented that youth with disabilities are less likely to transition into postsecondary education and employment. Congress requested that GAO provide information on (1) the proportion of IDEA students completing high school with a diploma or alternative credentials, and their postsecondary status; (2) the transition problems being reported and state and local actions to address them; and (3) the types of transition services provided by the vocational rehabilitation, the Workforce Investment Act youth, and the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency programs, and the factors affecting participation of IDEA youth.


What GAO Found

Of all IDEA youth who left high school during the 2000-01 school year, 57 percent received a standard diploma and an additional 11 percent received an alternative credential. High School completion patterns of IDEA youth have remained stable over recent years despite concern that states’ increasing use of exit examinations would result in higher dropout rates. Students with some types of disabilities were much less likely, however, to complete high school with a standard diploma, receiving an alternative credential or dropping out instead. IDEA youth without a diploma have some options for entering employment or postsecondary education, but national data on their post-school statues are over a decade old. Twenty-one states routinely track students’ post-school status, but these data have some limitations. While most states used post-school data for program improvement purposes such as monitoring service delivery, some officials indicated that guidance was needed on how to best collect and use these data.

A variety of transition problems, such as lack of vocational training and poor linkages between schools and service providers, have been consistently reported by students, parents, and others. While state and local educational agencies have taken actions to address some of the problems, other problems such as lack of transportation are less likely to be addressed at the state level. While state Directors of Special Education reported being generally satisfied with assistance provided to them by the Department of Education in addressing transition issues, some expressed concerns about the timeliness of the federal feedback on their state improvement plans and inconsistency in the quality of technical assistance proved by the six federal Regional Resource Centers.

The vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, the Workforce Investment Act youth program (WIA), and the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency (Ticket) program all offer an array of employment and education-related services that can aid some IDEA youth. However, several factors my impede participation by the IDEA populations that are eligible for service. The lack of participation may be explained in part by the insufficient capacity of the VR and WIA programs to serve eligible populations requesting services, and because of employment income. A general lack of awareness by youth and families of these programs may also limit participation.


Conclusions

Youth served under IDEA are not a homogenous population, and graduation patterns and postsecondary education and employment status can differ significantly among those with physical, sensory, emotional, or cognitive disabilities. IDEA requires individualized education programs that address needed transition services that recognize the unique challenges each youth with a disability must face. These programs can best be developed when states and schools have the necessary information to evaluate how well existing programs are working to assist youth during and after graduation. State education officials increasingly show interest in collecting data on what happens to IDEA youth after they leave high school, and nearly half of the states voluntarily collect such data. Many state, however, are still searching for ways to develop cost-effective and sound data collections systems and there is no central information point to share alternative methodologies that may be most useful for identifying which groups of IDEA youth are behind their peers and whether programmatic changes are needed to eliminate performance gaps. In the absence of guidance and information on how to collect and use postsecondary data, state and local education agencies and schools will continue to experience difficulties in evaluation the effectiveness of existing programs for students with disabilities, initiating program improvements, and targeting resources to areas or groups that need them most.

Although state and local education agencies are taking steps to minimize transition problems for youth with disabilities, challenges such as developing linkages between schools and community youth services providers still remain that need to be addressed both inside and outside of the educational system. While Education provides some federal resource to help state and local education agencies address these problems, the usefulness of the assistance may be compromised because of delays and inconsistent quality of some services. Some transition challenges are likely to remain unless federal assistance is strengthened and used to help states take a more holistic approach to dealing with transition issues.

Federal assistance provided under the VR, WIA, and Ticket programs can help augment transition service provided by state and local education agencies, or fund transportation or other services that are otherwise unavailable. While these services are intended to help youth overcome barriers to a successful transition, this assistance cannot be provided if youth, parents, and education officials are unaware that these services exist. In the absence of improved coordination among federal agencies to provide these customers with information on the array of available federal resources, youth eligible for such services will not be able to use them in their efforts to achieve a successful education or employment outcomes.


Recommendations for Executive Action

To expand the availability and use of data on the postsecondary employment and education status of IDEA youth, we are recommending that Education collect and disseminate information to states on sound strategies for collecting these data and appropriately using these data for program improvements.

To enhance federal assistance provided to states to help them address existing transition problems, we are recommending that Education develop an action plan with specific time frames to

  • provide states with feedback on state improvement plans to address education and transition problems of IDEA youth and
  • ensure consistency in the quality of technical assistance provided to states by its regional resource centers.

Finally, to increase awareness of available federal transition services, we are recommending that Education take the lead in working with other federal agencies to develop strategies for using the federally mandated high school transition planning process to provide IDEA youth and their families with information about the full complement of federally funded transition services.


This is an excerpt from the US Government Accounting Office (GAO) Report, entitled Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth. The full report (66 pages) is available in PDF format at http://www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-773. You will need a PDF plug-in such as Acrobat Reader to download this file. For more information on viewing PDF files, please go to NCSET's information page on downloading PDF files. You may also view & print this 3-page excerpt in Microsoft Word to share with your colleagues.


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