August 2005 • Vol. 4, Issue 4
By Mary E. Morningstar and Jeannie Kleinhammer-Tramill
After more than two decades of federal transition legislation, students with disabilities continue to have significantly poorer postschool outcomes as compared to their peers without disabilities. One reason for these outcomes is that educators are inadequately prepared to provide the services required under the Individuals With Disabilities Act (IDEA) (Anderson, Kleinhammer-Tramill, Morningstar, et al., 2003). The issues and challenges of providing coordinated transition services are complex and pressing, yet few special education personnel preparation programs include even one course devoted to transition (Anderson, et al., 2003). Furthermore, state departments of education often identify that primary training takes place on-the-job rather than through comprehensive professional development (Kochhar-Bryant, 2003). Consequently, state departments of education have targeted transition professional development as a priority for special education improvement grants and statewide planning (Kochhar-Bryant, 2003; Storms & Sullivan, 2000). Unfortunately, transition professional development is often hampered by a lack of clear policies as well as limited systems for planning, delivery, and evaluation.
Because schools rely heavily on special education teachers to implement and manage transition planning and services, it is disconcerting that teachers feel unprepared in those areas (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003). In a national leadership summit on improving results for youth with disabilities, more than 250 agency leaders, policy-makers, educators, parents, and youth with disabilities identified professional development for transition as one of the highest priorities for states (National Center for Secondary Education and Transition, 2004).
Professional development is defined as a comprehensive system of training and technical assistance (e.g., in-service training, mentoring systems, online courses, etc.). A critical feature of effective professional development systems is to tie pre-service training to ongoing in-service activities. Comprehensive systems of transition professional development focus on developing collaborative relationships among state and local educational agencies, other state agencies, service providers, and higher education. This brief will provide an overview of critical issues related to transition professional development and highlight current models of improving results for youth by supporting practitioners with pre-service and in-service training.
The 2004 Amendments to IDEA reflect a significant step toward a vision of special education that emphasizes successful postschool outcomes for students with disabilities. Today’s secondary educators must be prepared to provide culturally competent services promoting student access to challenging standards and opportunities linking academic learning to social and work experiences leading to successful adult outcomes. Unfortunately, secondary special educators feel poorly prepared to address the majority of their students’ transition needs (deFur & Taymans, 1995; Prater, Sileo, & Black, 2000). Teachers have reported a general understanding of transition problems, issues, and legal mandates yet they note little understanding of and experience with interagency and adult services or how best to support families (Knott & Asselin, 1999). More importantly, only those teachers who perceived that they had a significant transition knowledge base were likely to implement effective transition-related activities with their students. Blanchett (2001) found similar results; almost half of the secondary special education teachers surveyed reported being unprepared to meet their students’ transition needs.
Teachers want pre-service and in-service training to focus less on philosophical, historical, and legal foundations of transition and more on communication and interagency collaboration (Knott & Asselin, 1999). Teachers surveyed by Knott and Asselin (1999) said that training should move beyond “What is transition planning?” to “How do I accomplish planning that will lead to successful transitions?” (p. 3). The role of secondary special educators has shifted from involving traditional, school-based service provision to requiring coordination among all stakeholders during the transition process (deFur & Taymans, 1995; Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, & Lattin, 1999). Some speculate that practitioners fail to collaborate effectively during transition due to misperceptions, negative attitudes, and lack of training for such new roles (U.S. General Accounting Office, 2003).
Recent findings from a national survey of special education personnel preparation programs in the United States revealed that less than 50% of the training that teachers receive in higher education currently address transition standards (Anderson et al., 2003). In addition, 45% of all programs surveyed indicated offering a stand-alone course devoted to transition. While 70% of the instructors reported infusing transition content into other courses, they indicated that they devoted less time to transition competencies when using this method for content delivery. These findings are consistent with earlier research conclusions that embedding transition content into existing courses does not allow for adequate emphasis or coverage of important transition content (Severson, Hoover, & Wheeler, 1994).
Despite the availability of national standards for preparation of transition specialists (Division on Career Development and Transition, 2000), most states’ teacher licensure or certification policies do not make provisions for transition personnel (Kleinhammer-Tramill, Gieger, & Morningstar, 2003). Moreover, state policies may not include any transition-specific standards within general special education licensure. An estimated 30% of states show no evidence of transition-relevant standards or courses (Kleinhammer-Tramill et al., 2003). Given these findings, it is possible that state credentialing systems have significantly influenced the amount and intensity of higher education professional development and training. But states that offer transition specializations, certifications, pre-service training, and graduate programs were more likely to meet national standards for transition personnel preparation (Anderson et al., 2003).
The methods in which transition training programs were established in the past are rapidly disappearing, partly as a result of decreasing federal funding for transition personnel preparation (Kleinhammer-Tramill, Baker, Tramill, & Fiore, 2003). The current trend toward collapsing state special education certification to fewer and broader areas is also a factor. Another factor that supports or impedes transition personnel preparation programs is higher education institutional commitment to faculty specialization. Long-standing transition pre-service programs illustrate the importance of both federal and institutional support for professional training for transition personnel (Morningstar & Clark, 2003).
Over the past decade, researchers have investigated transition practices that improve postschool outcomes of students with disabilities. Consensus exists that secondary special education and transition professionals need instructional content (Blalock et al., 2003; DCDT, 2000). Morningstar and Clark (2003) describe five areas critical to any program offering transition personnel development:
These five areas are consistent with research in the field regarding effective practices toward positive postschool outcomes (Kohler, 1998). In addition, they reflect critical transition training needs identified across multiple states (Lattin, Dove, Morningstar, Kleinhammer-Tramill, & Frey, 2004). The recommendations of transition practitioners should be adopted (Knott & Asselin, 1999) and training content should focus on the “how to” and not just the “what is.”
Addressing the issues and challenges described above requires innovative responses such as acquisition of funding for pre-service training, delivery of online professional development, and establishment of Communities of Practice. The following are examples of each of these strategies.
Professional development for transition personnel can take many shapes and forms. What is critical is that the content for training is research-based and reflects current knowledge of effective practices; that there are multiple opportunities for collaboration at the state, local, and individual practitioner levels; that effective practices for professional development include concepts of Communities of Practice as exemplified by the Pennsylvania CoP; and that a seamless system of professional development is established that is initiated at the pre-service level and continues throughout all in-service training.
Mary E. Morningstar, Ph.D., and Jeannie Kleinhammer-Tramill, Ph.D., are both with the Department of Special Education, University of Kansas.
Allar, M., Kester, J., Kohler, K., Lupp, L., Romett, E., & Telthorster, B. (2004, March). Models of SEA and higher education partnerships for enhancing transition professional development: Pennsylvania’s Secondary Transition Community of Practice. Paper presented at the Office of Special Education Programs Joint Personnel Preparation/State Improvement/CSPD Conference, Crystal City, VA.
Anderson, D., Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., Morningstar, M. E., Lehmann, J., Bassett, D., Kohler, P., et al. (2003). What’s happening in personnel preparation in transition? A national survey. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 145–160.
Blalock, G., Kochhar-Bryant, C., Test, D., Kohler, P., White, W., Lehmann, J., et al. (2003). The need for comprehensive personnel preparation in transition and career development: A position statement of the Division on Career Development and Transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 207–226.
Blanchett, W. J. (2001). Importance of teacher transition competencies as rated by special educators. Teacher Education and Special Education, 24(1), 3–12.
deFur, S. H., & Taymans, J. M. (1995). Competencies needed for transition specialist in vocational rehabilitation, vocational education, and special education. Exceptional Children, 62, 38–51.
Division on Career Development and Transition. (2000). Transition specialist competencies: Fact sheet. Reston, VA: Council for Exceptional Children.
Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., Baker, B. C., Tramill, J. L., & Fiore, T. A. (2003). The history and status of OSEP personnel preparation policy for transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 131–143.
Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., Geiger, W., & Morningstar, M. (2003). Policy contexts for transition personnel preparation: An analysis of transition-related credentials, standards, and course requirements in state certification and licensure policies. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 185–206.
Knott, L., & Asselin, S. B. (1999). Transition competencies of special education teachers of students with mild disabilities. Teacher Education and Special Education, 22(1), 55–65.
Kochhar-Bryant, C. (2003). Building transition capacity through personnel development: Analysis of 35 state improvement grants. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 161–184.
Kohler, P. (1998). Implementing a transition perspective of education: A comprehensive approach to planning and delivering secondary education and transition services. In F. R. Rusch & J. Chadsey (Eds.), Beyond high school: Transition from school to work (pp. 179–205). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company.
Lattin, D. L., Dove, S. M., Morningstar, M. E., Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., & Frey, B. (2004). Transition professional development needs: Preliminary report of a multi-state survey. Lawrence: University of Kansas, Transition Coalition.
Morningstar, M. E., & Clark, G. M. (2003). The status of personnel preparation for transition education and services: What is the critical content? How can it be offered? Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 26(2), 227–237.
Morningstar, M. E., Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., & Lattin, D. L. (1999). Using successful models of student-centered transition planning and services for adolescents with disabilities. Focus on Exceptional Children, 31(9), 2–20.
Morningstar, M. E., Kleinhammer-Tramill, P. J., Lattin, D. L., & Tiemann, G. C. (2003, October). Enhancing transition professional development through SEA/IHE partnerships. Paper presented at the International Conference of the Division of Career Development and Transition, Roanoke, VA.
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition. (2004). A national leadership summit on improving results for youth: State priorities and needs for assistance. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota, Institute on Community Integration. Retrieved August 22, 2005, from http://www.ncset.org/summit03/findings.htm
Prater, M. A., Sileo, T. W., & Black, R. S. (2000). Preparing educators and related school personnel to work with at-risk students. Teacher Education and Special Education, 23(1), 51–64.
Severson, S. J., Hoover, J. H., & Wheeler, J. J. (1994). Transition: An integrated model for the pre- and in-service training of special education teachers. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 17(2), 145–158.
Storms, J., & Sullivan, L. (2000). Summary of funded state improvement grant applications in 2000. Eugene, OR: Western Regional Resource Center.
U.S. General Accounting Office. (2003, July). Special education: Federal actions can assist states in improving
postsecondary outcomes for youth. Washington, DC: Author.
Wenger, E., McDermott, R., & Snyder, W. M. (2002). Cultivating communities of practice. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.
Pennsylvania Communities of Practice for Transition
NCSET Web Topic on Professional Development
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