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2005 National Leadership Summit on Improving Results for Youth

Concurrent Session Notes

Improving Results for Youth with Disabilities: What Can We Learn from NLTS2?

June 14, 2005

Dr. Susan Hasazi, Moderator

Dr. Mary Wagner, Director, Center for Education and Human Services, SRI International, Menlo Park, CA

Dr. Wagner presented selected findings of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2). NLTS2 is a congressionally mandated, OSEP-funded study to assess over a 10-year period the characteristics, experiences, and results of a nationally representative sample of secondary school-age youth who were receiving special education services in 2000 and who will transition to young adulthood over the course of the study. The study includes more than 11,000 students in 12 special education disability categories who were ages 13 to 16 when the study began in 2001. Percentages are weighted to be representative of students as a whole and in every disability category. Data are collected through surveys of parents, youth, general education teachers, and other school staff, as well as from student transcripts.

Dr. Wagner said the most important transition goals reported by NLTS2 student participants are to gain competitive employment, live independently, attend college, and get postsecondary vocational training. Other NLTS2 data highlights relevant to the five NASET National Standards framing areas are presented below.


  • Ninety-nine percent of students with disabilities take academic courses. More than 90% take language arts courses, and more than 90% take mathematics courses.
  • Between 1986 and 2002, academic course taking by students with disabilities increased significantly (an 11% increase for math, 13% for social studies, 21% for science, and 25% for foreign languages).
  • Eighty-eight percent of special education students took at least one course in a general education setting, and 27% took all courses in general education settings. At the same time, 70% took at least one course in special education and 9% took all courses in special education settings.
  • From the original NLTS to NLTS2, there was a 9% increase in academic course taking in general education settings and an 11% decrease in academic course taking in special education settings. During the same period, there was a 27% increase in non-academic course taking in special education settings and a 10% decrease in non-academic course taking in general education settings.
  • Students with learning disabilities, speech impairments, and other health impairments (e.g., attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) have higher rates of general education course taking than do students in other disability categories.
  • Some modification of the curriculum is done for 52% of students with disabilities in general education academic classes. The extent of modification in general education academic classes varies greatly by disability category.
  • Ninety-three percent of students with disabilities in general education academic classes get some type of accommodations or modifications; 75% get more time in taking tests.

Career Preparation

  • Thirty-four percent of students with disabilities took prevocational education and 52% took occupationally specific vocational education courses in a single semester.
  • From 1986 to 2002, vocational education course taking decreased 7% for all disability categories.
  • Eighteen percent of high school students with disabilities received no vocational services or supports, 51% received career skills assessments, and 44% received career counseling.
  • Sixty-four percent of students with disabilities had some kind of regular paid employment in the prior year; 16% of students were paid $4.50 or less per hour.

Youth Development/Leadership

  • Nearly 60% of youth with disabilities who were able to respond strongly agreed that an adult at school cares about youth, and more than 30% strongly agree that they feel part of school.
  • Two-thirds of schools did not require community service for either general education or special education students.
  • In a given semester, 72% of students took physical education, 48% took fine arts, 35% took life skills/social skills, and 10% took self-advocacy training.
  • Fifty-one percent of students received reproductive health education or services, 39% received substance abuse education or services, and 27% received conflict resolution/anger management training. More than half of teachers reported that students not participating in these programs should be participating in them.
  • Youth who are out of school and could respond themselves largely perceived that they are able to make their own decisions, express themselves, get what they want by working hard, make good choices, make choices that are important to them, and know the services they need to deal with their disabilities.
  • At least one-half of students perceived that they knew how to get the information they need, could get school staff to listen to them, felt useful and important, could tell others their age how they feel if others upset them, and could handle pretty much whatever comes along.

Transition Planning

  • According to school representatives, transition planning is done for about nine-tenths of students with disabilities, about two-thirds of students with disabilities have received instruction in transition planning, and three-fourths of students with disabilities have a course of study likely to achieve transition goals.
  • School representatives reported that 69% of students with disabilities took a leadership role or provided some input into transition planning.
  • Eighty-five percent of youth with disabilities had a parent/guardian and 97% had a special education teacher participate in transition planning.
  • One-third of parents and one-third of students said they wanted to be more involved in individual education plan (IEP) and transition planning decision making.

Connecting Activities

  • One-fourth of students with disabilities reported having case-management support, but the percentage varied across disability categories.
  • According to school representatives, the most frequently identified post-high school service needs of youth with disabilities were postsecondary education accommodations and vocational services.

Contacts made in transition planning for youth with disabilities were most often made with vocational rehabilitation programs, other vocational training programs, colleges, postsecondary vocational schools, and job placement agencies.

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