Special Education:

Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth

GAO-03-773: Published: Jul 30, 2003. Publicly Released: Jul 31, 2003.

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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.

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 concerns 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 status 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 provided 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 may impede participation by the IDEA populations that are eligible for services. 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 potential concerns of Ticket participants about losing public assistance because of employment income. A general lack of awareness by youth and families of these programs may also limit participation.

Status Legend:

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  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    Recommendation: To enhance federal assistance provided to states to help them address existing transition problems, Education should develop an action plan with specific time frames to ensure consistency in the quality of technical assistance provided to states by its regional resource centers.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: To address our recommendation, although the Department of Education provided some training to its regional resource centers, it did not develop an action plan with specific timeframes to ensure consistency in the quality of technical assistance provided to states by its regional resource centers.

    Recommendation: To enhance federal assistance provided to states to help them address existing transition problems, Education should 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education has been providing states with more timely feedback on their state improvement plans to address education and transition problems of special education youth. Education's response timeline to the state plans prior to GAO's recommendation ranged from 2 months to over 14 months. According to Education officials, its responses are now averaging about 4 months.

    Recommendation: To expand the availability and use of data on the postsecondary employment and education status of IDEA youth, Education should collect and disseminate information to states on sound strategies for collecting these data and appropriately using these data for program improvement.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education has established two main mechanisms, a community of practice and the National Post-School Outcomes Center (NPSO), to collect and disseminate information to states on sound strategies for collecting post-school outcome data of IDEA youth and on usage of these data for program improvement. The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, funded by Education, offers a technical assistance community of practice which helps identify and disseminate research-based practices that address post-school outcome data collection and usage. The NPSO's primary functions include knowledge development and technical assistance, and its activities include conducting a national survey of data collection strategies and dissemination of relevant information on strategies and procedures.

    Recommendation: Finally, to increase awareness of available federal transition services, Education should 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.

    Agency Affected: Department of Education

    Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The Department of Education held a meeting with other federal agencies and states to develop collaboration amongst cognizant entities involved in the transition process. It has also taken action to work with federal agencies and others to develop strategies to provide IDEA youth and their families with information on federally-funded transition services. For example, Education funded the National Post-School Outcomes Center, which began its work in 2004. The Center disseminates relevant information on improving results for post-school youth with disabilities through its user-friendly web site and technical assistance; and facilitates consensus-building among parents on outcomes to be measured. In June 2005, Education sponsored a National Leadership Summit on Improving Results for Youth in collaboration with 23 federal agencies (including Labor and SSA), national organizations, families and youth. The Summit developed action plans to, among other things, disseminate information on comprehensive transition services to families and youth and provide for additional accessible information and trainings for families and youth. The National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, a technical assistance and dissemination center funded by Education, analyzed the Summit's action plans and identified priorities, such as the need to work with parent training and information centers to fully inform and engage families. In a separate effort, parents from the federal Technical Assistance Alliance for Parent Centers, which helps develop, assist and coordinate Parent Training and Information Projects and Community Parent Resource Centers under IDEA, developed several transition-related information and training resources for parents. In 2006, Education convened a National Employment Conference on Transition into High Demand Industries to promote collaborative relationships between state vocational rehabilitation agencies and employers. Finally, the agency organized a Youth Development and Leadership National Summit to be held on August 16-17, 2007 to share useful information related to youth development and leadership programs, such as transition services for disabled youth.

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