CA Dept. of Education


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Secondary Issues Archive 2001


Priscilla Harvell, M.A., CCC-SLP
Secondary and Speech/Language Specialist

Priscilla Harvell's expertise is supported by over 20 years in the field of Special Education as a Speech and Language Pathologist, Special Day Class Teacher and eight years as a Secondary Specialist for the Northern California Diagnostic Center.

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  • Culturally sensitive transition planning.


My special education students come from culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Some of the parents speak and understand English; however, I want to make sure that when I discuss the area of Transition in planning meetings that I practice cultural sensitivity. What are general tips that you have found useful and I should keep in mind during planning meetings?


I am glad you asked this question. As educators, we sometimes tend to project a narrow focus when it comes to cultural issues. However, if we desire parents to participate in transition planning meetings or, for that matter any other meeting, we must not presume our own vision is the "right" vision. Our vision for becoming a self-determined and self-advocating independent adult may not represent what some cultures value. So it behooves us to pay attention to those behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, and values that create effective communication across cultures. I hope the following tips and resources are useful, promote family participation in transition meetings, and are shared with your colleagues.

Tips to initiate and nurture family involvement:

  • Learn about effective communication strategies
    All family involvement should begin with effective communication that bonds the relationship between school and home. To establish two-way communication, begin by…
    • Creating a welcoming atmosphere in the meeting environment
    • Observing family communication patterns
    • Providing translators as needed
    • Valuing parents and making them feel important in their child's life
    • Listening more than talking
    • Eliminating professional and technical jargon
    • Acknowledge family fears/concerns 

  • Create a healthy climate that fosters the empowerment of families; ask yourself…
    • Do I believe that families are my equal and can provide "expert" information about their child?
    • Do I stop to listen to what parents and their children are saying?
    • Do I listen to the parent's point of view?
    • Do I speak plainly and avoid "intellectual" jargon?

      R. A. Hatter et al Transition to Adulthood, Nurturing and Working in Partnership with Parents During Transition, (2000, p. 214),

  • Plan informal visits or conversational opportunities 
    If possible, capitalize on informal contacts that occur during the school week, e.g., family-dropping off/picking up child from school. This creates a family comfort zone and families who become active partners rather than polarized participants in their child's transition planning.
  • Learn about the family's attitudes and beliefs toward disabilities
    Families may be uncertain about how the label "disability" affects their child's educational/transition planning. Do they see the importance of identifying a disabilities and the impact on their child's future? Is a child with a disability someone/thing to be hidden from public view? Exploration of answers to these questions is critical before transition planning discussions take place. Defining the implications for future career opportunities is a beginning step.
  • Find out what ideas the family views as important and their goals and dreams for their child's future 
    In addition to obtaining the student's ideas, preferences, and interests, it is valuable to do so with families as well. Find out what goals and dreams are important to them. You can then show acknowledgement of the family's ideas and statements by genuine acceptance, and writing a collaborative action plan implementing parent's goals. 
  • Learn about the family's attitude toward self-determination, self-advocacy, and adult independence
    Many families value group agreement and identity rather than their child's need to develop these independent life skills. It is up to you, the educator, to bridge the legal mandates and the family's values. Read a family focused on-line training at the Diagnostic Center Northern California's home page for information parents should know about Transition.
  • Make a home visit if possible
    Home visits tend to be less threatening and intimidating because the family is in a familiar environment. In addition, home visits offer the opportunity to observe family-child dynamics, family values, and materials common to the home that might be useful in transition planning. Remember that home visits take planning and should not be a spontaneous venture!
  • Use culturally sensitive assessment tools
    Try a variety of tasks, measures, and materials to assess student competencies. Include the family in the process. Use of such measures, in conjunction with the communication strategies cited above, should make information easier to share with family members.
  • Make sure meetings take place in locations and at times convenient for the family

    As you can see, many of the above tips overlap. Just remember that including diverse parents in the educational/transition planning process and implementing these tips is a continuous task. As a teacher, you must ensure active participation of ALL parents. However, with parent's from diverse ethnic groups, make sure you provide opportunities for increased understanding between the school and families, enrich their knowledge of the purpose of special education, and most of all provide open communication. An excellent resource is Developing Cross-Cultural Competence: A Guide for Working with Young Children and Their Families by E. Lynch and M. Hanson, Brookes Publishing Co.,

    Good luck and please encourage your colleagues to submit questions to our forum. Oh, before I sign off, please visit the following website for additional information on educational and transition planning:

  • Student-led IEPs.


I am interested in tips on how to help my students learn about their IEP/ITP process and how to be an active participant in their meeting. In other words, I need help with student-led IEP's! What is some curriculum that primarily focuses on the IEP meeting participation?



This is a great question and you have come to the right place for an answer! Student-directed IEP meetings are a concept that is catching on. In fact, California's Core Messages for Transition (CA 2001 Transition to Adult Living: A Guide to Secondary Education) includes five important points of which student-focused planning is number one. This planning is based on the student's dreams, interests, and preferences. As teachers, we have the responsibility to teach and provide practice in developing self-determination and advocacy skills that ensure student-focused planning. When students are empowered with these skills, they are ready to actively participate in their IEP meetings.

The following curriculums offer suggestions to help students learn to increase their involvement in and/or lead their IEP meeting:

A Student' Guide to the Individualized Education Plan and a Technical Assistance Guide: Helping Students Develop Their Individualized Education Plans

These materials were developed by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities. The materials include guides and audiotapes for teachers, students, parents, and administrators. One audiotape features students talking about their experiences at their IEP meeting. Other activities and supports that teachers can use with students are available in the Technical Assistance Guide, e.g., preparing them for the IEP meeting, supporting their participation during the IEP meeting, and providing follow-up assistance after the meeting. The student's guide is divided into the following sections:

  • What is an IEP?
  • How do I develop my IEP?
  • What to do before the IEP meeting
  • Writing the IEP
  • Getting ready for the IEP meeting
  • Participating in the IEP meeting
  • After the IEP meeting

    These materials are available from the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities (NICHCY), P.O. Box 1492, Washington, DC 20013-1492; (800) 695-0285,

ChoiceMaker Self-Determination Curriculum: Self-Directed IEP

This program focuses on three phases of the IEP process: 1) choosing goals, 2) expressing goals, and 3) taking action. The materials include a video titled the "Self-Directed IEP in Action" that introduces students, parents, and school staff with the IEP process. The video models eleven steps taught in the self-directed IEP process:

  • Begin meeting by stating purpose.
  • Introduce everyone.
  • Review past goals and performance.
  • Ask for others' feedback.
  • State school and transition goals.
  • Ask questions if you don't understand.
  • Deal with differences in opinion.
  • State the support you will need.
  • Summarize goals.
  • Close meeting by thanking everyone.
  • Work on IEP goals all year.

This program is available from Sopris West, 1140 Boston Avenue, Longmont, CO 80501, (800) 546-6747,

Next S.T.E.P.

This Curriculum (Halpern, Herr, Wolf, Doren, Johnson, & Lawson, 1997) consists of a set of lessons developed to help students plan for the future. The curriculum focus is to help students develop a transition plan for leaving school and beginning life in the post-secondary community. Materials include a teacher's manual, student workbooks, and a video. Most of the nineteen lessons can be completed in a 50-minute class session. The Next S.T.E.P. curriculum includes the following:

  • Areas of Transition Planning
  • Transition in My Life
  • Likes and Dislikes
  • Hopes and Dreams
  • Things I Do Well and Don't Do Well
  • Student Transition Skills Inventory
  • Student Plan Sheets
  • Transition Planning Meeting Schedule
  • Student Record of Milestone Events

    This program is available from PRO-ED, 8700 Shoal Creek Boulevard, Austin, TX 78757-6897, (800) 397-7633,


Middle and High School Transition Portfolio

I am proud to say that this curriculum was developed by the California Department of Education, Diagnostic Center North (Hatter, Harvell, Thoni, 1999). The primary purpose of the Transition Portfolios is to provide guidelines for special and general education teachers, and designated instructional staff in implementing activities that support student-focused planning. The benefits to students are twofold: 1) they are fun, and 2) students have a meaningful and tangible document that can be used during their IEP meeting and for post-secondary planning. The materials include a teachers' guide and a student portfolio that covers curriculum from grades six through twelve. The guides are divided into six sections:

  • Grade level Transition expectations
  • Instructional objectives
  • Teacher preparation/activities
  • Strategies
  • Standards (grades six through twelve)
  • Resources

You may contact me for further details on the effectiveness of the Transition Portfolios. This curriculum is available through the California Department of Education WorkAbility I Program in Sacramento, contact person Nellie Amaro (916) 323-3309,

These are only a few examples of curriculum that is available commercially. Please understand that the program suggestions described here will nee to be adapted to accommodate your students. The strategies should be implemented in various settings, e.g., home, school, and work. By doing so, you will help your students generalize their newly learned self-determination and advocacy skills.

Good luck and thank you for submitting your question. Do share this information with your colleagues and invite them to access our Ask a Specialist discussion website with their questions.

  • Tools for self-assessment and goal setting.


Is there a tool I can use to help my students learn more about themselves through self-assessment and setting goals? I teach special day class students at the middle school level. Thank you for any tips you have to offer.

Submitted by a Special Day Class Teacher.


This is a very good question! One tool that I have found to be quite useful in helping students learn about themselves is the personal portfolio. Students get hands-on opportunities to explore and learn the following things about themselves.

  • Strengths and challenges
  • Leaning styles
  • Personal values
  • Likes and dislikes
  • Problem solving and decision making strategies
  • Goal setting strategies

Once students develop self-awareness, teachers can help them apply their qualities to academic and career learning. Students can also share their personal portfolio contents with other students, parents and IEP team members.

The key to getting started is to tap into your creativity and desire to involve students in developing their own portfolios. The following checklist is intended to serve as a guideline ONLY. It should be customized to fit your needs and those of your students.

1. Decide on a time and place.

What forum (e.g., regular course, career exploration class) will you use to help your students begin developing their portfolios? Make sure ongoing support is provided throughout the portfolio project.

2. Decide what type of portfolio you will use.

There are various commercial samples on the market. You may also create one yourself.

3. Familiarize yourself with the sections of the portfolio before presenting the contents to your students.

4. Introduce the portfolio to the students.

Have students personalize their portfolio, e.g., name, statement, pictures. Discuss the positive outcomes of using such a tool.

5. Review the sections of the portfolio with your students.

Students should highlight the sections that will be worked on.

6. Choose only a few sections at a time to begin.

Ease into the process. If you build your curriculum and class assignments around the sections, time spent developing the portfolio will seem like a natural part of learning. Try to include community-based experiences into as many sections as possible. Use this project to tie into the state standards required by your school and state.

7. Help students learn to maintain and update their portfolios.

Keeping information current, organized and pages free of doodling" is an important aspect of learning how to use a personal portfolio. It teaches students respect and the value of maintaining their own work while allowing them to see tangible evidence of their accomplishments.

8. Lastly, have fun!

Students should see this as a creative and fun way of developing a personal document detailing their self-awareness attributes.

Remember these portfolio benefits:

  • Motivates students to take responsibility for academic and career planning
  • Supports accountability requirements (teachers and students)
  • Promotes collaboration with others
  • Includes meaningful self-learning
  • Provides demonstration of self-knowledge and self-assessment (students monitor their own progress and direction)
  • Develops thinkers
  • Develops creative planners
  • Encourages self-advocacy
  • Most important feature: facilitates student-centered planning


Web Links:

Website to explore:

Additional Transition Websites

  • Encouraging parent involvement in their childs post-secondary options.


I am a special day class teacher at the middle school level. Not only do many of my students have unrealistic goals but their parents do also, e.g., college bound child, honors vs appropriate curriculum focus, etc. I would like to know if you have suggestions that encourage parent involvement in their child's career exploration, self-awareness, and decision making that will create understanding lead to more realistic post-secondary options.


When working with students in exploring various options for after high school, it is best to include parents in the process as much as possible. Students ages 14 to 22 are required to have transition language in their Individual Education Plan (IEP). Some also have an Individual Transition Plan (ITP). To develop an effective plan, it is important to have to team of people who use a person centered planning approach. In person centered planning, the most important people on the team, in addition to the student, are the parents. To assist parents in developing an awareness and understanding of who their child is, based on his or her strengths, limitations, values, learning styles, etc., it is important to actively engage them in the self-awareness process that the students experience. In addition to involving parents in the meetings regarding their child's goals, consider having them do the following:

  • Attend IEP/ITP meetings where the discussion focuses on identifying their child's disability and its impact on post-secondary activities; career/academic learning; how career development opens doors to many opportunities; setting realistic goals with realistic expectations

  • Complete various surveys (personal values, learning styles, decision making surveys, career interest) and compare to the surveys completed by their child

  • Participate in transition fairs or transition weekends involving parents/students in career planning

  • Prepare a mini presentation in the classroom to share with students the type of job they have and the skills required to perform it

  • Explore web sites that offer parent training opportunities related to Transition, parent advocacy and other issues (see site below)

  • Observe their child in his or her own person centered planning activities, e.g., sharing information on disability awareness, role play, video taping mock IEP/ITP meetings

  • Identify current community and agency resources, who manages them, and how they are managed

  • Give input; they [parents] won't know if they don't ask 

In conclusion, remember, the more parents see that teachers care about and genuinely want what is best for their child, the more involved they become in the person centered planning process.

Web Sites:

This Parent-on-Line Training provides information on Transition Law/IDEA, opportunities to participate in various surveys, advocacy tips and valuable terminology related to Transition.

Additional Transition Websites

Additional Resources:

Reingold Associates (2000). Pathways to Success: A Career Planning Resource for Parents and Students. Published by North Carolina JobReady. Address: Department of Commerce/Workforce Outreach, 301 N. Wilmington St., 4331 Mail Service Center Raleigh, NC 27699-4331. 800/500-WORK;;

  • Making realistic career choices.


I am working in career advising with a Special Education student (a Senior in high school). Her learning abilities fall within the borderline M.R. range. Her teachers tell me that she wants to become a Massage Therapist. She has no work experience and is unrealistic about her abilities and resources. How can I assist her in making more entry-level, realistic choices? At this point, she has her mind made up and is uninterested in pursuing alternative career research.

Chris Simons, Vocational Services.


So many of our students harbor unrealistic career goals and dreams without understanding the necessary planning it takes to achieve them. Since this student is already a senior, time is definitely a factor as she prepares to enter the post secondary phase of her education. However, as educators, we want to guide students through a process that helps them realize their goal/dream without playing the role of dream "busters." I would hope this student has been involved in a student-centered transition planning process that includes the following activities:

• Active participation in the IEP/ITP team process;

• Completion of self-knowledge surveys - does she know her strengths, limitations, personal values, learning style and how these relate to the demands of her "dream" job as a massage therapist? Is she aware of, and can she effectively communicate, necessary accommodations to be a successful massage therapist? Is she able to communicate these characteristics about herself to others?

• Career exploration: has she had the opportunity to participate in job shadowing, volunteering, or internship experiences.

• Exploration of the Regional Occupational Program (ROP) available that offers job skills classes?

If the above areas have been covered and/or are ongoing, have the student try the following activities, with your guidance, of course:

• Visit the career center and research her dream career and possible options available in this line of work. Research should help her answer the following questions:

1. What kind of, and how much education do I need for this career? Where do I get it?

2. What classes do I need to take while in high school?

3. Have I taken the right electives to match my career goal?

Even though you say the student has made up her mind and refuses to look at other alternatives, you should encourage her to interview someone currently employed as a massage therapist to get their insight. Getting answers to the following questions may provide a reality check for your student:

1. What specific activities are performed on the job?

2. What is the job environment like?

3. What are the rewards/perks provided by the job (salary, work hours, etc.)?

4. How much training or education is required?

5. How much money can I make?

6. How will my strengths, limitations, values and aptitudes affect this job choice?

I hope the suggestions offered allow you to take advantage of the limited time available with this student. Check the following resources and useful websites for further information.

Web Links:


Additional Transition Websites

Additional Resources:

Career HandbookYoung Person's Occupational Outlook Handbook (1996). 

Based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. Published by Jist Works, Inc.

  • Dealing with unrealistic goals.


I have a 15 year old daughter "Sandy" who is in Special Education and all she talks about is becoming a "rock singer". Not only can't she sing, but Sandy is shy. What should I do?


Many adolescents have dream goals that are viewed by others as unrealistic. However, we never want to be a "dream crusher" because dreams are what motivate, inspire and encourage us to explore various options. Before I could answer your question, I would need to know more information about Sandy in terms of her abilities, disabilities, learning styles, personality and other issues that may interfere with her achieving her goals. Knowing these things will help you understand your daughter and her abilities as you facilitate the broadening of her "reality."

There are many ways to help your daughter broaden her "reality". Working with Sandy's teacher is one way of helping Sandy explore her dream. You and the teacher can guide Sandy through a planning profile that will enable her to identify the demands that come with being a rock star and comparing those demands with her own strengths and challenges.

Sandy's teacher and you can also help her explore how one becomes a "rock star" by addressing the following questions:

  • What strengths do I need to become a "rock star" (able to sing, dancing ability,  good memory)?" 

  • What resources are available to me at home, school and my community?

  • Do I need money to begin and who will support me during this time?

  • Is there someone I can interview who has had experience in the music field?

  • Do I need to finish school and go to college to realize my dream?

  • What happens to aging rock stars?  Is this really the career choice for me or are there other options within the music field I can explore?

Once Sandy has the opportunity to learn more about her dream career, she may discover that this is not a realistic choice and may choose to look into other areas in the music field. Consider the following resources to expand your knowledge:

Web Links:

A great web site designed by students with links to parent connections, parent and family, parent resources, and other valuable parent focused information.

Additional Transition Websites

Additional Resources:

Kilburn, J. (SWITP), et al (1998). Transition Plans: Guide to the Future; Published by California Department of Education, Special Education Division, Sacramento, CA; 916-445-4643. The focus of this document is on student-centered-planning and preparation that recognized the active involvement of parents and students in the decision making process.

Young Person's Occupational Outlook Handbook: Descriptions for America's top 250 Jobs (1996); Based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook. JIST Works, Inc. (317) 264-3720.

  • Collaboration in student transition planning.


I am a middle school special education resource teacher and understand the importance and value of collaboration in student transition planning.  What can I do to be more effective in this planning process?

Thanks for any suggestions you might offer.


Great question!  It is so important to include all the key players when planning for a student's future.  Remember, the focus is "student-centered" planning that begins early and involves the student in the process as much as possible.  In addition to including transition language in the student's Individual Education Plan (specifically in the area of instruction/course of study), consider the following suggestions:

  • Make sure the student and family are prepared to actively participate in the IEP process.  Empower them with self-determination and advocacy skills and the available resources in these areas.

  • Collect various student assessment information regarding student strengths, challenges/barriers and needed accommodations that make learning and exploration for students successful.

  • Learn about community resources, service learning projects, employment (volunteer opportunities), and educational and training options available in their communities.  

  • Explore various service agencies and the services they offer (how they work).

  • Share your knowledge and resources with other special and general education staff-persons involved on a student's IEP team.

  • For additional information, visit the resource and website references listed at the end of this section.

Web Links:  

MIDDLE-L is an excellent discussion list for anyone interested in sharing ideas, resources, problems, and solutions related to middle school education.  It is operated by ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (ERIC/EECE) at the University of Illinois.

Additional Transition Websites

Related Resources:

National Career Development Guidelines, NOICC Training Support Center, 1500 West Seventh Avenue, Stillwater, OK  74074-4364.  This source includes self-awareness, educational and occupational exploration and career planning for kindergarten through high school. 


  • Transition services requirements.


There is still much discussion and various interpretations regarding transition requirements in my school district.  Would you please clarify how transition services requirements under the 1997 Amendments to the IDEA differ for students 14 and those age 16?  What areas MUST I address re each age level?

Resource Specialist Teacher


There are a variety of resources that provide information regarding transition and its requirements.  For all legal purposes, the following statements should serve to answer your questions.

The statutes and federal regulations of IDEA require that beginning at age 14 (and younger if appropriate), a statement of the transition service needs of the student under the applicable components of the student's IEP must be included.  The required areas must address the student's courses of study(instruction) that may include participation in advanced placement courses or vocational education programs, e.g., Regional Occupational Programs (ROP).

Beginning at age 16 (or younger, if determined appropriate by the IEP team), a statement of needed transition services must be included in his/her IEP.  If appropriate, a statement of interagency responsibilities or any needed linkages must also be included.  In determining needed transition services, the IEP team must address, at a minimum, the following four components:

  • Instruction;

  • Related Services;

  • Community Services;

  • Development of Employment and other Post-School Objectives; and when appropriate, daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.

All activities in the above areas should be coordinated and based on the student's needs and should also consider the student's preferences and interests.  For more information and best practices, see Transition Services Language Survival Guide for California listed in the resource section.

Topics of Interest:

Middle School and Transition

With the advent of transition requirements ( I.D.E.A.) beginning  at the age of 14 and even younger, students'  in special education are expected to have transition language in their IEPs.  Many special education teachers and administrators are at a loss as to what this would look like.  Within the past two years, various articles have surfaced in an attempt to address this issue.  These articles explore the need for special education students to  apply basic skills within natural environments.  A variety of wonderful suggestions and strategies are offered to those looking for new ways of delivering transition services within a middle school setting.  Below are resources for those educators interested in middle school transition curriculum.

Web Links:   
Schools of California Online Resources for Education - SCORE
School-to-Work site designed by students for other students; offers links to other sites.
This site offers examples of how to connect academic and career outcomes for students.   
MIDDLE-L is an excellent discussion list for anyone interested in sharing ideas, resources, problems, and solutions related to middle school education.  It is operated by ERIC Clearinghouse on Elementary and Early Childhood Education (ERIC/EECE) at the University of Illinois. 

Additional Transition Websites

Additional Resources:

Beakley & Yoder(1998),  Middle Schoolers Learn Community Skills. The Council for Exceptional Children, Teaching Exceptional Children, 30 (3),             

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), Amendments of 1997 P.L. 105-17, Revised Transition Services Language Survival Guide for California, September 1998; revised by Muffin Kent and Bob Stodden, prepared for the California Department of Education, Special Education Division by Sonoma State University. 

National Career Development Guidelines, NOICC Training Support Center, 1500 West Seventh Avenue, Stillwater, OK  74074-4364.  This source includes self-awareness, educational and occupational exploration and career planning for kindergarten through high school.

Wehman, P., Kregel, J, 1997, Functional Curriculum for Elementary, Middle, and Secondary Age Students with Special Needs;  Pro-ed, Austin, TX  78757-6897; 800/897-3202.

Young Person's Occupational Outlook Handbook (1996).  Based on the U.S. Department of Labor's Occupational Outlook Handbook.  Published by JIST Works, Inc.