CA Dept. of Education


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Secondary Issues Archive 2013


Linda Sanguinetti
Education Specialist

Linda Sanguinetti, M.A., is an Education Specialist at the Diagnostic Center- Northern California. She has twenty five years of special education teaching experience at the elementary and high school levels serving student with a variety of needs. Currently at the Diagnostic Center she participates in multidisciplinary assessment teams and works with several high school classrooms helping to implement evidence based practices. She also conducts trainings in the area of Transition.


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  • Transition Assessment


As several of my students get ready to graduate from high school, I receive many calls and questions regarding how Special Education is handled at the college level. Can you give me a quick overview of the differences?


Moving from one educational system to another is very exciting. It also comes with a variety of changes and challenges. It is important to realize that there will be many differences along the way. It is important to begin preparation for this transition as early as possible.

Going to school will look different in many ways:

  • Treatment-You are an adult now
  • Structure- Fewer rules and regulations
  • Responsibility- YOUR decisions, actions and lifestyle
  • Expectations-People will expect more of you
  • Subjects- Free to explore numerous paths and interests
  • Ways of teaching- Facts are less important, big picture is more important
  • Ways of learning- Big lecture, small group, labs, study groups
  • Levels of competition- Less mastery of information, more on how you perform related to peers
  • Day to day- Schedule different each day; living arrangement may also be on campus

There are also differences in disability law:

K-12                                                                    College

IDEA and Section 504

ADA and Section 504

FAPE and Access


School districts is responsible for identifying, evaluation and planning

Must meet all criteria for enrollment and participation; only accommodations required

School district provides special instruction and supports based on IEP

Student is responsible for self-identification and obtaining documentation ( including cost of assessment)

Parent or guardian primary advocate

Student responsibility for notifying staf of their disability and needs for accommodations

There are many things that can be done in preparation:

  • Know how to advocate for yourself and where to find support and answers to your questions as you transition from one system to another.
  • Know your unique learning style and where your strengths and challenges are.
  • Make sure that your Individual Transition Plan documents your vision for the future.
  • Make sure that your “Summary of academic achievement and functional performance”, provided by your district, includes recommendations of accommodations, supports and resources that are accurate and inclusive of everything that works.
  • Know what AT devices meet your needs well in advance of your senior year and make sure these supports are adequately documented on your IEP.

Thank you for your question and I hope that the suggestions are helpful.


  • Transition Assessment


What is Transition Assessment?


I often hear this question as educators work to develop postsecondary goals. We are very familiar with assessment tools to determine achievement, intelligence, and speech goals but often educators are unsure about tools that can be used to assess transition. If we start by looking at what IDEA 2004 states, we can get to the intent of the law: “Beginning no later than the first IEP to be in effect when the child turns 16, or younger if determined appropriate by the IEP Team, and updated annually, therafter, the IEP must include:

  1. Appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessment related to training, education, employment, and where appropriate, independent living skills.”

Remember that with all assessment the purpose is to determine goals. Transition assessment drives the postsecondary goals and services. Transition goals (training/education, employment and when needed, independent living skills) will naturally flow when the transition assessment leads the student to reflection, exploration, and preparation.

Transition assessments can be formal or informal.

Formal Assessments

Informal Assessments

Adaptive behavior scales


Independent living assessments


Aptitude tests

Direct observation

Interest inventories

Interest inventories

Career development measures

Anecdotal records

On-the-job or training evaluations

Environmental/situational analysis

Measures of self-determination

Preference assessments

Transition assessment is a continuous process. An ongoing collection of data of the student’s needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future working, educational, living, and personal/social environments should be occurring all year long.

Person-Centered Planning is the key to quality transition planning. Try to answer the following questions through your Transition assessment process:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What are my unique talents and interests?
  3. What do I want in life now and in the future?
  4. What are the min barriers to getting what I want from school and my community?
  5. What are my options for achieving my goals?

There are a variety of ways to build a successful Transition assessment process. It can be as individual as your students are. Remember to keep it meaningful, age-appropriate and ongoing.

Thank you for your question and I hope that the suggestions are helpful.


  • Reading Comprehension


I’m working with a parent of a 9th grade student with difficulty comprehending text, likely due to low average to below average range vocabulary and deficits in executive functioning. While he does relatively well in self-contained classes that provide a lot of scaffolding, he has difficulty in his general education classes, particularly earth science, where a lot of his grade is based on test performance (information from the text book). What would you recommend for accommodations, including those that may help him better access and retain information from text?
The team currently has the following in place to address these concerns:

  • Word/vocabulary bank
  • Use of notes on tests
  • Shortened tests
  • Extended time on tests
  • Visual support (graphic organizers, colored sticky notes) for reading comprehension/memory
  • Introducing materials in advance (videos, lecture notes, etc.)
  • Previewing material in advance
  • Audio text

Any additional strategies or specific tools/resources would be great.




Thank you for your question. It sounds as though your educational team has put into place many excellent strategies. The student you describe is having a difficult time demonstrating his knowledge. Often test performance from a text book format does not parallel how the information has been presented in class. Students with deficits in executive functioning will require support during the learning process.

Consider the following teaching strategies for students with executive functioning deficits:

  • Use systematic and explicit instruction
  • Relate instruction to real life experiences
  • Minimize load on working memory
  • Offer novel opportunities for guided practice
  • Predictable and consistent routine
  • Anticipate frustration

Another consideration is the low to below average vocabulary range of your student. Building connections between the lessons presented in class and the material learned will require on-going scaffolding of the curriculum in all of your student’s classrooms. Curriculum that is functional, meaningful and engaging will make those connections possible. California Department of Education recommends the principles of Universal Design for Learning (UDL) to support students:

  • Provide multiple means of representation
  • Provide multiple means of action and expression
  • Provide multiple means of engagement.

Finally, with the focus today in education to get our students “college and career” ready, always remember to use the Individual Transition Plan (ITP) assessment process and post-secondary goals to drive the IEP for your student. Research tells us that there are many promising practices that lead to positive outcomes in education, employment and independent living. The top four include:

  • Inclusion in general education
  • Work experience
  • Independent living skills
  • Student support

Thank you for your question and I hope that the suggestions will help.


  • Family Support of Employment Goals


What can families do to support employment goals?


The reauthorization of IDEA in 1997 strengthened the importance of parental involvement in the IEP process. In developing the transition plan, we address post-secondary goals in the area of education/training, employment and when appropriate, independent living. This is an excellent opportunity to work together with parents.

When we look at employment options we need to consider the “hard” and “soft” job skills. Stanford Research Institute reports that the lack of specific job skills is not necessarily a deal breaker. Most employers are willing to train, and expect to train, for entry level jobs. The really important factors in job success are the non-technical or “soft skills”. There are many ways that families can practice these skills at home.

  • Raise the bar-Consider what the “typical developing” peer would do.Encourage your young adult to be as independant as possible.
  • Personal appearance -Appropriate dress varies in different situations.Hygene basics (teeth brushing, daily shower, clean clothes, body odor) are expected in the workplace.
  • Problem solving-Provide opportunities to give input to solve common problems such as cleaning the house, accommodations for guests, budgeting and making decisions on recreational activities.
  • Responsibility and self confidence-Employers want workers who are responsible enough to show up on time and do the tasks they are assigned. Chores in the home are an excellent way to build responsibility, work ethic and task completion.
  • Taking direction from others-Families can help youth understand that they should not be offended when they are given directions at home, school, or at work, as taking directions is an important part of being an employee and helping a business get its’ work done.
  • Team work- Teamwork is required in most workplaces and there is a strong expectation that people will work together to meet the goals of the company.Helping others by volunteering, allows young adults to feel like they are part of a team as they gain work experience.

While school programs and the work force are seen as the main suppliers of these supports, it is important to remember that families play a vital role as well. Everyday activities in the home are an excellent way to build work skills. By providing youth with disabilities multiple opportunities to practice skills, they will have a much better chance to be successful in the work place.

  • Evidence-Based Practices


My district has just had staff development that focussed on Common Core State Standards and compliance of IEP’s. I teach at the high school level and also need to consider transition planning. I am feeling overwhelmed trying to incorporate so many elements into my daily lessons.Can you suggest a resource that will help me cover my bases?


This is an excellent question. It seems that the role of a secondary special educator has expanded to include so many responsibilities! It is very overwhelming planning for functional, academic, and vocational educations; advocating for students in IEP and transition planning; conducting instructional and transition assessments; determining accommodations/ modifications; and facitlitating student achievement. Teachers also need to focus on the expectations of No Child Left Behind (NCLB, 2002) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA, 2004).

I recommend that you take a look at the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC) website at

In 2006, when NSTTAC was funded by USDOE Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP), one of its objectives was to identify evidence-based practices (EBPs) in secondary transition for student with disabilities.
Using EBPs in your classroom has many benefits:

  • Evidence-based practices provide information about what teaching methods in secondary transition have been effective in helping students with disabilities learn specific skills.
  • Evidence-based practices can be used to support IEP goals and objectives as well as skill development.
  • EBPs are based on high quality research.
  • Using EBPs also saves you time!

Currently on the NSTTAC website you will find “EBP E-Flyer 2013”. This flyer contains lesson plans that are ready to go! Each lesson shows:

  • How it relates to Indicator 13 (compliance)?
  • How it relates to Common Core Standards?
  • With who was it implemented?
  • What and where the practice was implemented?
  • The best place to find out how to do this practice? (Lesson Plan)
  • References

Thanks again for your question. I encourage you to take a look at this valuable resource and hope that it helps.

Linda Sanguinetti

  • Unrealistic student career goals


When discussing future careers with my students, some seem to have unrealistic dreams…NFL football player, doctor, engineer, get a scholarship, etc. How do I guide them toward goals that are more appropriate?


Answering the question,”What do you want to be when you grow up?” is a tough question for most of us…. our students with special needs will require more support than most. While studies show that goal setting increases positive behavior and engagement in the classroom, many students tend to have unrealistic career goals and either overestimate or underestimate their potential for a particular job. Through the Individual Transition Plan (ITP) planning process there are many options to help and encourage, yet gently redirect our students toward more attainable goals.

Begin with age-appropriate transition assessments. Transition assessment is an ongoing process of collecting data on the individual’s needs, preferences, and interests as it relates to the demands of current and future education, training, employment, and independent living. There are many ways to do this including:

  • Inventories
  • Structured student and family interviews
  • Community or work-based assessments (situational)
  • Curriculum-based assessments

Here are two excellent websites that I frequently recommend:

    • This site includes an interest survey titled Assess Yourself that helps to identify strengths.
    • Related occupations can be explored in the Explore Job Families section. Videos, education requirements, wages, job outlook and skills needed are covered
    • The section called, Getting a Reality Check, explores the money needed to pay for housing, transportation, food, clothing, etc.
    • This is an interactive/information site for career exploration and job analysis.
    • O*Net Online has detailed descriptions of the world of work as well as inventories for your students to learn more about their own work preferences.


The data from this assessment can assist in developing instructional programming decisions, and assist your students in learning about their strengths, preferences and dreams to better prepare them for taking an active role in the transition process. In developing measurable postsecondary goals that will drive the IEP, it is important that it all makes sense to your students…..they need to see the connection between what they are doing in the classroom and how it relates to the real world.

So, let’s say that you have a student who dreams to become a veterinarian someday, but you know that they have not attained the level of achievement necessary to enter college. After exploring the above websites, you may be able to redirect this particular student to a related field such as becoming an animal groomer, working or volunteering at an animal shelter, or working at a pet store. Again, with proper assessment and meaningful measurable post-secondary goals, your students may be able to successfully modify their career goals.

Thank you for your question and I hope that the suggestions and resources will help. I feel that involving the student as much as possible in their ITP process makes transition more meaningful and something to look forward to.

Good luck!

  • Middle School student with Selective Mustism(SM)


Dear Linda,

I am a public school based SLP in CA. What is the correct way to qualify a student for services that has a dx of SM? He has great grades (i.e. 4.00), so I wouldn’t way his disability is affecting his access to the curriculum, but it is affecting his ability to engage socially with others while at school (flat affect, body posture, very few initiations; he will respond verbally, lack of eye contact). He currently has a 504 plan with accommodations with RTI Speech Therapy (eligibility=fluency). This was the way it was given to be when he entered 6th grade. Doesn’t seem quite right… I appreciate any feedback. Please advise as to how to proceed. Thanks!

Kate Grillo
Speech - Language Pathologist


Hi Kate,

I have consulted with Betsy Caporale, Speech-Language Pathologist, AAC/AT Specialist to assist in answering this question.

Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a failure to speak in social situations despite speaking in others. According to the DSM-5, “the disturbance is not better explained by a communication disorder (e.g., childhood-onset fluency) and does not occur exclusively during the course of autism spectrum disorder, schizophrenia, or another psychotic disorder.”

Often SM interferes with academic performance but this does not appear to be the case with your student, however; he sounds like he is suffering socially and has difficulty establishing friendships which is also another characteristic of students with SM. Your student may qualify for special education services as a student with a pragmatic language disorder combined with an anxiety disorder, but not a fluency disorder.

We would highly recommend that you and the school psychologist collaborate closely with his teachers to develop strategies that will enable him to participate in class and establish social relationships with peers. This will likely require a higher level of intervention than what his current 504 plan can provide. Interventions may include feeling charts and augmentative/alternative communication (AAC) strategies such as gestures, writing and communication books or boards. It is critical to educate all staff about the characteristics of SM, so that the student is not misunderstood as being non-compliant, unsocial, or uncooperative. Your student needs a multidisciplinary team that understands Selective Mutism and will systematically and consistently apply interventions to help him reduce his anxiety, increase active participation in school learning activities and develop sustained relationships with students and adults at school.

With the increased pressure for peer interaction at the middle school level and beyond, it is very important to address the pragmatic language and anxiety difficulties that accompany a student with Selective Mutism as early as possible. The long term goal is for communication to support successful post-secondary living and quality of life.

The Diagnostic Center-North offers two trainings on the topic of Selective Mutism that are designed for SLP’s and collaborative school teams. Please visit our website ( for more information regarding these trainings including dates and locations of upcoming trainings.

Thank you for writing about this important issue. We are seeing more and more cases of SM in the school setting, especially among older students. Please keep us posted as to the progress of your student.

Linda Sanguinetti, M.A., Education Specialist