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Developing post-secondary goals to guide the transition plan

When developing an IEP, defining and creating plans to achieve post-secondary goals is critical to the transition process

Every student and team needs to know what they are striving for, not just what is expected while in high school.

Post-secondary goals identify what the student hopes to achieve after leaving secondary school and identify the student’s long-term goals for living, working and learning as an adult. Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) in every state must include measurable post-secondary goals. In Massachusetts, post-secondary goals are currently documented in the student’s vision statement. This aligns with the expectation that as students reach what the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and individual states define as “transition-aged,” the vision statement begins to focus more intently on the outcomes that are expected for the student after graduation.

Understanding post-secondary goals

Post-secondary goals are appropriate, measurable, annually updated, and based upon age-appropriate transition assessment and must include these three areas:

Icon: student in a classroom

Post-secondary education / training

Icon: an upturned palm holding a large piece of currency


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Independent living

How do post-secondary goals differ from annual goals?

Measurable post-secondary goals are not goals that will be achieved in the calendar year or even while the student is on an IEP. It’s helpful to look at the formula for writing post-secondary goals prior to team meetings, keeping “after high school” in mind throughout the IEP process.  

The formula for writing a post-secondary goal, adapted from the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), should include the following elements:

Post-secondary goals for college, work, supported living, and integrated community participation, help set the stage for the identification of transition services, including courses of study and annual IEP goals.

The IEP must also contain annual goals that directly pertain to the student’s post-secondary goals and transition service needs.

Given the student’s disabilities, what skills does the student need to build this year to be able to attain their post-secondary goals in the future? For example, a student who wants to attend college may need annual goals related to technology, executive functioning, self-determination and college-level academic skills; while a student who plans to participate in community-based integrated employment may need to build communication, self-regulation and on-the-job skills.

Annual IEP goals should be based on the student’s disability-related needs and also their post-secondary goals. 

Post-secondary goals guide the planning for activities that prepare the student to move from school to post-school activities, and the discussions with appropriate public and private community agencies regarding how they can contribute to the student’s transition process. 

The National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTTAC)

How does a transition assessment support post-secondary goals?

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Post-secondary goals are based on a student’s strengths, interests, needs and preferences, all of which change and evolve as the student grows, learns and develops a greater sense of self. 

Transition assessment helps to capture the evolution of the student in those areas and to ensure post-secondary goals are appropriate and relevant. 

It is not unusual for post-secondary goals to change several times throughout a student’s high school experience. It’s important for school teams to help students and families understand how assessment results inform their future goals related to work, education and training, and independent living.

The ability to use their assessment information to develop goals is one of the most important skills students will need if they are to become more active participants in the transition planning process.” 

(IRIS Center)

Here are some questions to consider as the team is developing post-secondary goals for a transition focused IEP: 

(Indicator 13 Checklist)

For more information and resources, read Transition Goals: What are they and why do they matter in the IEP process? from Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children and Adolescents (NESCA).

Ready for more? Read this.

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A practical approach to team-based action planning

A committed team and a coordinated approach are critical to building a strong action plan.

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