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March 2023 – Link Lines

Read Educator’s Lesson:
Changing Course: Transition Tactics for Secondary Educators
by Shelley Littleton, M.S.

Administrators at both middle and high schools should work together to support students, families, and teachers to facilitate smooth transitions from middle to high school. Students with disabilities making this transition should receive the supports and services necessary to set them up for post-secondary success. Collaboration between schools will ensure the most positive experiences and outcomes for all stakeholders.

In Virginia, transition planning must be a part of the Individual Educational Program (IEP) process during the year a student turns 14 or earlier (Virginia Department of Education [VDOE], 2019). School administrators supervising special education at the middle school level should facilitate transition assessments and planning as part of the IEP process for all students with disabilities in grades 6-8. High school administrators need to make sure there is collaboration with middle schools to establish a productive transition program for students with disabilities. Effective transition planning that includes a thoughtful collaboration across grades 6-12 sets students up for success in high school and in their post-secondary lives.

Student voice plays a central role as students start to consider their lives beyond high school. The Virginia I’m Determined project offers several tools that can be used to facilitate the inclusion of student voice and development of critical self-determination skills that teachers can use to support this process. Administrators supervising this process should offer these tools to teachers and look for their use with students.

I’m Determined Tools (VDOE, 2020b)

While these tools have been designed to support students with disabilities, they can be used with all students to help them start planning for their post-secondary lives. Use of these tools with all students can help create a more inclusive and future focused transition experience for students during this important time in their lives.

School leaders at both the middle and high school levels should facilitate and expect that supports and services for students with disabilities are designed to build competence, autonomy, and relatedness (VDOE, 2022). Students experience competence when they feel like they have the skills needed to accomplish their goals (VDOE, 2022, 01:04). Autonomous students are able to exert control over what happens to them in and out of school by practicing life skills (VDOE, 2022, 00:16). When students feel like they belong to groups focused on shared interests and goals (e.g., sports teams, clubs, community groups, friend groups) they develop social skills and relatedness (VDOE, 2022, 01:41). Transition programs designed to build competence, autonomy, and relatedness will benefit all students, but this is absolutely necessary for students with disabilities. Administrators with an inclusive mindset will develop practices that build self-determination skills in students in grades 6-12. Students will need these skills to navigate any transition in life whether they plan to move directly into the workforce, trade schools, or higher education following high school graduation.

Click the image below to access an I’m Determined (VDOE, 2022) video about competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

School leaders who facilitate inclusive practices that are designed to develop self-determination skills in students with disabilities can expect to see students who experience better academic outcomes, better post-school outcomes, and higher quality of life (VDOE, 2020a). Waiting until a student turns 14 to begin the process of developing self-determination skills and conducting transition assessments may not be enough time to develop comprehensive future-focused plans. The earlier administrators facilitate this process, the more likely students are to be fully engaged in their own learning and skill development with long-term life goals at the center of IEP decision making. The educator’s lesson in this edition of Link Lines is a good starting point for classroom educators responsible for transition planning for students with disabilities in grades 6-12.

Transition planning for students during the year they turn 14 is supposed to be focused on post-secondary outcomes. Middle and high school administrators should make sure that post-secondary outcomes are a part of the process, but they also need to make sure they develop expectations and supports that specifically facilitate the delicate transition from middle to high school. Proactive school systems address transitions between elementary, middle, and high school levels for all students. As addressed in the last edition of Link Lines, students with disabilities have just made the transition from elementary to middle school. Middle school is a short period of time (i.e., 2-3 years) during students’ K-12 experiences compared to the 5-6 years spent at the elementary level and the 4 years spent at the high school level.

Administrators at the middle and high school levels should be prepared to develop and facilitate transition programs from middle to high school for students with disabilities that address social, environmental, academic, and structural adjustments. Students may need to adjust from a 7-bell schedule to a block schedule. They may need support focused on extracurricular activities (e.g., sports, clubs, community service). Some students require intensive reading or math interventions designed to close critical skill gaps during middle and high school. Transition programs may need to include options that support academic needs when block scheduling doesn’t include formal course enrollment in required English or math courses. Students who have significant reading or math skill gaps may need year long courses instead of semester long courses to make progress. Facilitating and supervising successful transition programs for students transitioning from middle to high school requires creativity and a focus on specific student needs.

School leaders who create conditions that facilitate transition programs designed to build competence, autonomy, and relatedness in students with disabilities can expect to see improved student outcomes over both the short and long term (VDOE, 2022). Inclusive and forward thinking administrators understand that investments in comprehensive transition programs build opportunities for success in secondary and post-secondary settings for students with disabilities.

Administrators can access the I’m Determined website for more tools and guidance regarding transition programs for students with disabilities. Technical assistance can be requested from Virginia’s regional Training & Technical Assistance Centers (TTACs).


Virginia Department of Education. (2019). Critical decision points for families of children with disabilities.

Virginia Department of Education. (2020a). Developing skills [Infographic]. I’m Determined.

Virginia Department of Education. (2020b). I’m determined.

Virginia Department of Education. (2022). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness [Video].

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