Transition 101

Foundational concepts

Work through the sections below for a foundational understanding of transition concepts, or to refresh your knowledge.


The purpose of special education according to IDEA is to provide all children with disabilities a “free appropriate public education designed to…prepare students for further education, employment, and independent living”.

Transition planning and programming is a P-12 concept that all program faculty need to solidly understand. Most Special Education preservice programs stress the importance of transition planning and programming including the IDEA transition requirements but often this concept is not consistently addressed across a program.

Transition planning focuses on designing activities and strategies for individuals with disabilities that are based on their interests and goals for life after high school.  All too often both special educators and programs get lost in the academic supports and needs without providing the transition context that is so important for student success after high school.

Transition 101 provides you an opportunity to build transition knowledge or review concepts you learned earlier in your career.  Many resources exist about transition, and it’s easy to get information overload.  The resources here have been used by other faculty who have found them useful.

The basics

If you are new to transition, work through the following resources to get a good basic grounding in transition concepts:

1. Complete an online training module

Helping Students with Disabilities Plan for Post-High School Settings is a free online training module from the Iris Center at Vanderbilt University. It focuses on the transition process from high school to postsecondary settings and takes about one hour to work through, using a combination of reading, videos and audios. The optional assessment takes another 15-30 minutes. Module outline

2. Watch an overview of transition planning.

If you like to learn by watching, try Jim Martin’s one hour Transition 101 overview of transition planning, recorded at the 2020 NTACT:C Capacity-Building Institute. He covers a lot of interesting territory, including evidence bases and eight big ideas.

3. Watch several short videos about transition IEP requirements

Picture of Ed O'LearyIn 2010 Dr. Ed O’Leary and Dr. Steve Bigaj recorded 17 short interviews on elements of the transition-driven IEP process and Indicator 13 IEP requirements. The interviews provide clear, high-level overviews that capture the essence of good transition planning.

If you’re more of a learn-by-reading person, work your way through the Transition IEP Tool pages, which also include the videos.

4. Browse introductory articles on transition

Transition Education and Services from Birth to Adult for Individuals with Disabilities, from NTACT, is a one-page summary chart that give a good big picture view.

Life After High School Transition Tool Kit is an 80-page guide for New Hampshire families from the NH Parent Information Center. Skim it for a good overview.

A Transition Guide to Postsecondary Education and Employment for Students and Youth with Disabilities (PDF, 60 pages, 2020) is a comprehensive overview of how state, local school districts and Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) work together with students and families to plan for the future. It links elements of good transition planning back to the related legislation. From the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services U.S. Department of Education.

Many examples of transition services and course of study: Revised Transition Services: Helping Educators, Parents, and other Stakeholders Understand Postschool Outcomes, Course of Study, and Coordinated Set of Activities (MSWord, 28 pages, 2009)

5. Review the Preservice Transition Competencies

Keene State College has developed a set of transition competencies for preservice special educators. They’re also useful for experienced educators and higher education faculty to enhance their own knowledge base. Details of the competencies and their key elements

Do a self-assessment of your mastery of transition competencies

Assess yourself against the 31 key elements that make up the six core transition competencies in:

  • Student-Focused Planning (2)
  • Student Development
  • Collaboration
  • Family Engagement
  • Program Structures

Go to the Drive Change in Your Own Practice section of the website to do the self-assessment and review resources to close your knowledge gaps.

Resources for teaching others

Below are resources to help you learn what you need in order to teach transition concepts to others.

Transition IEP Requirements

The Transition IEP Tool on this site is a multimedia training and reference tool about the transition IEP process. It covers what must be part of the process and what must be written into the IEP itself. Work through the pages to learn or remind yourself about Indicator 13 requirements and best practices.

Legal requirements

There are five major pieces of federal legislation that form the current web of rules and customs of the special education world:

The above links take you to user-friendly explanations at the Parent Center for Information and Resources. You can also find information on the first four at US Government sites:

New Hampshire as its own standards. New and revised Chapter Ed 1100 New Hampshire Standards for the Education of Children with Disabilities became effective March 24, 2017. There is an extensive resource, Guide to the NH Standards for the Education of Children with Disabilities (PDF, 282 pages, 2018) that includes supplemental text for each reference cited in the NH Standards.

Find more on the Transition Law reference page.

Free online transition training modules

Helping Students with Disabilities Plan for Post-High School Settings, from the Iris Center at Vanderbilt University, focuses on the transition process from high school to postsecondary settings. Among other topics, it discusses IEP planning, engaging students in the process to make them better advocates for their own needs, and the importance of outside agencies such as vocational rehabilitation. Module outline

The CEEDAR Center offers course enhancement modules (CEMs). This one, Transition Planning and Services, teaches preservice candidates and in-service teachers a framework for designing effective transition programs and services. It is divided into six hours of content, with each hour building on previous information and resources. However, the sessions can stand alone with content embedded into a class or professional development session.

The Transition Coalition at the University of Kansas provides ten free research-based online training modules for professionals and others involved in transition planning. These modules use up-to-date research and were tested by practitioners across the country. The modules include best practices in transition, working with families, transition assessment, career development, transition for youth with ED/BD, cultural diversity and self-determination.

Developing a High-Quality Transition Plan, from Transition Tennessee, contains eight video lessons with additional reading and resources. They cover compliance and best practices for the transition component of the IEP, as well as how to involve students in  their own IEP meetings, and the roles of other key players in the IEP meeting. The lessons range from five to 31 minutes.

Transition competencies, related standards, and recent literature


The Transition Competencies for Preservice Special Education Programs were developed in 2014 and revised in 2018 by the Next Steps NH project to enhance special education teacher candidate knowledge and skills about transition. There are six core transition competencies and 31 corresponding key elements. The standards are not required for New Hampshire state certification, but are intended to enhance curriculum efforts by providing a set of important transition skills and knowledge for beginning special educators.

Related standards and models

The Council for Exceptional Children’s Advanced Special Education Transition Specialist Standards (PDF, 6 pages, 2015) were the primary guide for the development of the transition competencies. These standards have been used as guidelines for job descriptions, in college and university educator preparation programs, and as rubrics to access the knowledge and skills of transition specialists and teachers.

The transition competencies were framed by Paula Kohler’s Taxonomy for Transition Programming (PDF, 12 pages, 1996) in order to connect to the larger context of established transition program improvement areas. The Taxonomy is a model for planning, organizing, and evaluating transition education, services, and programs.

A larger group of authors (Paula D. Kohler, June E. Gothberg, Catherine Fowler, Jennifer Coyle from Western Michigan University) recently released an update, Taxonomy for Transition Programming 2.0 (PDF, 16 pages, 2016). 

The National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center (NSTAAC) developed guides to help educators improve their skills and knowledge about specific transition-related competencies. Each guide lists competencies, when an educator needs them, and online resources to address gaps.

Recent literature

Teacher Preparation to Deliver Evidence-Based Transition Planning and Services to Youth With Disabilities, by Mary E. Morningstar and Valerie L. Mazzotti (PDF, 58 pages, July 2014), describes an innovation configuration matrix to guide teacher preparation professionals in the development of appropriate transition planning and services content. An innovation configuration is a tool that identifies and describes the major components of a practice or innovation.

National websites

National websites

The Center for Parent Information and Resources (CPIR) houses a large collection of transition information, written in a conversational tone, about different aspects of special education.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities improves the lives of people with learning difficulties and disabilities by empowering parents, enabling young adults, transforming schools, and creating policy and advocacy impact.

WestEd’s National Center for Systemic Improvement (NCSI) helps states transform their systems to improve outcomes for children and youth with disabilities. NCSI provides technical assistance to support schools in improving educational results and functional outcomes for children and youth with disabilities.

The National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT) assists State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, State VR agencies, and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices ensuring students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment. NTACT is the successor project to NSTTAC (National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center) and their website houses many of the NSTTAC resources.

The Parent Information Center on Special Education is New Hampshire’s Parent Training and Information Center. Since 1975, the PIC has been providing information, training, and support to families who have a child with a disability to help them be effective team members in the special education process.

The National Parent Center on Transition and Employment, from Minnesota’s Parent Training and Information Center (PACER), keeps the needs of families at the forefront and helps youth with disabilities find success in postsecondary education, employment, and life in the community.

State transition websites

These websites were developed for specific states, but much of their information applies to all:


Other good sites:

New content 2/13/24