Transition Assessment FAQs

This page includes introductory questions and answers as well as more advanced ones. Please feel free to submit additional questions using Contact Us, the last toggle on our About Us page.

For an introduction to transition itself, see Transition 101 on this site.

For a big list of transition assessments in a variety of areas, see Transition Assessment List on this site.

Transition assessment basics

What is transition assessment?

Transition assessment is an ongoing process of collecting information about strengths, interests, preferences and needs using formal and informal methods.

There are many options for transition assessment. The best results tend to come from a combination of formal and informal tools and methods. Why? Formal assessments show the student’s academic or functional strengths and needs compared to others their age (e.g., standardized testing or adaptive behavior assessments), while informal assessments tend to be more brief, and focus on progress with specific skill development (e.g., self-advocacy or money management).

Our Transition Assessments List organizes assessments into categories and whether they are formal or informal.

How do I figure out which one(s) to use for a student?

The right transition assessment varies from student to student, because students vary in their readiness for adult life. A combination of a formal assessment of academic and functional strengths and needs, combined with informal assessment of interests and preferences (e.g., questionnaires or interviews), is usually a good starting point. After that initial point, ongoing assessments should be introduced annually or more often after that, depending on the student.  

Transition assessment should answer three questions:

  1. Does the student know where they’re going after high school?
  2. Do they know their strengths and needs related to where they are going?
  3. Do they know how they are going to get there?

How do I make it an ongoing process for a student?

Once discussions about life after high school have begun (no later than age 14) the team should ask themselves the following questions each year in preparation for the annual IEP meeting:

  1. Does the student know where they’re going after high school?
  2. Do they know their strengths and needs related to where they are going?
  3. Do they know how they are going to get there?

Select further formal and/or informal transition assessments based on the amswers to these questions. Use the student’s responses to revise postsecondary goals and to add transition services and annual goals that address needs. Repeat next year. TADA!! You have an ongoing process.

Do you want a worksheet? 

This section walks you through using a tool to create an ongoing transition assessment process with one student. The tool is straightforward. You can just think your way through it if you don’t want to fill out a form today.

Think about a student with whom you’d like to practice the concept of transition assessment as an ongoing process. Choose a 14 or 15-year old student so that you can see how a multi-year plan plays out.

You are going to use the Transition Assessment Planning Tool from OCALI (Ohio Center for Autism and Low Incidence).

  1. Print out the first two pages of the Transition Assessment Planning Tool (PDF).
  2. Page 1: Write down what you know and what you don’t know about the student’s future living and learning interests and preferences. Include gaps in information and areas of concern.
  3. Page 2: Write down ideas for activities/assessments in the upcoming years which will give the student and IEP team meaningful information about the student’s understanding of themselves in relation to their postsecondary goals. Add additional assessment activities to address gaps and concerns not already covered. Note potential activities for future years, depending on what the student will understand or need in coming years. Note: AATA stands for Age Appropriate Transition Assessment.

    The result is your plan for ongoing transition assessment for this student. You will have considered when as well as what information you and the student will need in order to see how the student is progressing in acquiring skills and closing gaps over time.

    Page 3 provides a format for tracking the implementation of your plan over multiple years and updating it as needed over time. You may find it useful later or you may design your own form.

  4. Update the IEP with specific actions from your plan for the coming year. They go in transition services and annual goals as appropriate.

How does transition assessment fit with reaching compliance with Indicator-13?

Indicator 13 is one of  the performance measures that the federal government uses to monitor state compliance with Federal special education laws. About Indicator 13

Indicator 13 measures minimal compliance with Federal law. For an IEP to be in compliance, there must be evidence that measurable psg were based on transition assessment. This standard can be met with just one transition assessment. There is no requirement that this assessment be part of an ongoing process. There is also no compliance standard regarding the use of either formal or informal assessments.

However, the information in this FAQ and the rest of the NextSteps site focuses on effective and evidence-based transition practices. Effective transition assessment  is ongoing and multiyear and uses both formal and informal methods.

For more on Indicator 13 compliance, read through the Transition Assessment page in our Transition IEP Tool. It includes: 

  • the actual NH Indicator 13 requirement
  • essential elements to consider
  • bringing out the student’s voice
  • examples of results and how you would document them in the IEP
  • background information in video format

How do I organize the transition assessment process for different students?

Think of transition assessment as a pyramid divided into three levels (tiers). This can help you organize the range of transition assessments you could use to meet a variety of student needs. Your student’s particular needs will determine which tier(s) you use.

  • First tier assessments are used school-wide to evaluate academic competency, future career interests, education interests, and disability-related education challenges. School counseling often administers these.
  • Second tier assessment tools are for students who have been unable to isolate specific goals or interests through first tier tools, or whose goals are not yet aligned with their skills and abilities.
  • Third tier tools provide highly individualized and detailed information to accurately identify the student’s strengths, interests, preferences and needs.

First tier assessments

Start with figuring out what you need to find out about the student. Once you know what you are seeking, the next step is to see if school counselors may already have that information. If they have, you can use those results in a conversation with the student.

The conversation is important. The school counseling tool results can be sufficient to identify a student’s interests, preferences, strengths, and needs. However, to be considered transition assessment, the results and how they relate to the student’s post-school goals must be discussed with the student. 

For example, 

  • Standardized testing can help a student understand their academic strengths or needs for the field they are interested in. 
  • Interest inventories, guidance and counseling tools for career exploration and career interest class projects can help a student discover an interest in a field, from entry level jobs to careers requiring extensive training.
  • WIAT/WISC can help a student identify what aspects of their disability may present challenges in a particular pathway, and what accommodations might be needed. 

These are first tier assessments. It’s the responsibility of the IEP team to evaluate the student’s understanding of how this information relates to their post-school goals and determine if additional (second tier) transition assessment is needed.

If your student is not able to participate effectively in first tier assessments due to limited reading ability, inexperience, a lack of decision-making skills, or other barriers, you may decide to start with second tier assessments.

Second tier assessments

Second tier assessment tools are more personalized and often more informal. Examples are:

  • informational interviews 
  • career maturity rating scales 
  • work-related temperament scales 
  • self-determination assessments 

Combining information from the first and second tiers can provide the additional information needed to create appropriate postsecondary goals and identify needs for transition services and annual goals. 

If you need still more information, use third tier assessments.

Third tier assessments

Third-tier assessment examples are:

  • functional behavioral analysis 
  • vocational assessment 
  • life skills assessment 
  • results of person-centered planning 

More resources

The Transition Assessments List on this site provides links to many transition assessments and tools. The list divides assessments into several categories, e.g., self-determination, independent living.

If you want to learn more about tiered frameworks, read Tiered Interventions and Secondary Transition Planning for Students with Disabilities: 101 (PDF, 19 pages, 2012 ). It is an article (with illustrations) for considering how to individualize transition assessment across a group of students.

Are there specific assessments I could use based on a student’s disability?

Start with the answers to three questions: 

  1. Does the student know where they’re going after high school?
  2. Do they know their strengths and needs related to where they are going?
  3. Do they know how they are going to get there?

What does the student need to be able to provide information about these questions? Provide accommodations if their disability is a barrier to participating in the type of assessment you typically use. If that is not what they need, find an alternative format that meets their disability and transition needs.

For example:

If these resources are not available in your building, or don’t address the student’s disability or transition needs adequately, ask the student’s related services providers for ideas, contact NH-based organizations like the area agency for developmental services, Future In Sight or Northeast Deaf and Hard of Hearing; and look to national websites designed for specific disability types that provide best practice solutions for specific disabilities, like Deafverse from the National Deaf Center.

Meeting students where they are

Avoid imposing the education system’s needs on your student. Instead, do your best to meet them where they are socially and emotionally in order to help them make forward progress. Remember that students and families may not be at the same place of readiness or understanding as an education professional.

What do I do when a student’s goals seem unrealistic?

Take the case of a student who wants to be a pro baseball player but does not currently play baseball. 

You know that the first step of student-focused and compliant transition planning is to develop measurable postsecondary goals based on transition assessments. But, some student dreams are not based on their current strengths. How do you incorporate that into their IEP without being a dream killer? 

Remember that transition planning is intended to help the student engage with whether they have the skills and abilities to achieve their stated goals. The student who wants to become a pro baseball player, but doesn’t currently play, needs to discover if they have the commitment to work hard to build those skills and abilities, or if they should seek employment in a related field, or pursue baseball as a hobby, or rethink their goals.  

Sometimes an IEP team falls into the trap of asking a student about their hopes and dreams, then moves ahead to create a plan in their IEP that doesn’t reflect those hopes and dreams. To truly prepare students for their future, teams instead can assess student self-determination skills, and then address identified needs in the IEP. 

Self-determination assessments can help identify where and how to help the student build key components of self-determination like self-awareness and self-advocacy.  The AIR and The Arc’s Self-Determination Scales are frequently used tools. See the Self-Determination toggle on our Transition Assessments List page for more information and links.

How do I get a student to talk about their future without triggering anxiety?

These tips will help you help a student overcome nervousness or discomfort when talking about post-school planning. If they are already experiencing anxiety, and don’t want to talk, defer the conversation until a later date and seek out someone who works with them for specific suggestions on how to best engage the student on a conversation about the future.

  1. Use a basic informal interview transition assessment to get started, and keep it conversational. Before you get started, ask them if there is anything specific that you should avoid asking questions about.
  2. Let the student know that this assessment is not the same as other tests they’ve taken. There is no grade, and the right answer is an honest answer.
  3. Ask them if there is someone they trust, who helps them feel less anxious, who could join you for this conversation.
  4. Have them tell you about a project they liked and dive into the specifics of what they liked about it. 
  5. Explain that transition planning is about learning how to set goals, to work towards those goals, and then change the plan if it’s not working.
  6. Your role in this assessment process is to help them identify their strengths, interests and preferences. Avoid offering your opinions, judging or reacting to their answers in the moment. 
  7. Let them know that the plan can change and they are not a bad person if it does. Helping them and their family understand this can help them manage reactions to changes in the plan. 

Deeper understanding

Becoming comfortable with the deeper aspects of transition assessment will build your skills and help you do a better job with students.

How can I use assessments done by an outside agency?

Yes, schools and outside agencies have transition assessments that may cover the same ground. You can collaborate and share results and save the student from answering the same questions and perhaps disengaging from the process.

For example, a service provider might use one of the tools below. The IEP team can request the results and use them as part of the ongoing transition assessment process:

  • TRAQ from Services for Children with Special Healthcare Needs
  • SIS from NH Bureau for Developmental Services
  • PreETS Workshop worksheets from VR New Hampshire

How do we help parents and students understand the usefulness of transition assessment?

Students and families need to understand the purpose of transition assessment before they learn about the results. They should be included in the process of deciding what assessment tools to use. 

Be sure they understand that transition assessment is NOT an evaluation. For example, interest inventories are NOT predictors of future success in a particular job. They are tools to be used in an ongoing process of determining what the student is interested in and prefers to put effort into. 


Parents often want their child to become more independent but aren’t sure how to make that happen. Self-determination opportunities and the student’s capacity to make decisions and plans for themselves may be the barrier in these situations. Self-determination is one of the most overlooked types of transition assessment.  

Self-determination assessments can help identify where and how to help the student build key components of self-determination like self-awareness and self-advocacy.  The AIR and The Arc’s Self-Determination Scales are frequently used tools. See the Self-Determination toggle on our Transition Assessments List page for more information and links to them.

How to get better at it as a practitioner

If you are supervising staff in this type of work, or trying to reflect on your own practice, the Next Steps NH Student-Family Engagement Checklist (PDF, 1 page) can help you:

  • review and reflect on the extent to which you use specific practices
  • recognize areas where you have mastered a practice
  • identify areas needing improvement

If you are a practitioner using this for self-assessment, use the checklist to review what happened during a specific interaction, reflect on what you did and did not do. If you have the opportunity, you will get even better results by asking a coach or peer to use it to provide specific feedback following an observation. The two of you can review what happened during a specific interaction, reflect on what practices were used and which were not, and explore your mastery and deep understanding of particular practices.

If you are a school practitioner working with outside agency professionals, and there is an issue with family engagement, you could use this checklist to assess whether the team as a whole is taking steps to engage the family, and to identify improvements steps.

How do I develop a process for the department I oversee?

If you’re responsible for a large population of students with varied transition needs (e.g., establishing schoolwide transition assessment procedures), having procedures different instruments and allocating staff resources may be concerns for you. 

Here’s a step-by-step process:

  1. Meet with the department, group or team to describe what you are trying to achieve.
  2. Ask what’s being done currently that can be considered transition assessment.
  3. Assemble a list of what’s being done, by whom, and when.
  4. Discuss what’s missing for assessment options with the department, group, or team. For example, you may be missing an assessment for a specific population of students or a specific gap in skills.
  5. Research methods and tools for addressing this by searching the Transition Assessment List, or by reaching out to a local or state partner or the Transition Community of Practice

Team Professional Development

The Transition Coalition periodically offers Building a Transition Assessment Toolkit. It is a free, supported 12-week team self-study focusing on building a Transition Assessment Toolkit.

The content on this page supports the Next Steps NH Preservice Transition Competencies. The competencies are not required for state certification, but provide a set of important transition skills and knowledge for beginning special educators or those whose programs did not include a focus on transition.

Our thanks to the professionals who tested this new page with us. Their insights and honesty greatly improved the page, as well as leading to usability improvements on many other pages. We are grateful to Leanna Avery (Bedford High School), Dawn Breault (Hollis Brookline High School), Amy Garceau (NHED), and Ansley Peacock (NHFV).

Updated 10-18-23