Transition From the Secondary to the Postsecondary World For Students With Disabilities
According to the National Council on Disability (2003a), students with disabilities and their parents need to be better informed about the differences in the rights and responsibilities of schools and students as they move from high school to higher education. The result is that students are often harshly surprised rather than prepared for the disparity between the two levels of education (2003, p. 8). In secondary school, the teachers and other school professionals share the responsibility for the educational success with the student, but in higher education it is up to the individual. Students must have the skills to advocate for their needs in college or on the job, skills they may not have learned in high school.
Self-Advocacy Skills Needed for Postsecondary Participation: It’s Up to the Student.
Only one-half of secondary schools have specific curriculum to teach secondary students self-advocacy and self-determination skills (Study of State and Local Implementation and Impact of the IDEA, 2004; U.S. Government Accountability Office, 2003d). However, most states are now emphasizing transition services and are working to ensure that students with disabilities who need such services are provided with adequate planning and support.
Postsecondary school is different from secondary school in many ways. Class schedules are flexible, class offerings are varied, classes may be located in different buildings, and books and tuition can be very costly. Students are expected to take full responsibility for their progress and to spend much more time and effort on independent study. For students living on campus, there is a wide variety of social and special interest opportunities, and often a great sense of freedom from parental supervision. Success is now up to the student.
Laws Governing Secondary and Postsecondary Settings Are Different.
For students with disabilities, the laws governing special assistance in the postsecondary setting are different and change students’ experiences in several ways:
- While high school decision making is parent driven, students in postsecondary settings are responsible for identifying their disability, providing documentation, and requesting assistance (student driven).
- Disability services personnel make decisions about services based on the “reasonable accommodations” requirements of the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and not on services prescribed by the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
- Students make decisions about the services available; there is no professional team to decide for them.
- Students with disabilities often have to repeat the process of requesting services and accommodations each year (National Center for Secondary Education and Transition, 2003).
Under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, it is not mandated that all postsecondary students with disabilities receive services and supports, but rather services are based on whether (1) the individual is determined to be eligible for the services, and (2) whether the accommodation does not result in a change in content or standards expected for all students. In the postsecondary setting, supports are based on what is “reasonable,” rather than what is “appropriate” and “least restrictive,” as mandated by IDEA. Therefore, support services and accommodations are aimed at providing access to content and reducing barriers to learning, rather than on promoting achievement. For example, a postsecondary school is more likely to provide a notetaker than a tutor.
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