Transition Services: Holding Pennsylvania Accountable to Students with Disabilities

Update

2018-19 analysis: Too few Pennsylvania students with disabilities are being prepared for the workforce

The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) has published its final report under Act 26 for the 2018-2019 school year. Similar to last school year, the overall data indicates that not enough Pennsylvania students with disabilities are being prepared to move from high school to competitive integrated employment.  In addition, the reliability of the IEP transition planning data provided by the Pennsylvania Department of Education (PDE) for this Report is questionable making it impossible to draw any conclusions about whether Pennsylvania students are actually receiving appropriate transition services.

Of particular concern, OVR reports:

  • only 36 students statewide entered competitive integrated employment within three months of graduation for 2018-2019
  • OVR served less than five percent of the eligible students statewide in all categories as reported below: [1]

View OVR’s fourth quarter 2018-19 report here.

Metric School Year

18-19

Number of IEP meetings attended by OVR staff 3,982; 3.1 %
Job Referrals Made 5,887; 4.5%
Number of Students working PT/Summer Job 3,956; 3.0%
Students Received Job Coaching 2,594; 2.0%
Students Entered CIE w/in 3 mos of Graduation 36; Less than 1%

Transition planning in Individualized Education Programs

This OVR report also includes final data compiled by PDE for the 2017-2018 school year concerning transition planning in IEPs. This data is provided in Table 2 of the report labeled “IEPs that Include New or Significantly Modified Goals and Specific Steps Toward the Attainment of Competitive Integrated Employment.” In order to amass this data, PDE asks each Local Education Agency (LEA) to collect answers to the following questions for “students 14 years of age or any student who has a transition plan as part of his or her IEP”:

  1. Does the IEP contain new services that support paid work-based learning experiences in a competitive (at least minimum wage) integrated setting? (YES/NO)
  2. Does the IEP contain services that include job supports/coaching? (YES/NO)
  3. Does the IEP contain services that include career development and job exploration? (YES/NO)
  4. Has the transition IEP been modified to include services that support paid work-based learning experiences in a competitive (at least minimum wage) integrated setting? (YES/NO)

At first glance, this data looks encouraging as a considerable number of transition age students appear to have transition plans in their IEPS that will prepare them to enter the workforce. For example, 105,924 IEPs of the 130,071 students with transition plans supposedly “contain services that include career development and job exploration.” But readers should be cautious relying on this data as there is significant ambiguity in these categories as well as possible inaccuracies in the reported data.

For starters, none of the specified IEP information required by the Act to be gathered and reported is defined under Act 26 and PDE provides minimal guidance and no oversight to the LEAs in responding to these questions. [2] Thus, an IEP that simply provided for a student to attend a career fair could count as “services that include career development and job exploration” as could an IEP that recommended a single meeting with an OVR representative. In short, it is impossible to know why LEAs answered “yes” to any of the categories in Table 2.

Finally, there appears to be some inaccuracies in Table 2. Philadelphia, which by far has the largest number of students in the Commonwealth, is listed as having only 6,832 students with transition plans. In comparison, Allegheny County with significantly fewer students lists 10,392 students and Buck County lists 6,411 students with transition plans. [3]

Conclusion

Overall, the reports for 2018-2019 show very slight improvements over last school year regarding the percentage of students who are receiving services to prepare them for employment. This preparation is critical because research shows that paid work experience during high school is a strong predictor of whether a person with a disability will be employed after leaving school. [4] Thus, stakeholders should pressure the Legislature and/or PDE to ensure the reliability of the data that LEAs produce. Only with reliable data from both PDE and OVR can we ensure all eligible students are being served.


[1] The percentages of students served by OVR for the 2018-2019 school year are based on a higher total number of eligible students compared to previous years.  The Pennsylvania Department of Education reported that 130, 071 students were eligible for services in 2018-2019. In previous school years, OVR estimated 105,000 students were eligible for services.

[2] E-mail from Amy Pastorak, Assistant Dir. Bureau of Special Educ., Dep’t of Educ, to author (Sept.17, 2019)(“Guidance is provided through PennLinks and the PaTTAN website. All are public documents”). Upon the author’s review, PennLink does not appear to provide this guidance. https://www.education.pa.gov/pages/search.aspx. PATTAN has a “form” titled Act 26 Question and Answers, but “Page not found” appears when the form is clicked.

[3] Moreover, the “preliminary” data from the 2018-2019 quarter one report listed Philadelphia as having 14,725 students with a transition plan as part of their IEP. OVR’s final report does not explain this large discrepancy.

[4] Erik W. Carter, Diane Austin & Audrey A. Trainor, (2012). Predictors of Postschool Employment Outcomes for Young Adults with Severe Disabilities, 23. J. of Disability POL’Y STUD.,3.50 (2012).