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Report to the Ranking Minority Member, Committee on Health, Education, 
Labor and Pensions, U.S. Senate:

United States General Accounting Office:

GAO:

July 2003:

Special Education:

Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes 
for Youth:

GAO-03-773:

GAO Highlights:

Highlights of GAO-03-773, a report to the Ranking Minority Member, 
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, U.S. Senate 

Why GAO Did This Study:

States receive federal funds under the Individuals with Disabilities 
Education Act (IDEA) to help students with disabilities reach their 
postsecondary goals, and various federal programs offer services that 
can assist these youth. However, research has documented that youth 
with disabilities are less likely to transition into postsecondary 
education and employment. Congress requested that GAO provide 
information on (1) the proportion of IDEA students completing high 
school with a diploma or alternative credentials, and their 
postsecondary status; (2) the transition problems being reported and 
state and local actions to address them; and (3) the types of 
transition services provided by the vocational rehabilitation, the 
Workforce Investment Act youth, and the Ticket to Work and Self-
Sufficiency programs, and the factors affecting participation of IDEA 
youth.

What GAO Found:

Of all IDEA youth who left high school during the 2000-01 school year, 
57 percent received a standard diploma and an additional 11 percent 
received an alternative credential. High school completion patterns of 
IDEA youth have remained stable over recent years despite concerns 
that states’ increasing use of exit examinations would result in 
higher dropout rates. Students with some types of disabilities were 
much less likely, however, to complete high school with a standard 
diploma, receiving an alternative credential or dropping out instead. 
IDEA youth without a diploma have some options for entering employment 
or postsecondary education, but national data on their post-school 
status are over a decade old. Twenty-one states routinely track 
students’ post-school status, but these data have some limitations. 
While most states used post-school data for program improvement 
purposes such as monitoring service delivery, some officials indicated 
that guidance was needed on how to best collect and use these data. 

A variety of transition problems, such as lack of vocational training 
and poor linkages between schools and service providers, have been 
consistently reported by students, parents, and others. While state 
and local educational agencies have taken actions to address some of 
the problems, other problems such as lack of transportation are less 
likely to be addressed at the state level. While state Directors of 
Special Education reported being generally satisfied with assistance 
provided to them by the Department of Education in addressing 
transition issues, some expressed concerns about the timeliness of the 
federal feedback on their state improvement plans and inconsistency in 
the quality of technical assistance provided by the six federal 
Regional Resource Centers.

The vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, the Workforce Investment 
Act youth program (WIA), and the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency 
(Ticket) program all offer an array of employment and education-
related services that can aid some IDEA youth. However, several 
factors may impede participation by the IDEA populations that are 
eligible for services. The lack of participation may be explained in 
part by the insufficient capacity of the VR and WIA programs to serve 
eligible populations requesting services, and potential concerns of 
Ticket participants about losing public assistance because of 
employment income. A general lack of awareness by youth and families 
of these programs may also limit participation.

What GAO Recommends: 

GAO recommends that the Department of Education 

(1) gather and provide states with information on sound strategies to 
collect and use postsecondary data, (2) develop a plan to provide 
states with timely feedback and consistent quality of technical 
assistance, and (3) coordinate with other federal agencies to provide 
IDEA students and their families with information on federally funded 
transition services.

www.gao.gov/cgi-bin/getrpt?GAO-03-773.

To view the full product, including the scope and methodology, click 
on the link above. For more information, contact David Bellis at (415) 
904-2272 or bellisd@gao.gov.

[End of section]

Contents:

Letter:

Results in Brief:

Background:

A Majority of IDEA Youth Complete High School, but Data on Transitions 
Are Limited:

Problems Impeding Transition of IDEA Youth into Postsecondary Education 
and Employment Remain Partially Addressed:

The VR, WIA, and Ticket Programs Provide Transition Services, but 
Several Factors May Limit the Number of IDEA Youth Who Use Them:

Conclusions:

Recommendations for Executive Action:

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

Appendix I: Scope and Methodology:

Survey:

State Telephone Interviews and Analysis of State Data:

Site Visits:

Review of National Studies on Transition:

Analysis of Existing Data:

Appendix II: State Data Collection Efforts:

Appendix III: State Waiting Lists for Vocational Rehabilitation 
Services in Fiscal Year 2001:

Appendix IV: Youth Eligible to Participate in the Ticket Program as of 
June 2003:

Appendix V: Availability of Medicaid Buy-In to Working People with 
Disabilities as of May 2003:

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Education:

Appendix VII: Comments from the Department of Labor:

Appendix VIII: Comments from the Social Security Administration:

Appendix IX: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

GAO Contacts:

Staff Acknowledgments:

Tables:

Table 1: High School Completion and Dropout Rates by Disability Type, 
2000-01 School Year:

Table 2: Problems Reported by Stakeholders in the Transition Process:

Table 3: Education's Response Time as of March 26, 2003, to States 
Submitting Improvement Plans in 2002:

Table 4: All Youth Ages 14 to 21 Served by Selected Federal Programs:

Table 5: Selected Services Provided to Youth through the VR Program in 
Fiscal Year 2001:

Table 6: Selected Services Provided through WIA in Program Year 2001:

Table 7: Site Visit States and Local School Systems:

Table 8: State Approaches to Collecting Data on Postsecondary 
Employment and Education Status of IDEA Youth:

Table 9: State Methods of Collecting Data on Postsecondary Employment 
and Education Status of IDEA Youth:

Table 10: State Examples of Using Postsecondary Employment and 
Education Status Data:

Figures:

Figure 1: Disability Characteristics of IDEA Youth Leaving High School 
in School Year 2000-01:

Figure 2: Completion and Dropout Rates for IDEA Students from 1997-98 
to 2000-01 School Years:

Figure 3: States That Collect Data on IDEA Youth Leaving High School:

Figure 4: Types of Postsecondary Employment and Education Data 
Available in States:

Abbreviations:

ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act:  

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: 

IEP: individualized education program: 

NCES: National Center for Education Statistics: 

NLTS: National Longitudinal Transition Study: 

NLTS2: National Longitudinal Transition Study-2: 

OSEP: Office of Special Education Programs: 

RSA: Rehabilitation Services Administration: 

SIG: State Improvement Grant: 

SLIDEA: Study of State and Local Implementation and Impact of the 
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: 

SPeNSE: the Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education: 

SSA: Social Security Administration: 

SSDI: Social Security Disability Insurance: 

SSI: Supplemental Security Income: 

VR: vocational rehabilitation: 

WIA: Workforce Investment Act youth program:

United States General Accounting Office:

Washington, DC 20548:

July 31, 2003:

The Honorable Edward M. Kennedy 
Ranking Minority Member 
Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions 
United States Senate:

Dear Senator Kennedy:

In 2003, states received nearly $9 billion for assuring that over 6 
million children and youth identified as having a disability received a 
free appropriate public education, as required by the Individuals with 
Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).[Footnote 1] Most youth had been 
identified as having learning disabilities such as dyslexia, with a 
smaller number having some type of emotional, mental, or physical 
impairment. Research has documented that youth with disabilities--
especially those with some types of disabilities such as emotional 
disturbances--are less likely to transition into postsecondary 
education and employment once they leave high school. In the 1997 
Amendments to IDEA, Congress required greater state and local 
accountability for improving graduation rates and postsecondary results 
for youth with disabilities. The law directed state education agencies 
to include youth with disabilities in statewide achievement 
assessments, and to begin including a statement of the transition 
service needs in students' individualized education program (IEP) at 
age 14, in addition to age 16. The Department of Education (Education) 
monitors states' compliance with these requirements, as well as 
provides technical assistance to enhance state and local capacity to 
improve graduation rates and the postsecondary employment and education 
status for youth with disabilities. In addition, other federal agencies 
fund programs that can assist youth with disabilities during their 
transition into the adult world.

In an effort to better ensure that all students have the necessary 
academic preparation to successfully pursue postsecondary education or 
employment, many states are now requiring that students pass exit 
examinations to graduate from high school with a diploma. However, 
concerns have been raised that states' use of exit examinations will 
result in higher dropout rates for youth with disabilities or issuing 
alternative credentials[Footnote 2] in lieu of diplomas that may limit 
youths' options for postsecondary education and employment. While 
federally funded transition services are available to help youth with 
disabilities pursue postsecondary options, there are also concerns that 
many may not be using these services. To address these concerns, you 
asked that we provide information on: (1) the proportion of IDEA 
students completing high school with a diploma or alternative 
credentials, and what is known about their postsecondary education and 
employment outcomes; (2) the types of transition problems that have 
been reported and actions taken by state and local education agencies 
to address them; and (3) the types of transition services provided by 
the vocational rehabilitation (VR) program, the Workforce Investment 
Act youth program (WIA), and the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency 
(Ticket) program, and the factors affecting the number of IDEA youth 
using them.

To provide this information, we administered and analyzed results from 
a survey to 50 state Directors of Special Education, as well as 
conducted phone interviews with state officials in the 21 states that 
reported routinely collecting data on IDEA students' postsecondary 
outcomes. We also visited 3 states and 6 school districts where we met 
with state and local officials, school administrators, teachers, 
parents, IDEA students, and service providers.[Footnote 3] In addition, 
we synthesized the findings of nationally available studies on IDEA 
students' transition experiences, interviewed federal officials 
responsible for programs that can assist students during transition, 
and analyzed program data from federal agencies administering these 
programs. Appendix I explains our methodology in more detail.

We performed our work in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards between June 2002 and June 2003.

Results in Brief:

State data reported by Education show that in the 2000-01 school year, 
about 70 percent of IDEA students completed high school with either a 
standard diploma or an alternative credential. However, completion 
rates ranged from 45 percent to 83 percent depending on disability 
type. The high school completion rate was the lowest for youth with 
emotional disturbances and the highest for youth with impairments 
affecting hearing or eyesight. Despite concerns that states' increasing 
use of exit examinations would result in more IDEA youth dropping out 
of high school, high school completion patterns have remained fairly 
stable, perhaps in part, because states have generally offered 
alternative routes to high school completion for youth with 
disabilities. However, what happens to IDEA youth after they leave high 
school is difficult to determine. Less than half of the states 
routinely collect data on students' employment or education status 
after graduation, and existing data collection efforts have 
limitations. Despite limitations of individual states' efforts, state 
studies taken together show that IDEA youth were much more likely to 
enter employment than postsecondary education or training programs. In 
Wisconsin, for example, 80 percent of IDEA youth reported being 
employed and 47 percent reported attending some type of postsecondary 
education institution 1 year out of high school.[Footnote 4] While most 
state officials reported using data on IDEA youth postsecondary status 
for purposes such as monitoring service delivery or targeting schools 
for technical assistance, some officials indicated that guidance was 
needed on how to best collect and use these data. Education officials 
in 2 states, for example, were unsure whether their survey questions 
were appropriate to obtain the best information on outcomes, while 
another state official had concerns that local school systems did not 
have the expertise to use such data to improve transition outcomes for 
IDEA youth.

During our site visits, students, parents, teachers, and others 
consistently reported a variety of problems that impede youth 
transition to postsecondary education and employment, including poor 
linkages between schools and youth service providers and a lack of 
community work experience while in high school. States and local 
education agencies have taken various steps to address some of the 
problems, including hiring transition coordinators and offering work 
preparation experiences, such as job shadowing opportunities. Some 
schools, however, have not yet benefited from these efforts and 
continue to experience problems. For example, a number of schools still 
rely on special education teachers to develop linkages with community 
service providers according to the Study of State and Local 
Implementation and Impact of the Individuals with Disabilities 
Education Act (SLIIDEA), although teachers indicated during our site 
visits that they often do not have the time or training to do so. 
Further, while research has shown work experience and vocational 
education to be a significant factor in obtaining postsecondary 
employment with higher earnings, findings from the National 
Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) show that 60 percent of IDEA 
youth had paid work experience and about 24 percent received vocational 
services. Our survey of state Directors of Special Education shows that 
states have developed action plans to increase services such as 
vocational training, and community work experience for IDEA youth. 
Other significant problems, however, are less likely to be addressed 
because they are not considered by state officials to be within the 
purview of the education system. For example, the 3 states we visited 
did not include transportation problems for IDEA youth in their state 
improvement plans, although it was one of the most cited problems by 
parents and school and state officials. Education provides some 
assistance to states in their efforts to address transition problems, 
and most state Directors of Special Education found this assistance 
useful. For example, states can use Education's Continuous Improvement 
Monitoring Process to obtain feedback on state improvement plans for 
addressing transition problems, and obtain related technical assistance 
from Education's Regional Resource Centers for Special Education 
(Regional Resource Centers). State officials expressed some concerns, 
however, about the timeliness of Education's feedback on their state 
plans and some inconsistency in the quality of assistance provided by 
the Regional Resource Centers.

The VR, WIA, and Ticket programs all provide similar and complementary 
services that can ease youth transition from high school to 
postsecondary education and employment, but several factors may affect 
how many IDEA youth use them. Services include tutoring and study 
skills training, job coaching and placement, as well as necessary 
support services such as transportation and counseling. However, IDEA 
youth are not automatically eligible for these services. For example, 
available data suggest that about 29 percent of IDEA youth meet 
Workforce Investment Act's low-income requirement, and about 13 percent 
of IDEA youth meet Ticket's age and benefit requirements. While not all 
IDEA youth eligible for VR, WIA, or Ticket services may need or want to 
use them, several factors may impede those that do. For example, WIA 
officials from states we visited said that workforce centers often do 
not have the expertise to serve youth with disabilities, and may refer 
these youth to VR; Education officials report that a number of states 
currently have waiting lists for VR services. The most recent data 
available from fiscal year 2001 show that VR agencies in 25 states had 
waiting lists for its services that may defer access for transitioning 
youth. Further, youth may not access services because they are 
concerned about losing access to public assistance, or are unaware that 
these federal resources exist. For example, while all youth aged 18 or 
older that qualify for Social Security disability benefits are eligible 
for transition services under the Ticket program, less than 1 percent 
participate, in part, due to concerns that employment income may 
jeopardize their eligibility for other federal and state services such 
as health insurance and subsidized housing according to parents and 
service providers we spoke with. Finally, students, parents, and 
teachers who are responsible for identifying transition service needs 
were generally unaware of the universe of available federal transition 
services and how to access them in the states we visited. While most 
people we talked with were aware of VR services, many were unaware of 
the Ticket program, and knowledge of the Workforce Investment Act 
assistance centers varied widely, even though these programs all serve 
overlapping populations.

We are making recommendations to Education to help state and local 
education agencies improve transition outcomes for IDEA youth by 
disseminating information on best practices for collecting and using 
data on their postsecondary status, providing more timely and 
consistent services to states seeking assistance, and identifying 
strategies for informing students and families about federal transition 
resources.

Background:

States that receive IDEA funding must comply with certain requirements 
for special education and related services. These requirements include 
the development of an IEP that spells out the specific special 
education, related services, and supplementary aids and services to be 
provided to each student based on the student's needs, including 
transition services designed to help the student obtain the skills and 
experiences to reach desired postsecondary goals.

During the 2000-01 school year, over 300,000 IDEA youth left high 
school.[Footnote 5] Most youth had been identified as having learning 
disabilities such as dyslexia, with a smaller number having some type 
of emotional, mental, or physical impairment, as shown in figure 1.

Figure 1: Disability Characteristics of IDEA Youth Leaving High School 
in School Year 2000-01:

[See PDF for image]

Note: Disability types included in the "other" category are speech or 
language impairments, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, 
orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, deaf-blindness, 
traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments. They have been 
combined into a single category because each of these disability groups 
represents less than 10 percent of IDEA youth population leaving high 
school.

[End of figure]

In an effort to raise expectations for IDEA youth and to make school 
systems accountable for their performance, IDEA Amendments of 1997 
required that these students be included in state and district 
assessments, to the extent possible. The No Child Left Behind Act of 
2001 also required school systems to establish annual assessments in 
order to demonstrate that all students, including those with 
disabilities, made academic progress. Although federal law does not 
mandate that school systems tie assessment results to graduation with a 
standard diploma, current law does provide states with the flexibility 
to implement exit examination policies that would require students to 
pass an exit examination in order to graduate with a diploma.

Education's Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) provides a 
number of resources to assist state and local education agencies in 
serving children and youth with disabilities. One such resource is 
OSEP's Continuous Improvement Monitoring Process, whereby OSEP provides 
feedback to state education officials on state improvement plans they 
develop to address problems providing education and transition services 
to IDEA youth at the state and local level. Another resource is 
Education's six Regional Resource Centers for Special Education through 
which OSEP facilitates networking and information sharing among states, 
and helps state and local areas improve education programs by providing 
technical assistance, consultation, and training.

In addition, the federal government funds other services that may offer 
assistance to IDEA youth during their transition from high school into 
postsecondary education or employment through programs administered by 
agencies such as Education, the Department of Labor (Labor), and the 
Social Security Administration (SSA).

The Department of Education. Education's Rehabilitation Services 
Administration provides funds to state VR agencies to help persons with 
disabilities prepare for and engage in gainful employment. The 
regulations implementing the Rehabilitation Act require state VR 
programs to develop an individualized plan for employment for students 
eligible for vocational rehabilitation services before they leave 
school. Furthermore, for a student with a disability who is receiving 
special education services, this plan must be coordinated with the 
student's IEP in terms of goals, objectives, and services.

The Department of Labor. Labor's Employment and Training Administration 
oversees the implementation of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. 
The Workforce Investment Act promotes partnerships among diverse 
programs and community representatives, including educational 
institutions. For all youth, who are between 14 and 21 years of age, 
WIA includes provisions for preparing them for the transition from high 
school to employment and postsecondary education that may interrelate 
to the transition requirements under IDEA.

The Social Security Administration. SSA implements the Ticket program, 
established under the Ticket to Work and Work Incentives Improvement 
Act of 1999. The goal of the Ticket program is to enable Social 
Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) beneficiaries and disabled or 
blind Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries, who are between 
18 and 64 years of age, to obtain the services necessary to find, 
enter, and retain employment.[Footnote 6]

A Majority of IDEA Youth Complete High School, but Data on Transitions 
Are Limited:

During the 2000-01 school year, almost 70 percent of IDEA youth 
completed high school with a standard diploma or an alternative 
credential.[Footnote 7] Completion rates for IDEA youth remained stable 
over recent years despite concerns that states' increasing use of high 
school exit examinations would result in higher dropout rates. IDEA 
youth who leave high school without a standard diploma have some 
options for entering employment or postsecondary education, but 
national data on their postsecondary status are over a decade old. 
Nearly half of the states routinely collect such data, but states' data 
collection systems are subject to a number of limitations. Most states 
used these data for purposes such as monitoring or improving programs 
that serve IDEA youth, but several officials involved with state data 
collection efforts had concerns about whether states were employing the 
best approaches to collecting and using these data.

A Majority of IDEA Youth Complete High School with a Diploma, but 
Differences Exist among Disability Types:

During the 2000-01 school year, 57 percent of IDEA youth completed high 
school with a standard diploma and an additional 11 percent completed 
high school with an alternative credential. Students with some types of 
disabilities were much less likely to complete high school with a 
standard diploma, receiving alternative credentials or dropping out 
instead. (See table 1.) For example, in 2000-01, about 28 percent of 
high school graduates with mental retardation received an alternative 
credential instead of a diploma, compared with about 11 percent for the 
overall population of IDEA youth. Dropout rates for youth with 
emotional disturbances were generally more than twice as high as for 
youth with other disabilities; more than half of these students dropped 
out during the 2000-01 school year compared with about one-fourth or 
less of their peers with other disability types.

Table 1: High School Completion and Dropout Rates by Disability Type, 
2000-01 School Year:

Disability: All IDEA students; Completion rate: Diploma: 57; Completion 
rate: Alternative credential: 11; Completion rate: Total completion 
rate: 68; Dropout rate: 29.

Disability: Emotional disturbances; Completion rate: Diploma: 39; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 6; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 45; Dropout rate: 53.

Disability: Learning disabilities; Completion rate: Diploma: 64; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 8; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 71; Dropout rate: 27.

Disability: Mental retardation; Completion rate: Diploma: 40; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 28; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 68; Dropout rate: 25.

Disability: Other cognitive disabilities; Completion rate: Diploma: 57; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 20; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 77; Dropout rate: 13.

Disability: Speech/language impairments; Completion rate: Diploma: 64; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 8; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 72; Dropout rate: 26.

Disability: Orthopedic impairments; Completion rate: Diploma: 64; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 11; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 76; Dropout rate: 18.

Disability: Sensory impairments; Completion rate: Diploma: 69; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 14; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 83; Dropout rate: 14.

Disability: Other health impairments; Completion rate: Diploma: 68; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 7; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 75; Dropout rate: 23.

Disability: Multiple disabilities; Completion rate: Diploma: 48; 
Completion rate: Alternative credential: 20; Completion rate: Total 
completion rate: 68; Dropout rate: 17.

Source: GAO analysis of data from the Department of Education, Office 
of Special Education Programs.

Notes: Total completion rate may not equal the sum of diploma and 
alternative credential rates because of rounding errors.

Total completion and dropout rates do not add to 100 because a small 
percentage of students aged out of high school or died.

[End of table]

We found no data source that could be used to compare high school 
completion rates for IDEA and general education students. The National 
Center for Education Statistics (NCES) had data from 33 states on all 
youth who completed high school during the 1999-2000 school year, as 
well as data from 36 states and the District of Columbia on all youth 
who dropped out during that year. These data show that among the 33 
states, high school completion rates for all youth ranged from about 63 
percent to 89 percent. Among 37 states, dropout rates ranged from about 
3 percent to 9 percent.[Footnote 8]

Graduation Rates Remained Stable Despite States' Use of High School 
Exit Examinations:

Completion and dropout rates for IDEA youth remained stable between the 
1997-98 and 2000-01 school years. As figure 2 illustrates, the rate of 
IDEA students graduating from high school over that time period with a 
standard diploma or completing high school with an alternative 
credential fluctuated between 67 percent and 69 percent, while the 
dropout rate remained at 29 percent in the latter 3 school years.

Figure 2: Completion and Dropout Rates for IDEA Students from 1997-98 
to 2000-01 School Years:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Completion and dropout rates among IDEA youth remained stable despite 
states' increasing use of exit examinations for students to graduate 
from high school with a standard diploma. While states' use of exit 
examinations addressed concerns over whether students obtaining a 
diploma are able to demonstrate evidence of academic achievement, it 
also generated concerns that dropout rates will rise among youth unable 
to pass such examinations, particularly among youth with disabilities. 
A study of 1998-99 completion and dropout rates sponsored by Education 
did not show higher dropout rates in states with exit examinations, or 
among the various disability groups.[Footnote 9] We updated that 
analysis using states' completion and dropout rates from the 2000-01 
school year, and found similar results.[Footnote 10]

Despite these study results, the effect of exit examinations on IDEA 
graduation rates has not been fully tested because most states have 
been providing IDEA youth with different options, such as exempting 
them from the examinations, modifying the examinations to various 
extents, or offering alternative exit credentials that do not require 
students to pass the exit examinations.[Footnote 11] For example, IDEA 
students in Georgia can petition for an exemption from the state's exit 
examination and still receive a diploma. New York allows students with 
disabilities who are unable to pass state's exit examinations to take a 
modified and less rigorous version. Other modifications available to 
IDEA youth in some states include using different scoring criteria or 
allowing IDEA students to retake the examination. In addition, more 
than half of the states with exit examinations also offered alternative 
credentials. For example, Alabama allows IDEA students to obtain an 
occupational diploma based on completion of courses incorporating 
certain career and technical education standards, such as Consumer 
Mathematics and Employment English in lieu of traditional Mathematics 
and English. A state official from Alabama stated that offering such 
alternative credentials assists the state in raising academic standards 
for all students without increasing IDEA youth's dropout rate.

IDEA Youth Transitioning from High School without Standard Diplomas 
Have Some Options for Entering Employment or Postsecondary Education:

IDEA youth completing high school with alternative credentials or 
dropping out do have some opportunities to immediately enter 
employment. State and local officials, as well as employer 
representatives in states we visited, indicated that some employers 
place higher value on the prospective applicant's job skills, such as 
willingness to learn and ability to interact with others, than on a 
specific graduation document. For example, New York officials from the 
State Workforce Investment Board and a local Employment and Training 
Center said that employers would be willing to hire youth with 
disabilities without a standard diploma and provide job related 
training as long as they had the necessary communication skills and 
basic work ethic.

Options for pursuing postsecondary education include programs focusing 
on vocational education and skills training, as well as academic 
programs. In California, for example, IDEA youth can enter Regional 
Occupational Programs that lead to vocational certificates in a wide 
range of fields. While high school diplomas may not be necessary for 
such programs, other prerequisites, such as entrance examinations, may 
be required. Community colleges are another option for youth wishing to 
pursue a college degree. In many states, community colleges have an 
open enrollment policy, admitting students regardless of high school 
diploma status. Some community colleges, however, may require youth to 
pass an entrance examination to determine if they have the ability to 
benefit from the college's academic programs. Youth who do not pass the 
entrance examination may enroll in remedial adult education courses to 
prepare for the examination or obtain a high school equivalency degree.

State Data Showing Transition of IDEA Youth into Employment and 
Postsecondary Education Have Limitations:

Data from Education's National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS), 
showing the proportion of IDEA youth who obtain jobs or pursue 
postsecondary education after high school, are over a decade 
old.[Footnote 12] Education is currently funding NLTS2, but information 
on the long-term transition outcomes of students included in the study 
is not yet available since they are only now beginning to complete high 
school.[Footnote 13] These national studies are not representative at 
the state level. However, according to our national survey of state 
Directors of Special Education, nearly half of the states routinely 
collect data on students' transition for their own use.[Footnote 14] 
(See fig. 3.):

Figure 3: States That Collect Data on IDEA Youth Leaving High School:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Costs and funding sources for the data collection efforts varied among 
states. (See app. II, table 8.) To fund their data collection efforts, 
most states used federal funds such as those provided under IDEA, and 
some states also used state funding.[Footnote 15] For example, New York 
is using IDEA discretionary funds for a $2.75 million 7-year follow-up 
study, while Florida is spending approximately $400,000 for the state 
fiscal year 2002-03 effort, using primarily general state revenues.

Despite state efforts to collect information on the postsecondary 
employment and education status of IDEA youth, state methodologies have 
limitations that preclude using the data to represent the status of 
IDEA youth in the state, or decrease the usefulness of the data in 
other ways. (See app. II, table 9 and fig. 4 for information on state 
methodologies and type of data states have available.):

* Selection of students. Ten states did not design their follow-up 
efforts to include a representative sample of IDEA youth. For example, 
Alabama and California collected data only on students in those school 
districts participating in the states' model transition initiatives. In 
addition, approximately half of the states collecting data did not 
include IDEA youth who had dropped out of high school.

* Adjusting for nonresponse bias. At least 8 states had a response rate 
of less than 50 percent. For example, Texas had a response rate of less 
than 12 percent. Moreover, none of the states reported that they 
conducted analyses comparing the characteristics of respondents and 
nonrespondents to identify possible sources of bias in the results.

* Ability to disaggregate data. Six states did not collect information 
on IDEA students' disability type. In addition, 2 states collected 
information on the outcomes of all students without the ability to 
differentiate between outcomes for IDEA youth and their peers.

* Timing and number of student follow-ups. All but 1 state followed up 
within 2 years of students leaving high school to obtain information on 
their immediate transition outcomes. For example, Delaware conducted 
its follow-up after 6 months, while Alabama collected information 1 
year after graduation. However, only 8 states collected data at more 
than one point in time to examine students' long-term transition 
outcomes.

* Type of data available. Only 6 states had data on how many students 
were both employed and attending postsecondary school. These data are 
necessary to determine the overall proportion of IDEA youth 
transitioning to these activities after high school. Only 11 states 
collected information on reasons why some students failed to 
successfully transition into employment or postsecondary education.

While studies from most of the states with routine data collection 
efforts, by themselves, are of insufficient methodological quality to 
be cited alone, together they show that the majority of IDEA youth were 
working or going to school within a year of leaving high school, and 
that they were more likely to be employed than to be enrolled in 
postsecondary education programs. For example, in Wisconsin, a state 
with one of the more sound approaches to data collection and analysis, 
88 percent of IDEA youth who left high school between December 1999 and 
2000 participated in an employment or educational activity 1 year 
later. Of these youth, 80 percent reported being employed and 47 
percent reported attending some type of postsecondary education 
institution.[Footnote 16] These results are consistent with the 
national survey findings from the early 1990s.

Most states that collected data have been using them for purposes such 
as monitoring school districts or targeting schools for technical 
assistance. (See app. II, table 10 for examples of state uses of data.) 
For example, Idaho looked at the transition outcomes of students in 
order to select school districts for focused monitoring, and New York 
prioritized its technical assistance to school districts that appeared 
to be struggling with transition. Nearly one-third of these states, 
however, did not regularly share the results with local school systems.

Finally, while more than half of the states do not routinely collect 
data on postsecondary employment and education status of IDEA youth, 
most expressed interest in doing so. However, officials familiar with 
state data collection efforts indicated that state and local school 
systems did not always have appropriate guidance on how data could be 
collected, analyzed, and used to improve programs and outcomes for 
youth with disabilities. For example, officials in 2 states reported 
that they were not certain whether their surveys included appropriate 
questions related to students' postsecondary status. In another state, 
an official reported that local school systems did not have the 
necessary expertise to use data available to them for purposes such as 
improving programs for IDEA youth.

Problems Impeding Transition of IDEA Youth into Postsecondary Education 
and Employment Remain Partially Addressed:

A variety of problems that impede IDEA youth transition to 
postsecondary education and employment have been consistently reported 
by youth, parents, teachers, and others. States and local education 
agencies are addressing some of the reported problems related to 
education and work experiences youth receive while in school; however, 
transportation problems are less likely to be addressed at the state 
and local level. State Directors of Special Education are generally 
satisfied with assistance provided to them by Education in addressing 
transition issues at the state and local level, but some expressed 
concerns about the timeliness of federal feedback on their state 
improvement plans and inconsistency in the quality of technical 
assistance provided by federal Regional Resource Centers.

Poor Linkages between Schools and Youth Service Providers and Other 
Problems Impeding IDEA Youth Transition Have Been Partially Addressed 
at the State and Local Level:

Discussions with students, parents, teachers, and others during our 
site visits revealed that a variety of transition problems still remain 
that have been consistently reported by these groups in past surveys 
and published studies. Transition problems affecting IDEA youth include 
those related to self-advocacy training and insufficient information 
about the transition process. For example, youth responding to a 
national survey by a youth association,[Footnote 17] reported problems 
identifying and learning how to ask for specific accommodations they 
need to succeed in school and the workplace. In addition, parents we 
interviewed said they did not have information about the spectrum of 
education and employment service providers that were available. Other 
problems included an absence of linkages to adult service providers, 
insufficient vocational education and work-related experiences 
obtained during high school, and lack of transportation after high 
school to the job site or postsecondary school. (See table 2.):

Table 2: Problems Reported by Stakeholders in the Transition Process:

Transition problem: Lack of self-advocacy training; Stakeholders: 
Youth.

Transition problem: Insufficient information about transition process; 
Stakeholders: Parents.

Transition problem: Absence of linkages between school systems and 
service providers; Stakeholders: Teachers.

Transition problem: Lack of vocational education and community work 
experience; Stakeholders: Researchers.

Transition problem: Lack of transportation; Stakeholders: Federal, 
state, and local officials.

Source: National Youth Leadership Network 2001-02 Youth Survey, site 
visits, Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education (SPeNSE), NLTS2, 
and our interviews.

[End of table]

Self-advocacy training. Youth with disabilities responding to a 
national survey by a youth association, reported problems obtaining 
knowledge about their rights under laws like IDEA and the Americans 
with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990,[Footnote 18] and identifying and 
learning how to ask for specific accommodations they need to succeed in 
school and the workplace. Research shows that many youth with 
disabilities have difficulties developing the necessary attitudes and 
skills to prepare for their lives after graduation, but suggest that 
youth who obtain self-determination skills are more likely to achieve 
positive education and employment outcomes. State Directors of Special 
Education in 24 states reported that less than half of IDEA students 
received self-advocacy training while in high school.

Many states and local education agencies have taken various actions to 
provide and promote self-advocacy training. For example, 3 states 
passed legislation or developed regulations mandating self-advocacy 
curriculum in schools according to our survey of state Directors of 
Special Education, and 44 percent of local education agencies include 
self-advocacy training for IDEA youth in their curriculum according to 
a national survey by Education.[Footnote 19] While a national survey of 
personnel serving students with disabilities[Footnote 20] shows that 
less than two thirds of special education teachers frequently teach 
self-determination skills, Directors of Special Education in about half 
of the 50 states we surveyed reported introducing programs to train 
teachers on how to teach self-advocacy skills.

Transition process. Parents interviewed during our site visits reported 
problems helping their child navigate the transition process as 
students prepare to leave high school for the adult world. Research 
shows that when parents participate in their child's education, their 
child improves academically and has higher aspirations for school and 
career development. However, parents from our site visits and family 
support groups said that they did not have the necessary information to 
adequately participate in their child's transition from high school. 
Parents we interviewed said they did not have information about where 
to go for assistance after high school, the spectrum of education and 
employment service providers that were available, and the type and 
level of support that may be offered by providers. Moreover, they were 
unaware of the ADA or other laws protecting their children's rights, 
and family support resources available to them in the community such as 
Parent Training and Information Centers.[Footnote 21]

States have taken some actions to provide this knowledge to parents. 
Eight states indicated in our survey that they have passed legislation 
or regulations to include parents or advocacy groups in transition 
planning while youth are in high school.[Footnote 22] In addition, at 
least three-fourths of the states are funding parent centers or other 
family advocacy groups, establishing task forces and workgroups, and 
providing technical assistance to local school systems. Ongoing efforts 
also exist in over half of the states to increase parent participation 
through developing culturally diverse transition materials.

Linkages between schools and service providers. Teachers responding to 
a national survey by Education[Footnote 23] reported that in the area 
of IDEA youth transition, more than half rarely, if ever, coordinate 
referrals to adult service providers. National data from NLTS show that 
more than 85 percent of IDEA youth received services that were sought 
after high school, and IDEA legislation requires that a student's IEP 
include a statement of interagency responsibilities or any needed 
linkages, if appropriate, to ensure that IDEA youth will receive the 
services needed to achieve their postsecondary education or career 
goals. Twenty-one state Directors of Special Education reported in our 
survey that many local school systems do not have designated 
intermediaries to establish such linkages, and 18 Directors of Special 
Education said that their agency also had difficulty coordinating with 
other state agencies outside of the school system. Teachers from our 
site visits cited lack of time and knowledge about available service 
providers as part of the problem.

All states are taking some action to provide direction and resources 
for improving linkages between schools and service providers. Ten 
states reported in our survey that they passed legislation or 
regulations providing for greater coordination between schools and 
service providers. In addition, according to Education's survey of 
state and local education areas, while less than half of school 
districts reported having a transition coordinator at each high school, 
all but 3 states reported hiring state transition coordinators who can 
assist teachers in their efforts to link students with providers after 
high school. All states reported providing technical assistance or 
training to local education agencies on interagency coordination, with 
Connecticut also developing policies and procedures for students to 
access adult services, and Utah providing training to other state 
agencies on IDEA transition requirements.

Vocational education and community work experience. Findings based on 
parent interviews from NLTS2 show that 24 percent of youth received 
vocational services and 60 percent had paid work experiences while in 
high school, despite findings from the SLIIDEA study that about 90 
percent of high schools reported offering prevocational training and 
work experience to IDEA students. Past research has shown that IDEA 
youth who received these services experienced higher rates of 
successful transition. For example, NLTS researchers reported that 
youth with disabilities obtaining vocational education and community 
work experience had been less likely to drop out of school, and 
achieved greater success in obtaining employment with higher 
earnings.[Footnote 24] Those conducting more recent state and local 
studies reported similar results. State and local education officials 
from 3 states we visited indicated that school districts have 
difficulties offering an appropriate mix of vocational programs that 
reflect the job market demands as well as meet the students' career 
interests.

States and local education agencies have taken various actions to 
provide and promote vocational education and career preparation 
opportunities for IDEA youth. Nine Directors of Special Education in 
our state survey said that their state had passed legislation or 
regulations requiring vocational education and career preparation for 
IDEA students, and most Directors of Special Education said that they 
disseminated best practices in the area of vocational education and 
career preparation. Other actions taken by half of the states included 
funding outreach and collaboration efforts of local education agencies 
to create vocational education and work opportunities.

Transportation. Federal, state, and local officials in 3 states we 
visited all said that many youth may not have access to transportation 
they need to pursue employment and postsecondary education. In rural 
areas, public transportation may be very limited, or may not be 
available during the time needed to get to their job site or college. 
Availability of transportation is not always the only issue. One parent 
told us that using public transportation was not feasible because her 
child suffered from seizures. While private providers may be better 
prepared to serve youth with disabilities, parents and advocacy groups 
said that private providers were often unreliable and their services 
were not coordinated with public transportation systems. An advocacy 
official indicated that one reason why these providers are unreliable 
is because they generally operate on a priority system that gives 
medical needs a higher priority than employment needs.

The 3 states we visited had not addressed transition issues related to 
the lack of reliable transportation in their state improvement 
plans.[Footnote 25] State education officials said these types of 
problems are outside their area of responsibility. In New York and 
California, however, some local areas are taking initiative to address 
this problem. In western New York, a collaborative endeavor involving 
30 agencies provides transportation, as well as other services, to 
youth with disabilities to help them in career preparation activities. 
In California, youth workforce development centers work with the 
Sacramento Regional Transit District to provide complementary transit 
tickets to youth with disabilities so they can come to the centers for 
educational and employment services.

Education Provides Some Assistance to States in Addressing Transition 
Problems, but Concerns Remain about Timeliness and Consistency of 
Assistance:

Over half of state Directors of Special Education reported that federal 
assistance was very helpful in assisting states address transition 
problems, but some stated that the timeliness or consistency of 
assistance could be improved. One of the ways Education provides 
assistance to states is by providing feedback on state improvement 
plans that states develop and use to show how they plan to address 
areas of weakness in implementing IDEA, including transition 
requirements.[Footnote 26] While 39 state Directors of Special 
Education found this feedback useful, some expressed dissatisfaction 
over Education's timeliness in providing the feedback. For example, of 
21 state plans submitted to Education in 2002, only one-fourth received 
feedback within 6 months, and at least another one-fifth did not 
receive formal written feedback for a year or more. (See table 3.):

Table 3: Education's Response Time as of March 26, 2003, to States 
Submitting Improvement Plans in 2002:

Response received:

State: Minnesota; State submission date: Response received: February-
02; Federal response date: Response received: March-03; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 14.

State: Illinois; State submission date: Response received: January-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: February-03; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 14.

State: Connecticut; State submission date: Response received: February-
02; Federal response date: Response received: December-02; Elapsed time 
in months: Response received: 10.

State: Delaware; State submission date: Response received: February-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: October-02; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 8.

State: Idaho; State submission date: Response received: April-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: December-02; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 8.

State: Nevada; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: January-03; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 7.

State: Oklahoma; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: January-03; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 6.

State: Wyoming; State submission date: Response received: May-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: October-02; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 4.

State: Virginia; State submission date: Response received: October-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: February-03; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 4.

State: Michigan; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: October-02; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 3.

State: New Hampshire; State submission date: Response received: August-
02; Federal response date: Response received: October-02; Elapsed time 
in months: Response received: 2.

Response pending:

State: South Carolina; State submission date: Response received: 
February-02; Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed 
time in months: Response received: 14+.

State: Texas; State submission date: Response received: March-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 13+.

State: Oregon; State submission date: Response received: June-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: North Carolina; State submission date: Response received: June-
02; Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: Tennessee; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: Rhode Island; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: Kentucky; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: Indiana; State submission date: Response received: July-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 9+.

State: Georgia; State submission date: Response received: September-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 7+.

State: Iowa; State submission date: Response received: October-02; 
Federal response date: Response received: Pending; Elapsed time in 
months: Response received: 6+.

Source: Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.

[End of table]

Education does not have a standard response period and has not set a 
performance goal for providing feedback to states on their improvement 
plans. While Education officials stated that they provide extensive 
informal feedback to states prior to issuing a formal written response, 
they also stated that they are taking action to try and expedite the 
agency's formal written responses. To preclude delays on the formal 
written feedback resulting from the agency's internal review process, 
Education has developed standard language and written review procedures 
to be used in preparing feedback. According to Education officials, 
having standard language and review procedures will decrease the time 
necessary to write and review the feedback report. They also hope these 
actions will reduce the response time to states.

Another way Education provides assistance to states is by funding 6 
Regional Resource Centers that states can use to obtain technical 
assistance for addressing transition issues.[Footnote 27] Services 
provided to states by the centers include guidance, training, 
information dissemination, assistance with state development of 
training materials, and facilitation of meetings states convene to 
address problems. Directors of Special Education in 29 states reported 
in our survey that assistance obtained from the centers was very 
helpful, but there are some concerns that the quality of services was 
sometimes inconsistent among the centers. One center, for example, 
consistently received high marks from the states in that region, while 
the remaining 5 centers received mixed reviews.

State and center officials attributed the inconsistent quality of 
services to variation in the expertise available at each center, an 
observation also reported in a previous performance evaluation of the 
centers.[Footnote 28] This evaluation recommended that Education 
provide training to alleviate the disparity in staff expertise, 
particularly with regard to transition issues. In response to this 
issue, Education officials said that the agency offers periodic 
professional development opportunities and encourages the centers to 
operate as a network by sharing knowledge and expertise. Despite these 
efforts, however, some states still have concerns about service quality 
and are turning to private consultants to obtain help with transition 
issues.

The VR, WIA, and Ticket Programs Provide Transition Services, but 
Several Factors May Limit the Number of IDEA Youth Who Use Them:

The VR, WIA, and Ticket programs all offer services that can aid some 
IDEA youth in their transition to postsecondary education or 
employment. While the federal agencies administering these programs are 
not required to track how many IDEA youth use them, several factors may 
impede participation by the IDEA populations that are eligible for 
services. One factor limiting services under VR and WIA is insufficient 
program capacity to serve all eligible populations requesting services. 
Another factor affecting participation under the Ticket program is 
family concerns about whether finding employment would result in youth 
losing public assistance. A factor that may affect IDEA youth 
participation in all programs to various extents is a general lack of 
awareness by youth and families that these federal resources are 
available for transition assistance.

The VR, WIA, and Ticket Programs Provide a Variety of Education and 
Employment Transition Services:

The VR, WIA, and Ticket programs all offer an array of similar and 
complementary education, employment, and support services for certain 
population groups.

Education services. These services can support youth who are trying to 
complete their high school education as well as those youth furthering 
their education in postsecondary institutions, such as community 
colleges. Services for youth at all education levels can include those 
that prepare them for learning by providing tutoring and study skills 
training as well as providing access to educational programs through 
tuition support. Education services support both out of school youth, 
as well as those at risk of dropping out. We observed a tutoring 
program in an Alabama school district, for example, that used WIA funds 
to assist high school youth who are struggling academically.

Employment services. These services can assist IDEA youth that are 
trying to obtain a job or obtain job skills necessary to increase 
potential wages. Services for youth in either situation can include 
those that prepare them for employment by providing job coaching and 
training, as well as direct placement with an employer. A service 
provider under the Ticket program in New York, for example, said that 
in addition to employment preparation services, they help find jobs for 
enrollees.

Support services. These services can assist IDEA youth pursue their 
education and employment goals as well as achieve goals for independent 
living. These services can include mentoring and counseling, childcare, 
and transportation, as well as any other services that might be needed. 
In California, for example, the VR agency has cooperative agreements 
with education agencies to provide support services to youth with 
disabilities, including financial assistance for assistive technology, 
such as wheelchairs and adapted computers, conducting vocational 
assessments for students, and providing information on options for both 
independent and supported living facilities.

IDEA youth are not automatically eligible for these education, 
employment, and support services, and the VR, WIA, and Ticket programs 
serve populations that are both different and overlapping. Of the 
approximately 2 million IDEA youth ages 14 to 21, only some of these 
youth are eligible for these federally funded services.

* Under the VR program, all people with a physical or mental impairment 
are potentially eligible for services, but states may only serve those 
with the most significant disabilities in times of funding constraint. 
The former administrator of Oregon's VR program said that in the past 
the state was unable to serve some youth with psychiatric disorders due 
to funding constraints.

* WIA primarily limits services to low-income youth that have some type 
of barrier to employment.[Footnote 29] While disabilities under IDEA 
may qualify as barriers for WIA purposes, available data suggest that 
only about 29 percent of IDEA youth meet WIA's low-income 
requirement.[Footnote 30]

* To qualify for the Ticket program, individuals must be at least 18 
years old, and qualify for disability benefits from SSA.[Footnote 31] 
Available data suggest that about 13 percent of the IDEA youth 
population meets Ticket's age and benefit requirements.[Footnote 32]

Education, Labor, and SSA are not required to track the number of IDEA 
youth who are enrolled and obtaining transition services provided 
through the VR, WIA, and Ticket programs.[Footnote 33] However, 
available data for all youth show that over 550,000 were enrolled and 
received services during the time frames outlined in table 4.

Table 4: All Youth Ages 14 to 21 Served by Selected Federal Programs:

Program: VR; Time frame: 10/1/01-9/30/02; Youth served: 175,000[A].

Program: WIA; Time frame: 7/1/01-6/31/02; Youth served: 376,014.

Program: Ticket; Time frame: 2/02-11/02[B]; Youth served: 496.

Program: Total; Youth served: 551,510.

Source: The Department of Education's Rehabilitation Services 
Administration, the Council for State Administrators of Vocational 
Rehabilitation, the Department of Labor's Employment and Training 
Administration, and the Social Security Administration.

[A] The estimate of the number of youth served is based on the 
proportion of youth (ages 14-21) who exited the VR program in fiscal 
year 2001.

[B] This time period reflects the first 9 months that Ticket was 
implemented in 13 states.

[End of table]

While federal agencies are not required to collect data on the type of 
education, employment, and support services actually provided to IDEA 
youth under the VR, WIA, and Ticket programs, Education and Labor do 
collect information on services provided to all youth ages 14 to 
21.[Footnote 34] Education data on the approximately 94,000 youth who 
received services and exited the VR program in fiscal year 2001 show 
that three-fourths of youth obtained vocational, medical, and social 
counseling, and more youth obtained employment services than services 
to further their education or training. (See table 5.):

Table 5: Selected Services Provided to Youth through the VR Program in 
Fiscal Year 2001:

Employment services:

Type of service: Job finding services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 36.

Type of service: Job placement services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 29.

Training services:

Type of service: Business/vocational training; Percent of youth ages 14 
to 21 served: 12.

Type of service: On-the-job training; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 8.

Type of service: Educational services: 

Type of service: Postsecondary educational training; Percent of youth 
ages 14 to 21 served: 21.

Type of service: Educational training below postsecondary level; 
Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 served: 19.

Type of service: Support services: 

Type of service: Counseling and guidance[A]; Percent of youth ages 14 
to 21 served: 74.

Type of service: Transportation services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 
21 served: 23.

Source: GAO analysis of data provided by the Department of Education, 
Rehabilitation Services Administration.

[A] Counseling and guidance includes personal adjustment counseling, 
counseling that addresses medical, family, or social issues, vocational 
counseling, and any other form of counseling necessary for an 
individual to achieve an employment outcome.

[End of table]

Labor data on the approximately 80,000 youth who received services and 
exited the WIA program in fiscal year 2001 show that about 40 percent 
of youth obtained employment and education services, but less than one-
fourth received support services. (See table 6.)[Footnote 35]

Table 6: Selected Services Provided through WIA in Program Year 2001:

Type of service: Employment services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 41.

Type of service: Summer employment opportunities; Percent of youth 
ages 14 to 21 served: 50.

Type of service: Educational services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 38.

Type of service: Support services; Percent of youth ages 14 to 21 
served: 18.

Type of service: Leadership development opportunities; Percent of youth 
ages 14 to 21 served: 15.

Source: GAO analysis of data provided by the Department of Labor.

[End of table]

Lack of Awareness and Other Factors May Impede IDEA Youth Participation 
in Federally Funded Transition Services:

While IDEA youth vary in their need and desire to use federal 
transition services, there are several factors that may impede their 
access to them. Three factors that may limit IDEA youth participation 
include (1) limitations in program capacity to serve the eligible 
population seeking services, (2) youth and family fears that employment 
income may jeopardize access to other public assistance, and (3) a lack 
of awareness about the availability of the transition resources.

Program capacity. In regard to program capacity, the VR, WIA, and 
Ticket programs face different issues in serving IDEA youth eligible 
for their services. These problems include a lack of expertise to serve 
youth with disabilities, a lack of resources to serve all those seeking 
services, and unavailability of services in some states. For example:

* Under the VR program, IDEA youth compete with all adults and youth 
with disabilities for services. Education officials report that a 
number of states have waiting lists for VR services. At the end of 
fiscal year 2001, for example, VR agencies had more people seeking 
services than resources to serve them, and about 30,000 people in 25 
states were on waiting lists for services. (See app. III.)[Footnote 36] 
Of this total, Education reported that about 20 percent, or about 6,000 
individuals, were on a waiting list for VR services in Washington 
state.

* Under WIA, IDEA youth compete with all youth facing some type of 
barrier to employment, and older youth also compete with adults for 
services under the WIA adult program.[Footnote 37] WIA officials told 
us that WIA providers generally do not have the expertise to serve 
youth with disabilities,[Footnote 38] and in some cases facilities do 
not have the appropriate physical accommodations. In light of these 
deficiencies, WIA officials told us that this population is often 
referred to VR agencies for assessment and services.

* The Ticket program has resources to serve all eligible youth seeking 
services; however, this new program has not yet been implemented in all 
states. SSA plans to complete its rollout of the program to the final 
17 states and the U.S. territories by 2004, which will increase access 
to the program for over half of the approximately 257,000 youth 
receiving assistance from SSA.[Footnote 39] (See app. IV.):

Fear of losing public assistance. A second contributing factor may be 
that some youth and families that receive public assistance are afraid 
that employment income will jeopardize their access to other federal 
and state public assistance benefits such as health insurance and 
subsidized housing. SSA reports that less than 1 percent of eligible 
youth had signed up for the Ticket program to increase self-
sufficiency. In the 3 states we visited, SSA officials, school 
administrators, teachers, advocacy groups, and others involved in the 
transition process said that fear of losing federal and state benefits 
is a common reason why individuals are hesitant to participate in 
federal work incentive programs such as the Ticket program. While some 
of these fears may be unfounded, others are not, and working and 
receiving income can affect youth's ability to retain services such as 
health insurance benefits through Medicaid.[Footnote 40] For example, 
while SSA has encouraged states to offer beneficiaries the opportunity 
to retain Medicaid benefits while earning wages, only about half of the 
states have established such policies. (See app. V.) While some 
programs allow youth to earn a certain amount of income and retain 
benefits, amounts allowed under the various assistance programs can 
differ, and many families are not aware of the contingencies. Although 
youth unable to sustain employment can re-enroll in public assistance 
programs, parents we spoke with stated that enrollment in the various 
programs is a lengthy and difficult process that they do not want to 
repeat.

Lack of awareness of available federal services. Finally, a third 
factor that may limit IDEA youth participation in federal programs is 
that many youth and families are unaware that they exist. While IDEA 
legislation requires schools to provide youth with transition services 
and information about available transition resources, students, 
parents, and teachers we spoke with in the 3 states visited were 
generally uninformed about the continuum of available federal 
transition services and how to access them. Most of those we talked 
with were familiar with the VR program and the types of services it 
provides.[Footnote 41] However, many were unfamiliar with the Ticket 
program, and familiarity with the services provided through the 
Workforce Investment Act assistance centers varied dramatically within 
and among states. In one California suburban community, a high school 
we visited had a close working relationship with the local assistance 
center, and school administrators, teachers, and students were aware of 
the services available there. However, teachers, parents, and students 
we talked to at an urban New York school were unfamiliar with the 
assistance centers that provide WIA services, even though a center was 
located only a few miles away.

Education, Labor, and SSA recognize that action is needed to reach out 
to youth and families and tell them about federal resources such as the 
VR, WIA, and Ticket programs. While these agencies have several efforts 
underway to publicize or increase awareness of available resources, 
these efforts may not include information on all federal transition 
resources, or reach youth, families, and teachers involved in 
developing transition plans for youth leaving high school. For example:

* Education's Regional Resource Center in the Southeast developed a 
guide to inform students and families about available resources, but 
this guide does not include information about WIA services. The guide 
is available on the Web, but there is no consistent distribution 
process to provide the guide to all youth and families in all states 
served by the center.

* Labor partnered with SSA and other federal agencies to identify more 
than 200 federal programs among 12 federal agencies that serve persons 
with disabilities. A Labor official said that once the report is 
finalized, it will be available to the public, including IDEA youth and 
families; however, this report is primarily targeted to policymakers 
and program officials.

* SSA has several efforts underway to increase awareness of the Ticket 
program among other federal and state agencies, service providers, and 
advocacy groups. While the agency is conducting local outreach using 
benefits planning, assistance, and outreach centers as well as 
protection and advocacy partners, these efforts do not consistently 
target youth and families through high schools.[Footnote 42]

Conclusions:

Youth served under IDEA are not a homogeneous population, and 
graduation patterns and postsecondary education and employment status 
can differ significantly among those with physical, sensory, emotional, 
or cognitive disabilities. IDEA requires individualized education 
programs that address needed transition services that recognize the 
unique challenges each youth with a disability must face. These 
programs can best be developed when states and schools have the 
necessary information to evaluate how well existing programs are 
working to assist youth during and after graduation. State education 
officials increasingly show interest in collecting data on what happens 
to IDEA youth after they leave high school, and nearly half of the 
states voluntarily collect such data. Many states, however, are still 
searching for ways to develop cost-effective and sound data collection 
systems and there is no central information point to share alternative 
methodologies that may be most useful for identifying which groups of 
IDEA youth are behind their peers and whether programmatic changes are 
needed to eliminate performance gaps. In the absence of guidance and 
information on how to collect and use postsecondary data, state and 
local education agencies and schools will continue to experience 
difficulties in evaluating the effectiveness of existing programs for 
students with disabilities, initiating program improvements, and 
targeting resources to areas or groups that need them most.

Although state and local education agencies are taking steps to 
minimize transition problems for youth with disabilities, challenges 
such as developing linkages between schools and community youth service 
providers still remain that need to be addressed both inside and 
outside of the education system. While Education provides some federal 
resources to help state and local education agencies address these 
problems, the usefulness of the assistance may be compromised because 
of delays and inconsistent quality of some services. Some transition 
challenges are likely to remain unless federal assistance is 
strengthened and used to help states take a more holistic approach to 
dealing with transition issues.

Federal assistance provided under the VR, WIA, and Ticket programs can 
help augment transition services provided by state and local education 
agencies, or fund transportation or other services that are otherwise 
unavailable. While these services are intended to help youth overcome 
barriers to a successful transition, this assistance cannot be provided 
if youth, parents, and education officials are unaware that these 
services exist. In the absence of improved coordination among federal 
agencies to provide these customers with information on the array of 
available federal resources, youth eligible for such services will not 
be able to use them in their efforts to achieve a successful education 
or employment outcome.

Recommendations for Executive Action:

To expand the availability and use of data on the postsecondary 
employment and education status of IDEA youth, we are recommending that 
Education collect and disseminate information to states on sound 
strategies for collecting these data and appropriately using these data 
for program improvement.

To enhance federal assistance provided to states to help them address 
existing transition problems, we are recommending that Education 
develop an action plan with specific time frames to:

* provide states with feedback on state improvement plans to address 
education and transition problems of IDEA youth and:

* ensure consistency in the quality of technical assistance provided to 
states by its regional resource centers.

Finally, to increase awareness of available federal transition 
services, we are recommending that Education take the lead in working 
with other federal agencies to develop strategies for using the 
federally mandated high school transition planning process to provide 
IDEA youth and their families with information about the full 
complement of federally funded transition services.

Agency Comments and Our Evaluation:

We provided a draft of this report to Education, Labor, and SSA 
officials for their review and comment. Agency comments are reprinted 
in appendixes VI, VII, and VIII, respectively. While we made specific 
recommendations to the Department of Education, all agencies agreed 
with the recommendations for executive action and discussed their plans 
to address them.

Education plans to take steps to implement our recommendations to 
provide information to states on sound data collection strategies, 
improve feedback and technical assistance to states, and work with 
other federal agencies to provide IDEA youth with information about 
federal transition services. Education noted that its plans and actions 
will depend on legislative changes made to the IDEA and the 
Rehabilitation Act, and that action to implement our recommendations 
will be taken after reauthorization of these laws is completed. 
Education also cautioned that because of variations in the collection 
and reporting of state data on student graduation, dropouts, and exit 
examination policies, it is difficult to draw valid conclusions about 
high school completion outcomes and the effect of exit examinations.

Labor stated that our findings and recommendations substantiated the 
issues and concerns that it has with regard to transition challenges 
for youth with disabilities. Labor also described the steps it has 
taken to address WIA youth program concerns related to program 
capacity, lack of awareness, and eligibility.

SSA noted that it would continue to work with Education to provide IDEA 
youth and their families with information about SSA programs, work 
incentives, and employment supports. SSA also cited its planning 
efforts that are aimed at promoting employment and economic self-
sufficiency involving youth with disabilities.

Education and SSA also provided technical comments, which we 
incorporated where appropriate.

We will send copies of this report to the Secretaries of Education and 
Labor, SSA, relevant congressional committees, and other interested 
parties. Copies will be made available to others upon request. In 
addition, the report will be available at no charge on the GAO Web site 
at http://www.gao.gov.

Please contact me at (415) 904-2272 if you or your staff has any 
questions about this report. Other major contributors to this report 
are listed in appendix IX.

Sincerely yours,

David D. Bellis 

Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues:

Signed by David D. Bellis: 

[End of section]

Appendix I: Scope and Methodology:

In conducting our work, we administered a mail survey to state 
Directors of Special Education in all states, conducted telephone 
interviews with state officials, and visited 3 states. We also reviewed 
the findings of nationally available studies on transition experiences 
of students covered under the Individuals with Disabilities Education 
Act (IDEA), interviewed officials from the U.S. Department of Education 
(Education), U.S. Department of Labor (Labor), and the Social Security 
Administration (SSA), who are responsible for programs that can assist 
students during transition, and analyzed data from these programs. In 
addition, we interviewed disability advocates and national experts from 
organizations such as the National Organization on Disability, Parent 
Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights, and Council for Exceptional 
Children, National Center on Secondary Education and Transition, and 
National Association of State Directors of Special Education. We 
performed our work in accordance with generally accepted government 
auditing standards between June 2002 and June 2003.

Survey:

To document state graduation and examination policies pertaining to 
IDEA youth, challenges experienced by these youth during transition, 
actions taken by the states to address these challenges, states' 
assessments of federal resources, as well as to obtain information on 
state efforts to routinely collect data on these students' 
postsecondary status, we conducted a mail survey, sending 
questionnaires to state Directors of Special Education in 50 states. 
All 50 states responded to our survey. In many states, Directors of 
Special Education forwarded the survey to other individuals, such as 
state transition coordinators or education specialists, that they 
believed to be most knowledgeable about the issues covered in the 
survey. We analyzed the survey data by calculating descriptive 
statistics, as well as performing content analysis of the responses to 
open-ended survey questions.

State Telephone Interviews and Analysis of State Data:

To obtain information on states' efforts to collect data on 
postsecondary employment and education status of IDEA students, we 
conducted telephone interviews with state officials from 21 states who 
indicated on our survey that their states routinely collected these 
data. We contacted individuals in those states that the survey 
respondents identified as being most knowledgeable about data 
collection efforts in their states, such as state education officials 
or university researchers responsible for data collection in the state. 
To obtain additional information on the data collection methodologies 
used by the states, as well as to learn about postsecondary status of 
IDEA students in those states, we also requested all states 
participating in the telephone interviews provide their survey 
instruments and any published materials or other available information 
reporting students' outcomes.

To obtain information on states' utilization and assessment of federal 
resources available to assist them in addressing transition problems 
experienced by IDEA youth, we conducted telephone interviews with state 
officials in 11 states. We used our survey results to select states 
that had opposing views on how helpful they believed federal resources 
were in providing assistance to address transition problems.

Site Visits:

To obtain in-depth information on transition experiences of IDEA youth, 
the challenges they are facing in the course of their transition, the 
extent to which federal and other programs are available to serve them, 
and actions taken at the state and local level to address existing 
transition challenges, we made site visits to 3 states--Alabama, 
California, and New York. We selected these states to obtain a mix 
based on differences in geographic location, the size of the IDEA 
population in the state, high school completion patterns, exit 
examination policies for IDEA youth in the state, postsecondary data 
collection efforts, and state monitoring processes, as well as 
recommendations of experts in transition. We visited 2 local school 
systems in each state, representing a combination of urban, suburban, 
and rural areas. (See table 7.) In addition, we consulted with state 
officials in helping us select local school systems with exemplary 
transition practices, as well as those that appeared to be struggling 
in the transition area.

Table 7: Site Visit States and Local School Systems:

State: Alabama; Local school systems: Jefferson, Auburn.

State: California; Local school systems: Elk Grove, San Francisco 
Unified.

State: New York; Local school systems: Gowanda, Buffalo City.

Source: GAO data.

[End of table]

On each visit, we interviewed various stakeholders in the transition 
process at the state and local levels. At the state level, we typically 
interviewed Special Education, vocational rehabilitation (VR), and 
Labor officials, as well as members of the state Steering Committees 
established as part of the federal Continuous Improvement Monitoring 
Process.[Footnote 43] At the local level, we interviewed school 
district officials responsible for special education services, school 
administrators and special education teachers, transition-age IDEA 
students and parents, community service providers and advocates, and 
VR, Workforce Investment Act youth program (WIA), and SSA officials 
responsible for local-level implementation of the VR program, WIA, and 
the Ticket to Work and Self-Sufficiency (Ticket) program, respectively.

Review of National Studies on Transition:

To obtain information on transition problems as well as state and local 
efforts to address them, we reviewed and summarized the findings of 
nationally available studies that addressed these issues, including the 
Study of State and Local Implementation and Impact of the IDEA, the 
Study of Personnel Needs in Special Education (SPeNSE), the National 
Longitudinal Transition Study-2, and the National Youth Leadership 
Network 2001-02 Youth Survey. We used a statistician to evaluate these 
studies for methodological rigor, as well as to determine the extent to 
which these data could be used to offer a nationwide perspective on 
transition problems experienced by IDEA youth and on the actions taken 
by state and local education agencies to address these problems. We 
determined that the results from SPeNSE might be subject to bias since 
the nonresponse evaluation for this study was not available at the time 
of our request. The results of the youth survey presented the views of 
over 200 youth but did not reflect a nationally representative 
perspective because respondents were not randomly selected. We included 
the youth survey in our review because it was reported as the only data 
collection effort in the country designed and implemented by youth with 
disabilities.

Analysis of Existing Data:

To determine high school completion rates for IDEA students, we 
obtained data collected from the states by the Office of Special 
Education Programs (OSEP) and summarized in Education's Annual Reports 
to Congress. We used the 22nd and 23rd Annual Reports to obtain data 
for 1997-98 and 1998-99 school years. We used OSEP-administered Web 
site (http://www.ideadata.org) to obtain data for 1999-2000 and 2000-01 
school years. In calculating graduation and dropout rates for IDEA 
youth, we relied on the method in use by OSEP. Specifically, OSEP 
reports what percentage of IDEA students leave high school with a 
standard diploma or drop out during a given school year out of the 
total number of IDEA students who leave high school with a standard 
diploma or a certificate, drop out, age out, or die during that year. 
OSEP does not report the certificate rate, but using OSEP's data, we 
calculated the rate of youth completing with a certificate in the same 
manner.

To determine high school completion and dropout rates for all students, 
we looked at an August 2002 published report from the National Center 
for Education Statistics (NCES), presenting rates of students 
completing public school with a standard diploma or an alternative 
credential and dropping out (among states that reported dropouts) for 
school year 1999-2000. These data were collected by NCES for public 
school completers and dropouts through its Common Core of Data system.

We obtained information on states' exit examination policies from the 
National Center on Secondary Education and Transition and the National 
Center on Education Outcomes. We used that information to update 
Education's analysis of completion and dropout rates for IDEA students 
in states with and without exit examinations. Education's analysis did 
not differentiate between states that had exit examination policies in 
general and those that had fully implemented those policies by 
requiring all graduating seniors to participate in the examination in 
order to graduate. When we repeated Education's analysis, we defined 
exit examination states only as those that had required all graduating 
seniors to fully participate in the exit examination by 2000-01. These 
states were: Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, 
Minnesota, Mississippi, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Ohio, South 
Carolina, and Texas.

To determine how many youth participated in the VR, WIA, and Ticket 
programs, we analyzed data provided by Education's Rehabilitation 
Services Administration (RSA), Labor's Employment and Training 
Administration, and SSA. Because VR participation data only reflected 
the number of youth exited, we obtained from RSA and the Council for 
State Administrators of Vocational Rehabilitation an estimated number 
of youth enrolled for services. We also analyzed data from RSA on types 
of services provided to youth.

[End of section]

Appendix II: State Data Collection Efforts:

Table 8 shows various entities responsible for collecting data, costs 
of data collection efforts, and funding sources used by 21 states that 
routinely collected data on postsecondary employment and education 
status of IDEA youth.

Table 8: State Approaches to Collecting Data on Postsecondary 
Employment and Education Status of IDEA Youth:

[See PDF for image]

Source: Information provided by state officials, December 2002 through 
April 2003.

[End of table]

Table 9 presents various methods used by 21 states to routinely collect 
data on postsecondary employment and education status of IDEA youth. 
The table provides information on characteristics of students and 
school systems that states included in their data collection efforts 
and the time periods at which data were collected.

Table 9: State Methods of Collecting Data on Postsecondary Employment 
and Education Status of IDEA Youth:

[See PDF for image]

Source: Information provided by state officials, December 2002 through 
April 2003.

[A] Florida does not collect data through surveying. Data are matched 
across several administrative databases, including: state departments 
of Education, Corrections, Children and Families; state Agency for 
Workforce Innovation; and the U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Office 
of Personnel Management, and U.S. Postal Service. The follow-up effort 
does not include students who leave the state.

[B] Maryland collects data on all students, not specifically on 
students with disabilities, although it was possible to identify 
students with disabilities for the class of 2002. Beginning with the 
class of 2003, only IDEA students will be included in the follow-up 
effort. In addition, an Anticipated Services Survey is administered to 
all special education students when they leave high school.

[C] Missouri adds the total numbers of students who are working and who 
are attending postsecondary school without accounting for those who may 
be participating in both activities, potentially overestimating the 
successful transition rate. In addition, nonresponses are often put 
into the "other" category, thus boosting the response rate.

[D] New York Post School Indicators study is scheduled to last for 7 
years. Thereafter, some aspects of the effort may continue.

[E] North Dakota is planning to drop the 5th year of data collection 
because of a low response rate.

[F] Ohio's current effort is seen as a pilot project. The Ohio Board of 
Education has called for statewide surveying of IDEA students beginning 
in 2004.

[G] Texas's follow-up survey effort in 2002 included both the class of 
1999 and 2001. The state used three different survey versions to 
shorten the length of each and encourage student participation.

[H] Washington encourages districts to participate by requiring them to 
submit information on students' postsecondary status in order to 
quality for Local Education Area grants.

[End of table]

Figure 4 presents the types of data on IDEA youth's postsecondary 
employment and education status available in 21 states with routine 
data collection efforts.

Figure 4: Types of Postsecondary Employment and Education Data 
Available in States:

[See PDF for image]

[End of figure]

Table 10 identifies possible uses of data on IDEA students' 
postsecondary employment and education status, and provides examples 
from state education officials on how data are being used at the state 
and local levels for each data use category identified.

Table 10: State Examples of Using Postsecondary Employment and 
Education Status Data:

Type of data use: Providing regular reports on students' outcomes to 
school systems; State example: Washington's postsecondary 
outcome survey is conducted by a university contractor who sends 2 page 
outcome summaries to each school district participating in the student 
follow-up effort. The summaries include comparisons between student 
outcomes in the district and in the state, as well as results 
disaggregated by gender, race, and disability type.

Type of data use: Providing feedback to school systems on their 
performance; State example: Florida produces annual reports of 
studentsí outcomes that are then used to provide feedback to school 
districts and schools on the success of their programs. The reports are 
also used by parents and students in helping them choose local programs 
that show the greatest success.

Type of data use: Setting baseline for future transition efforts; 
State example: Missouri's improvement plan places a priority 
on improving postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities. As 
a consequence, the state will use current postsecondary data to set a 
baseline to measure future progress.

Type of data use: Monitoring compliance with IDEA requirements and 
delivery of special education services in the state; State 
example: Alabama uses postsecondary outcome data for conducing self-
assessment and developing self-improvement plan as part of the state's 
monitoring effort. A statewide task force of transition experts and 
transition stakeholders was created to use the outcome data for 
identifying areas for further improvement and implementing the 
improvement plan.

Type of data use: Conducting program planning or budgeting at the state 
level; State example: Indiana's Director of the Division of 
Exceptional Learners uses postsecondary outcome data when negotiating 
the state budget and determining state appropriations.

Type of data use: Rewarding local school systems; State 
example: Kentucky holds schools accountable for students' transition 
from high school, and schools with high rates of students experiencing 
a successful transition outcome may receive financial rewards.

Type of data use: Targeting technical assistance to school districts or 
schools; State example: New York redesigned the technical 
assistance provided by its seven Transition Coordination Sites, based 
in part on data from its postsecondary outcome survey. As a result, 
technical assistance activities were shifted from training conferences 
to more individualized strategic planning with teams from individual 
schools. Data are used to identify struggling school districts in order 
to direct assistance to them.

Type of data use: Assessing or improving transition programs; 
State example: Virginia has incorporated postsecondary outcome data 
into a study aimed at assessing transition services across the state. 
When completed, the study will include responses from consumers of 
transition services (both parents and students), transition 
specialists, and adult service providers. Outcome data will also be 
used in a statewide evaluation of middle and secondary education 
programs for students with disabilities with the goal of improving 
their academic achievement and postsecondary outcomes.

Type of data use: Conducting monitoring or program planning at the 
local school system level; State example: Wisconsin began 
collecting postsecondary outcome data in response to a state statute 
requiring the reporting of student outcomes. By collecting data, school 
districts not only are able to fulfill this requirement, but also 
identify specific needs and develop their special education plans to 
address those needs.

Type of data use: Adding, sustaining, or improving programs at the 
local school system level; State example: Maryland's 
postsecondary follow-up study helps local school systems develop more 
effective transition services that are targeted to addressing students' 
needs. For example, one county found that few students were connected 
with postsecondary education institutions. In response, county 
officials established a transition program that emphasizes linkages 
with community colleges for students while they are still in high 
school. As a result, students ages 18 to 21 who are still attending 
high school are able to attend community college computer and physical 
education courses to help prepare for employment.

Type of data use: Establishing linkages with adult service providers; 
State example: California's transition program staff are able 
to reconnect with former students while following-up to collect data on 
their postsecondary status. Students who are not participating in 
productive work or learning activities or who report other problems are 
provided with information on potentially beneficial services in the 
course of the follow-up process.

Source: GAO analysis of data from interviews with state officials, 
December 2002 through April 2003.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix III: State Waiting Lists for Vocational Rehabilitation Services 
in Fiscal Year 2001:

The table below lists the states that, at the end of fiscal year 2001, 
had waiting lists for vocational rehabilitation services because the 
state did not have sufficient funds to serve all individuals who were 
determined eligible for the program.

State: Washington; Number of individuals: 6,245.

State: Wisconsin; Number of individuals: 5,098.

State: California; Number of individuals: 3,602.

State: Tennessee; Number of individuals: 3,166.

State: Pennsylvania; Number of individuals: 2,949.

State: Kansas; Number of individuals: 2,855.

State: Louisiana; Number of individuals: 2,127.

State: Ohio; Number of individuals: 1,578.

State: New Jersey; Number of individuals: 1,498.

State: Oklahoma; Number of individuals: 298.

State: Maine; Number of individuals: 276.

State: Nebraska; Number of individuals: 135.

State: Kentucky; Number of individuals: 132.

State: Illinois; Number of individuals: 51.

State: Maryland; Number of individuals: 43.

State: Rhode Island; Number of individuals: 41.

State: Minnesota; Number of individuals: 39.

State: Oregon; Number of individuals: 34.

State: Arkansas; Number of individuals: 33.

State: Connecticut; Number of individuals: 16.

State: Georgia; Number of individuals: 4.

State: Delaware; Number of individuals: 4.

State: Michigan; Number of individuals: 3.

State: Mississippi; Number of individuals: 1.

State: Idaho; Number of individuals: 1.

State: Total; Number of individuals: 30,229.

Source: GAO analysis of data provided by the Department of Education, 
Rehabilitation Services Administration.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix IV: Youth Eligible to Participate in the Ticket Program as of 
June 2003:

The table below shows the number of youth ages 18 to 21 eligible to 
participate in the first two phases of the Ticket program's 
implementation.

State: Phase one states: February 2002:

State: Arizona; Number: 3,480.

State: Colorado; Number: 1,837.

State: Delaware; Number: 541.

State: Florida; Number: 11,265.

State: Illinois; Number: 10,096.

State: Iowa; Number: 2,261.

State: Massachusetts; Number: 4,427.

State: New York; Number: 12,184.

State: Oklahoma; Number: 2,868.

State: Oregon; Number: 2,240.

State: South Carolina; Number: 2,951.

State: Vermont; Number: 516.

State: Wisconsin; Number: 3,999.

Phase one total; Number: 58,665.

Phase two states: November 2002:

State: Alaska; Number: 417.

State: Arkansas; Number: 2,499.

State: Connecticut; Number: 1,949.

State: Georgia; Number: 5,612.

State: Indiana; Number: 4,017.

State: Kansas; Number: 1,847.

State: Kentucky; Number: 4,540.

State: Louisiana; Number: 5,179.

State: Michigan; Number: 7,505.

State: Mississippi; Number: 3,143.

State: Missouri; Number: 4,346.

State: Montana; Number: 602.

State: Nevada; Number: 1,023.

State: New Hampshire; Number: 719.

State: New Jersey; Number: 4,187.

State: New Mexico; Number: 1,466.

State: North Dakota; Number: 341.

State: South Dakota; Number: 569.

State: Tennessee; Number: 4,290.

State: Virginia; Number: 4,382.

State: District of Columbia; Number: 519.

Phase two total; Number: 59,152.

Source: GAO analysis of data provided by the Social Security 
Administration.

Note: The Social Security Administration plans to implement the program 
in the remaining 17 states and the U.S. territories by 2004.

[End of table]

[End of section]

Appendix V: Availability of Medicaid Buy-In to Working People with 
Disabilities as of May 2003:

The map below shows which states offer working people with disabilities 
the opportunity to maintain Medicaid benefits while receiving income 
from work.

[End of section]

Appendix VI: Comments from the Department of Education:

UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF EDUCATION:

OFFICE OF SPECIAL EDUCATION AND REHABILITATIVE SERVICES:

THE ASSISTANT SECRETARY:

JUL 7 2003:

Mr. David D. Bellis Director:

Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues:

United Sates General General Accounting Office Washington D.C. 20548:

Dear Director Bellis:

Thank you for the opportunity to review and provide comments on your 
draft report entitled SPECIAL EDUCATION: Federal Actions Can Assist 
States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth (GAO-03-773). I am 
responding to you on behalf of the Department of Education.

We agree in principle with the draft report's recommendations for 
Executive Action and we plan to take steps to implement them. In 
summary, the recommendations for Executive Action by the Department of 
Education are: (1) provide information to States on sound strategies 
for the collection of data on the educational status and postsecondary 
outcomes of IDEA youth in order to expand the availability and use of 
these data for program improvement; (2) develop a plan to improve 
feedback on State action plans to address transition problems and 
ensure consistent technical assistance to States; and (3) take a lead 
role in working with other Federal agencies to develop strategies using 
the transition planning process to provide IDEA youth and their 
families with information about Federally funded transition services.

As you are aware, both the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 
and the Rehabilitation Act are in the process of being reauthorized. 
Transition is an area that is receiving attention in this process and 
the Department is working with the Congress to improve transition 
services and postsecondary outcomes for students with disabilities.

Obviously, our plans and actions for improved feedback and technical 
assistance to States and other Federal agencies will be to a large 
extent dependent upon legislative changes now underway. Revisions in 
program data collection will be made as needed after these laws are 
reauthorized. This process will provide an opportunity to consider how 
best to use transition data for program improvement purposes as you 
have recommended.

As is customary, we are also providing our detailed technical and 
editorial comments and suggestions for your consideration as an 
enclosure to this letter. We believe that the report summary, Results 
in Brief, should caution the reader that variations in the collection 
and reporting of State data on student graduation, dropouts, and exit 
exam policies make it difficult to draw valid conclusions about high 
school completion outcomes and the effect of exit examinations.

Sincerely,

Robert H. Pasternack, Ph.D.

Signed by Robert H. Pasternack, Ph.D.: 

Enclosure:

[End of section]

Appendix VII Comments from the Department of Labor:

U.S. Department of Labor 
Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training 
Washington, D.C. 20210:

JUL 17 2003:

Mr. David D. Bellis:

Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues United 
States General Accounting Office Washington, DC 10548:

Dear Mr. Bellis:

On behalf of the Secretary of Labor, we thank you for the opportunity 
to review the draft of your proposed report, Special Education: Federal 
Actions Can Assist States in Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth 
(GAO-03-773).

We agree with the report's Recommendation for Executive Action, 
proposing that federal agencies, including the Department of Labor, 
work with the Department of Education, to develop strategies for using 
the federally mandated high school transition planning process to 
provide youth and their families with information about various 
federally funded transition services. The findings and recommendations 
cited in the report substantiate the issues and concerns that we have 
with regard to transition challenges for youth with disabilities.

The report also cites several areas of concern regarding the Workforce 
Investment Act (WIA) youth programs. The issue areas are: (1) program 
capacity; (2) lack of awareness of available federal services; and (3) 
eligibility. This letter elaborates the steps that the Department has 
taken to address the issues identified in the report; our response to 
each specific issue is articulated below.

Program Capacity:

Recently, the Department's Employment and Training Administration (ETA) 
and the Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP) implemented three 
technical assistance centers - National Collaborative on Workforce and 
Disability for Youth (NCWD/ Youth), National Center on Workforce and 
Disability for Adults (NCWD/ Adults), and the Training and Technical 
Assistance to Providers (T-TAP). Each technical assistance center 
includes partners with expertise in disability, education, employment, 
employer linkages and workforce development issues. The technical 
assistance centers were 
awarded in 2001-2002, and are in their beginning phases of operations. 
It is the intention of the Department that these technical assistance 
centers will provide training, information, and research to help 
workforce development systems serve adults and youth with disabilities 
more effectively and appropriately. The centers' program design 
includes ongoing assessment among key constituent groups to ensure 
maximum appropriateness and effectiveness of technical assistance as 
well as training. The effective practices gathered from the centers 
will serve as models for providing quality services to youth with 
disabilities.

In addition, in Fiscal Year (FY) 2001 and Fiscal Year (FY) 2002, 
through its Innovative Demonstration Grants for Youth Initiative, ODEP 
awarded approximately $7.5 million to fund model demonstration programs 
designed to enhance the capacity of WIA youth programs to better serve 
youth with disabilities. ODEP also funds High School,/ High Tech (HS/ 
HT), a series of nationally established model programs designed to 
provide young people with disabilities opportunities to explore their 
interest in pursuing further education leading to technology-related 
careers. New HS/HT programs must be operated either in partnership 
with, or led by, a WIA youth program. In addition, states are provided 
funds to develop statewide HS/HT infrastructures and operations for 
youth services provided through the One-Stop Center system.

Lack of Awareness:

NCWD/Youth has a Youth and Family Practice Network whose membership is 
comprised of youth and parents of youth with disabilities. The Network 
receives information on federal programs that provide services to youth 
with disabilities in addition to being involved in the development of 
policy and information disability briefs that are disseminated to the 
workforce investment system.

Furthermore, the Department has conducted peer to peer training on 
serving youth with emotional, mental and learning disabilities for the 
Youth Opportunity grantees. ETA continues to work with ODEP on 
increasing the knowledge base and providing technical assistance on the 
provision of services to youth with disabilities in the WIA youth 
programs.

Eligibility:

Though WIA services are primarily designed to serve low income 
populations, the Act does allow up to five percent of the youth 
participants served by WIA youth programs to be individuals who do not 
meet the income criterion for eligible youth, provided that they are 
within one of several categories, which include those youth that have 
one or more disabilities, including learning disabilities. The 
Department remains committed to improving services to youth with 
disabilities under the current law and the proposed WIA reauthorization 
legislation.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this report on how to 
improve postsecondary outcomes for youth with disabilities.

Sincerely,

Emily Stover DeRocco:

Signed by Emily Stover DeRocco:

[End of section]

Appendix VIII: Comments from the Social Security Administration:

SOCIAL SECURITY The Commissioner 
July 2, 2003:

Mr. David D. Bellis:

Director, Education, Workforce, and Income Security Issues U.S. General 
Accounting Office Washington, D.C. 20548:

Dear Mr. Bellis:

Thank you for the opportunity to review and comment on the draft report 
"SPECIAL EDUCATION: Federal Actions Can Assist States in Improving 
Postsecondary Outcomes for Youth" (GAO-03-773).

We agree with the report's major findings and recommendations. In 
particular, we agree with the recommendation that the Department of 
Education (DOE) coordinate with other federal agencies to provide 
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) students and their 
families with information on federally funded transition services.

SSA will continue to work with DOE to provide information to IDEA 
students and families on SSA programs, work incentives and employment 
supports. In addition, we are planning demonstration projects involving 
youth with disabilities that will focus on postsecondary outcomes 
including employment and economic self-sufficiency.

As part of the strategy to support the President's New Freedom 
Initiative goal of increasing employment of people with disabilities, 
SSA will award cooperative agreements to a number of States for the 
purpose of helping youth with disabilities to maximize their economic 
self-sufficiency as they transition from school to work. These projects 
will focus on youth who are Supplemental Security Income (SSI) 
beneficiaries or who are otherwise likely to become SSI beneficiaries 
at age 18. The projects will be designed to increase the coordination 
of various service, education and benefit programs for such youth and 
to promote youth participation in activities that prepare them for 
independence, result in school completion and lead to workforce 
participation.

We believe that these efforts will significantly improve the 
coordination among the many federally funded transition services.

Enclosed, please find our technical comments. If you have any 
questions, please have your staff contact Mark Zelenka at (410) 965-
1957.

Sincerely,

Jo Anne B. Barnhart:

Signed by Jo Anne B. Barnhart:

Enclosure:

[End of section]

Appendix IX: GAO Contacts and Staff Acknowledgments:

GAO Contacts:

Lacinda Ayers (206) 654-5591 Tranchau Nguyen (202) 512-2660:

Staff Acknowledgments:

In addition to those named above, Natalya Bolshun, Julianne Hartman 
Cutts, Molly Laster, and Adam Roye made key contributions to this 
report. Barbara Alsip, Carl Barden, Carolyn Boyce, Stefanie Bzdusek, 
Patrick DiBattista, Behn Kelly, and John Smale also provided key 
technical assistance.

FOOTNOTES

[1] The data on the number of children covered under IDEA are for the 
2001-02 school year, the latest year for which data are available. 

[2] Alternative credentials may be issued based on various criteria, 
including completion of an IEP, attendance, or occupational skill 
attainment.

[3] We conducted fieldwork in New York, Alabama, and California. We 
selected these states to obtain a mix based on differences in 
geographic location, the size of the IDEA population in the state, high 
school completion patterns, exit examination policies for IDEA youth, 
postsecondary data collection efforts, and state monitoring processes, 
as well as recommendations of experts in transition. 

[4] Percentages do not add to 100 since some youth were both employed 
and in postsecondary school. 

[5] This includes those students that graduated with a diploma or 
alternative credential, dropped out, died, or aged out.

[6] SSDI is provided to workers who become disabled for as long as they 
cannot work due to their medical condition, and the amount of the 
benefit is based on past earnings. SSI is provided to individuals who 
can demonstrate financial need and have a disability affecting their 
ability to participate in any substantial gainful activity, whether or 
not they have worked in the past. 

[7] An OSEP official said that students leaving high school without a 
standard diploma are still eligible to receive special education 
services until they receive a diploma or age out.

[8] Officials from OSEP and NCES cautioned that there are large 
differences in the methodologies used by the two entities to calculate 
students' completion and dropout rates. For example, OSEP's rate is 
based on the total number of students who left high school in a given 
year, while NCES' s rate is based on the total number of students 
enrolled in grades 9 through 12 in a given year. In addition, NCES did 
not provide national totals for completion or dropout rates because not 
all states reported the number of dropouts to NCES. 

[9] Berry, Hugh and William Halloran, Graduation Exam Requirements and 
Students with Disabilities: A Correlational Study of Disability, Race, 
and Outcomes (Washington, D.C: U.S. Department of Education, Office of 
Special Education and Rehabilitative Services, February 2003).

[10] We updated Education's analysis for all IDEA students, but not for 
individual disability groups. 

[11] Education's analysis of 1998-99 completion rates showed that the 
percentage of IDEA youth receiving a certificate in states with exit 
examination requirements was approximately 16 percent, compared with 
about 6 percent for states without such requirements. We updated that 
analysis for the 2000-01 school year and found that about 14 percent of 
IDEA youth in states that have implemented the exit examination 
requirement received a certificate compared with about 9 percent of 
IDEA youth in states that did not have such requirement or have not 
fully implemented it. 

[12] Education funded NLTS in the late 1980s and early 1990s, providing 
information on a nationally representative sample of students ages 13 
to 21 enrolled in special education programs in the 1985-86 school 
year. 

[13] Education plans to conduct the study until 2010 and release 
reports annually. The study involves a nationally representative sample 
of special education students who were 13 to 16 years old as of 
December 2000. 

[14] In addition, state education officials from Kansas, Maine, and 
Minnesota reported to us that they are in the process of developing and 
implementing a routine data collection system. 

[15] IDEA funds included state discretionary grants and State 
Improvement Grants (SIG). Discretionary funds are awarded to states on 
the basis of a competitive review process. SIGs are provided by 
Education to assist state education agencies and their partners in 
reforming and improving systems for providing educational, early 
intervention, and transitional services, including systems for 
professional development, technical assistance, and dissemination of 
knowledge about best practices to improve results for children with 
disabilities. 

[16] Percentages do not add to 100 since some youth may have been both 
employed and in school; the results are unweighted. 

[17] The survey was conducted by the National Youth Leadership Network 
during 2001-02 and included responses from 202 youth with disabilities 
between the ages of 16 and 24. Survey respondents came from 34 states 
and the District of Columbia but were not randomly selected and survey 
results cannot be generalized to the national population of youth with 
disabilities.

[18] The ADA prohibits discrimination in employment, public services, 
and public accommodations against qualified individuals with 
disabilities.

[19] SLIIDEA collected transition data in 1999-2000 from the 50 states 
and a nationally representative sample of districts and schools that 
serve children with disabilities. 

[20] SPeNSE surveyed personnel from a nationally representative sample 
of districts, intermediate education agencies, and state schools for 
students with vision and hearing impairments. 

[21] Parent centers are funded by Education and serve families of 
children and young adults with disabilities. The centers provide 
training and information to parents and connect children with 
disabilities to community resources that address their needs. Each 
state has at least one parent center, and states with large populations 
may have more. There are approximately 100 parent centers in the United 
States.

[22] IDEA also requires that parents be given the opportunity to attend 
meetings discussing the child's individualized education program, 
provide consent to any provision of services to the child when given 
the first time, and be informed of the child's progress toward annual 
goals.

[23] SPeNSE. 

[24] NLTS showed that vocational education has a positive impact on 
both education and employment outcomes for the majority of students, 
while work experience has a positive impact on education for all 
students with disabilities and on employment for students with 
orthopedic or health impairments.

[25] We previously reported on federal, state and local actions needed 
to coordinate transportation services, U.S. General Accounting Office, 
Transportation - Disadvantaged Populations: Some Coordination Efforts 
Among Programs Providing Transportation Services, but Obstacles 
Persist, GAO-03-697 (Washington D.C.: June 30, 2003).

[26] For more information on Education's oversight process, see U.S. 
General Accounting Office, Special Education: Clearer Guidance Would 
Enhance Implementation of Federal Disciplinary Provisions, GAO-03-550 
(Washington D.C.: May 20, 2003).

[27] Education also funds the National Center on Secondary Education 
and Transition to coordinate national resources, offer technical 
assistance, and disseminate information related to secondary education 
and transition for youth with disabilities in order to create 
opportunities for youth to achieve successful futures.

[28] The performance evaluation of the Regional Resource Centers was 
conducted by Education's Federal Resource Center of Special Education-
-June 2001.

[29] Under WIA, youth are eligible for services if they fall within one 
or more of the following categories: deficit in basic skills, school 
dropout, homeless, runaway, or foster child, pregnant or parent, has 
disability, offender, or requires additional assistance to obtain 
employment. Income qualification can be waived for up to 5 percent of 
youth in a local area. 

[30] To estimate the percentage of IDEA youth eligible for WIA 
programs, we used data reported in the NLTS2 survey on income of IDEA 
youth's families. 

[31] Benefits are provided under the SSI program and the SSDI program.

[32] We determined the percentage of IDEA youth eligible for the Ticket 
program by using data provided by SSA on the number of youth ages 18 to 
21 receiving Social Security and SSI disability benefits. 

[33] In fiscal year 2002, Education began collecting data on IDEA 
youth.

[34] SSA does not collect data on services provided to participants in 
the Ticket program. 

[35] These data may be incomplete as the data set had a number of 
missing records.

[36] Moreover, Education officials informed us that the presence of 
waiting lists might keep additional individuals from seeking VR 
services. 

[37] WIA does allow local areas to waive income qualification criteria 
for up to 5 percent of youth served.

[38] SSA has partnered with Labor to place disability navigators at all 
WIA assistance facilities. The navigators will have expertise in Social 
Security disability programs, disability law, and other relevant 
issues.

[39] As of December 2002, about 244,000 youth between ages 18 to 21 
were SSI recipients and about 13,000 youth 21 and under were SSDI 
recipients. 

[40] Medicaid is a jointly funded, federal-state entitlement program 
that finances health care coverage for low-income individuals. 

[41] VR agencies are required by law to conduct outreach to special 
education students while they are in high school.

[42] Under the Benefits Planning, Assistance, and Outreach Program, SSA 
has established cooperative agreements with entities across the nation 
to provide benefits counseling and assistance, and conduct ongoing 
outreach efforts to inform beneficiaries of available work incentives. 
SSA also established the Protection and Advocacy for Beneficiaries of 
Social Security Program to serve SSI and SSDI beneficiaries who want to 
work.

[43] We did not interview Steering Committee representatives in 
California because California did not fully participate in the federal 
monitoring process.

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