A mixed methods study of special education administrators in Tennessee on transition services for high school students with disabilities

Tammy H Hatfield, Tennessee State University


Students with disabilities are faced with many challenges as they transition from high school to postsecondary education, enter the workforce, and begin independent living. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 1990 (IDEA) initially addressed these challenges by mandating that transition planning be included as a part of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for a student with disabilities by the age of 16 or younger, if approved by a state education department. The state of Tennessee requires transition planning to begin by the age of 14. The federal IDEA mandate for transition planning does not mandate the type of transition program(s) to be provided in school districts, nor does IDEA mandate that a specific amount of federal money be spent on transition programs in school districts. This lack of federal guidance has become problematic and the result is that transition programs are not consistent as one compares among school districts and across states. Despite the efforts of the federal IDEA regarding transition programs, students with disabilities, as compared to their non-disabled peers, typically have experienced lower graduation rates, higher drop-out rates, and have graduated from high school and are unprepared for the world ahead of them. This mixed-methods research study analyzed the perceptions of special education administrators and the provision of transition programs in 120 Tennessee K-12 school districts. The participants responded to survey questions regarding the current transition programs and the future plans for transition programs in their local school district. Two special education administrators were interviewed to obtain an in-depth perception of transition programs in their respective school districts. Additionally, this study analyzed the effects of work-based learning opportunities and the hiring of transition coordinators on graduation rates of students with disabilities, drop-out rate, and ACT scores of K-12 school districts in Tennessee. The major findings of this study included the students who attend schools in the more populated districts, typically have access to more types of transition programs than those who attend in smaller districts. Additionally, the offering of work-based learning programs and the employment of transition coordinators do not have an effect on ACT scores, the drop-out rate, or attendance rates. Special education administrators understand the value and importance of transition services, however, budget and time constraints do not allow the administrators to address transition services as they would desire. The above findings from this study may provide information for the Tennessee State Department of Education, Division of Special Populations, the Tennessee State Department of Education Transition Planning Team, and local school district administrators as the state continues to promote transition program improvements.

Subject Area

School administration|Special education

Recommended Citation

Tammy H Hatfield, "A mixed methods study of special education administrators in Tennessee on transition services for high school students with disabilities" (2013). ETD Collection for Tennessee State University. Paper AAI3599432.