Looking Towards the Future: Developing a Program of Study

NTACT: the Collaborative
5 min readOct 23, 2020


Matthew D. Wood, M.A., LeeAnn Wagner Cica Ed.D. NCC, and the NTACT Knowledge Development Team

University of Northern Colorado, STRIVE Autism Transition Consulting and Coaching, University of North Carolina at Charlotte3

What is your plan after you graduate? For some students that is an easy question to answer. For others thinking about life after high school is an overwhelming and daunting task. Planning for post-secondary education, employment, and independent living is crucial for students with disabilities, as 28% of students with disabilities do not finish high school (National Longitudinal Transition Study-2, 2005). One of the first steps for students with disabilities is to develop a program of study aligned with their interests, strengths, and preferences (Zimmer-Gembeck & Mortimer, 2006). Rowe et al. (2015) define a program of study as “an individualized set of courses, experiences, and curriculum designed to develop students’ academic and functional achievement to support the attainment of students’ desired post-school goals” (p. 121).

Creating a program of study is not only a good practice, but it is also required. As part of the 2004 reauthorization of The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), the federal government added 17 indicators of compliance and performance. Indicator 13, which addresses Secondary Transition, requires that transition services in the IEP include a program of study. The program of study is updated yearly and aligned with the post-secondary goals (NSTTAC, 2012).

In developing a plan of studies, start with the idea that it is connected to a diploma or alternate diplomas and that the “plan of studies” should reflect classes that assist the student in meeting his or her postsecondary goals. It is paramount that students be involved in this section as it is part of the transition plan. There are several ways teachers can facilitate opportunities for students to increase their participation in developing their program of study (Rowe, et al., 2015).

● Early in transition planning, identify and discuss the diploma options and requirements. Create a planning guide detailing the course requirements. (See this example from the IRIS Center).

● Develop options for different pathways by using a graphic organizer. Create multiple ideas of ways that the student can earn the needed credits using the general and special education curriculum.

● The program of study should be based upon Universal Design Principles (UDL), and consist of academically rigorous inclusive classes.

● Develop multiple opportunities to meet graduation or certificate of completion requirements. Depending upon your state requirements for obtaining credit, it may be possible to earn credit through career technical education (CTE), community-based work, school-based enterprises, dual credit college classes, community access experiences, and independent living.

● Revisit the plan of study with the student yearly. With teacher assistance have the student evaluate each class completed. Ask the student to identify what went well, accommodations that supported success, and if the class was inclusive and academically rigorous. Create possible next steps to discuss at the annual IEP review.

State & Local Examples- Delaware

Smyrna School District (Website Link)

The mission of the Smyrna School District is to ensure that the students of the community are prepared as effectively and as efficiently as possible to become responsible and productive citizens possessing the knowledge, problem-solving skills, and the positive attitudes necessary to successfully adapt to and function in an ever-changing environment.

For students with special needs, Smyrna School District has utilized the below items to support their students:

· Additional elective required course for all students with an IEP at the middle school level

  1. Work every other day in a small group setting with a case manager to receive interventions and transitional services
  2. During IEP development and scheduling sessions, Case Managers and counselors provide consultative sessions and review of course of study

· Teachers are provided with an auto-scheduler suggestion tool.

  1. Teacher select current setting and career goals
  2. The tool will provide the appropriate course of study to be placed in IEP and course request

· All course requests are reviewed at the 9–12 level by special services staff to determine alignment with IEP and graduation requirements prior to release of schedule.

  1. Students participate in spotlight nights
  2. Families are able to attend an evening event and meet with teachers/students to discuss courses, programs of study, and CTSOs

NTACT Resources

§ Attribute Worksheet Academic Engagement — A guide to creating an action plan focused on academic engagement and school completion.

§ Postsecondary Education and Training Toolkit — Resources for families and professionals working with students with disabilities as they consider options and develop a program of study that will support their post-secondary goals.

§ School Completion Toolkit — Examines the issues surrounding graduation and dropout for students with disabilities and presents solutions to increase school completion for this population.

§ Student College Resource Guide- Provides a planning tool for high school students who are preparing for college.


Rowe, D. A., Alverson, C. Y., Unruh, D. K., Fowler, C. H., Kellems, R., & Test, D. W. (2015). A Delphi study to operationalize evidence-based predictors in secondary transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38(2), 113–126. https://doi.org/10.1177%2F2165143414526429

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, 20 U.S.C. § 1400 (2004).

National Longitudinal Transition Study-2. (2005). Facts from NLTS2: High School

Completion by Youth with Disabilities (November, 2005). SRI

International. https://nlts2.sri.com/fact_sheets/nlts2_fact_sheet_2005_11.pdf

National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center. (2012). NSTTAC indicator

13 checklist form A (May, 2012).


The IRIS Center. (2007, Rev. 2016). School counselors: Facilitating transitions for

students with disabilities from high school to post-school settings. Retrieved from


Thurlow, M. L., Test, D. W., Rogers, C. M., Klare, M., & Lazarus, S. S. (2019). Status of

state-defined alternate diplomas in 2018–19 (NCEO Report 416). Minneapolis,

MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes.

Zimmer-Gembeck, M.J. & Mortimer, J.T. (2006). Adolescent work, vocational

development, and education. Review of Educational Research, 76(4), 537–566.




NTACT: the Collaborative

NTACT:C is a Technical Assistance and Dissemination project, funded by the OSEP and the RSA, Cooperative Agreement Number H326E140004.