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CDEXXX10.1177/2165143415619151Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals Stevenson and Fowler

Transition in Practice
and Transition
for Exceptional

Collaborative Assessment for 2016, Vol. 39(1) 57 –62

© Hammill
Institute on
Disabilities 2015

Employment Planning: Transition Reprints and


Assessment and the Discovery Process DOI:


Bradley S. Stevenson, MTS, BCBA1 and Catherine H. Fowler, PhD1

As the Workforce Innovation and Opportunities Act (WIOA) is implemented across the
nation, special education and vocational rehabilitation professionals will need to
increase their level of collaboration. One area of potential collaboration is assessment
—transition assessment for the field of special education and the discovery process for
adult service providers. The purpose of this article is to describe both processes,
highlighting similarities and differences, and make recommendations for practice.

transition, transition planning, transition assessment, discovery, discovery process,
employment, vocational rehabilitation

Mr. Avery has been a special educator for 13 years at a high to the second wave of the National
Longitudinal Transition
school in a small, rural district. One of his student’s annual Study (NLTS2), only 60% of out-of-school youth
with dis-
IEPs is approaching. Jim is 17 years old and has a severe abilities were employed, 52% earned the federal
intellectual disability. He enjoys completing simple tasks and wage, and 40.2% worked more than 35 hr
per week
will work to completion if the task is familiar. He takes (Newman et al., 2011). Furthermore, research on
direction easily, but is unable to follow more than one direction for adults with intellectual and
developmental disabilities
at a time. He is able to say a few words, but communicates (IDD) indicate between 18% (Winsor, 2014) and 32%
primarily through gestures. (Metzel, Boeltzig, Butterworth, Sulewski, & Gilmore,
Mr. Avery thinks Jim would do well if he was in competitive 2007) of this population are competitively
integrated employment in the community, but is worried that In response to this, policy leaders are
emphasizing inte-
without an effective transition plan, Jim will end up living at grated employment outcomes for individuals
across the
home without a job or working in a segregated setting with spectrum of disability. For instance, in 2012 the
sub-minimum wage pay. He knows he needs to consider Jim’s Governors Association (NGA) launched
preferences, current marketable skills, and what Jim would First,” which identified integrated employment as the
need to learn to be successful in integrated employment. consideration and expectation for all
individuals with dis-
However, given Jim’s limited language and difficulty with new
tasks, Mr. Avery does not think the paper-pencil and online abilities (NGA, 2012). Since then, 32 states’
governors or
transition assessments his school usually uses will give him the legislatures have launched similar
“Employment First” ini-
data he needs to help Jim. tiatives (Association of People Supporting Employment
Mr. Avery also knows being linked with other providers will be First, 2015). More recently the Workforce
critical for Jim as he transitions to adult life. In the past he’s Opportunity Act (WIOA), reauthorized in
2014, placed lim-
referred families to vocational rehabilitation (VR) during the itations on subminimum wage employment
and focuses on
last semester before graduation or exit, but is not always certain a goal of competitive integrated
the paperwork is completed to initiate an evaluation for services If these efforts are going to be successful, it
is critical to
and he’s not certain that any information he’s been able to identify the practices most likely to lead to
employment as
provide from the school is used in the process. From past well as potential barriers that are likely to prevent it.
meetings with the VR counselor, he knows they both want to
help students get jobs, but seem to be speaking two different

languages with the different eligibility requirements and University of North Carolina at Charlotte, USA
services. Corresponding Author:
Data indicate that outcomes for individuals with disabilities Bradley S. Stevenson, University of North
Carolina at Charlotte, 9201
University City Blvd., Charlotte, NC 28223,
transitioning from school to employment are bleak. According Email:
58 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals 39(1)

Collaboration between schools providing transition services to find the answer. With this as the focus, the discovery pro-
and adult service providers assisting youth to secure employ- cess “provides an ideal foundation for any person-centered
ment (e.g., vocational rehabilitation [VR]) has been identi- planning approach that focuses on employment” (Callahan
fied as both an effective practice and a barrier. In 2009, Test & Condon, 2007, p. 23).
et al. identified interagency collaboration, including collab- In the current climate of expected collaboration between
orative service delivery and planning between schools and schools and VR local offices and a common goal of com-
VR, as a predictor of employment success for young adults petitive employment for the students and youth served,
with disabilities. However, a report by the Government assessment may be a tangible collaborative activity.
Accountability Office (GAO; 2012) cited variations in (a) Therefore, the purpose of this article is to compare and con-
terminology, (b) eligibility criteria, and (c) procedures trast transition assessment and the discovery process to
between special education for students and services to assist identify common ground for practitioners in special educa-
young adults with disabilities as major barriers to successful tion and VR.
outcomes for youth with disabilities. This shows that while
it is important for schools and VR offices to coordinate, it is Transition Assessment and the
critical that both parties are familiar with the other’s prac- Discovery Process
tices and terminology to prevent breakdowns.
One area where there is a need for effective collaboration This section provides an overview of transition assessment
is in assessment processes for high school students with dis- and the discovery process, highlighting similarities and differ-
abilities. As VR professionals work with school profession- ences. Table 1 displays these commonalities and differences.
als to implement the WIOA mandated “pre-employment
transition services” (e.g., job exploration counseling, work- Purpose
based learning experiences), it may be necessary to assess
students’ preferences, interests, needs, and strengths as part- Both transition assessment and the discovery process focus
ners. As a result, collaborating in the assessment process to on collecting information on an individual’s preferences,
ready students and youth for integrated employment will interests, needs, and strengths to create an individualized
move beyond a research-recommended practice to an plan for achieving targeted goals. In both fields, the plan
expected practice. should be comprehensive, meaning it identifies goals, ser-
Within the field of secondary transition, the assessment vices, and accommodations. Within special education, tran-
process is known as transition assessment and is defined as sition assessment drives the transition component of the
the collection of data regarding a student’s needs, strengths, individualized education program (IEP), which includes
preferences, and interests related to (a) postsecondary goals postsecondary goals, transition services, courses of study,
and (b) the annual goals that will help a student attain their and annual instruction. Similarly, the information gathered
postsecondary goals (Neubert & Leconte, 2013). Transition through the discovery process can drive the development of
assessment is supported by a mandate in the Individuals the individualized plan for employment (IPE). The distinc-
With Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEA; tion is that while the discovery process is focused on identi-
2004), as well as general professional consensus that fying employment opportunities, transition assessment
thoughtful planning for postsecondary success, including focuses on all areas of postsecondary life including employ-
comprehensive transition assessment, is vital (Neubert & ment, education, and independent living skills.
Leconte, 2013).
Within VR, the discovery process has begun to emerge Philosophy
as an assessment to increase the likelihood of successful
employment, particularly for individuals with IDD. Similar Transition assessment and the discovery process have simi-
to other methods of vocational assessment, the discovery lar philosophies. Both are intended to be person-centered,
process gathers information on individuals’ strengths, pref- promoting self-determination and self-directedness in
erences, and interests before matching them with jobs. assessment and planning (Test, Aspel, & Everson, 2006).
However, it developed in response to the common practice They focus on an individual’s strengths as the basis for
of beginning person-centered planning by asking the job planning as opposed to his or her deficits. Finally, they are
seeker what he or she wants to do without truly understand- both intended to be long-term processes, not isolated snap-
ing who that person is, which makes it easy to overlook fac- shots of the person.
tors that could compromise employment (Callahan & Condon, While these commonalities lead to both assessments
2007). To address this oversight, the discovery process begins being very similar, there are important differences. For
the planning process with the question “who is the job instance, transition assessment does not identify any method
seeker?” and uses predominantly qualitative methods (e.g., as preferred while the discovery process explicitly priori-
interviews, observations, participation in relevant activities) tizes qualitative methods over any others. This difference in
Stevenson and Fowler 59

Table 1. Comparison of Transition Assessment and Discovery Process.

Component Similarities Differences
Purpose ••Identify preferences, interests, needs/limitations, Transition assessment
and strengths. ••Related to postsecondary education, employment, and
••Contribute to a plan of action for achieving independent living.
goals. ••Contributes to the transition plan within the IEP including
postsecondary goals, transition services, courses
of study,
and annual instruction
Discovery process
••Related to
••Contributes to the IPE
Philosophy ••Person-centered/student-centered Transition assessment
••Strengths based ••Results of the assessments drive the expectations
••Long-term process ••Multiple methods of assessment valued
•• Discovery process
••Expectation of customized/integrated
employment ••Explicit emphasis on qualitative
methods (e.g., observations, interviews)
Focus area ••Vocational Transition assessment
••Students with all disabilities
••Postsecondary Education ••Independent Living
(e.g., social, communication, mobility, daily living, health,
personal finance)
Discovery process
••Individuals with IDD
••Potential employer needs
Methods ••Interviews Transition assessment
••Observations and review of work samples ••Psychometric assessments (e.g., formal
assessments of
••Situational assessment (i.e., systematic interests, values, temperaments, aptitudes)
observation of participation in activities in the ••Curriculum based measures
natural environment) ••Environmental analyses
••Environmental analyses ••Ongoing progress monitoring after initial transition
••Record reviews (e.g., record reviews of assessments
attendance, medical diagnoses, previous ••Evaluations by related service professionals
evaluations for services) Discovery process
••Building a relationship
••Targeted assessments (e.g., formal
assessments, assistive technology assessments,
evaluation by related service professionals), only as a
supplement if other methods are insufficient to develop a plan
Documentation••Formal document to summarize performance Transition assessment
••One- to two-page summary
••Present Level of Academic and Functional
Performance in the IEP
Discovery process
••Profile with an objective description of
successful skills, activities, and environments as well as
relevant supports, accommodations, and adaptations
••Written in language that is consistent with
workplaces in the community
Personnel ••Coordinated by case manager (e.g., special Transition assessment
education teacher, transition coordinator, VR ••Results belong to the IEP team
including the student
counselor) ••Data provided from multiple sources including the student
••Recruit information from the individual and Discovery process
other relevant parties (e.g., family, special ••Job seeker is the primary data source
education teacher(s), career technical and other ••Family, friends, coworkers, and others
in contact with the
general education teachers, case manager, job seeker provide a secondary data source
school counselors, psychologists, related service
personnel, adult service personnel such as VR,
college disability services, employers, coworkers)
Note. IEP = individualized education program; IPE = individualized plan for employment; IDD = intellectual and
developmental disability.
60 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals 39(1)

philosophies affects the priority and focus given to the dif- employers or postsecondary education providers. This may
ferent methods, which logically affects the information include a brief summative statement of assessment results
gathered and plans created from that information. Moreover, in a student’s IEP (e.g., the present levels of academic and
the discovery process expects all individuals to obtain inte- functional performance, a section dedicated to transition
grated employment, while transition assessment does not assessment results), a one- or two-page summary document
have integrated employment as its sole focus. This expecta- as recommended by Neubert and Leconte (2013), or a full
tion affects the information gathered and future planning as report. In the discovery process, a profile is created to guide
data that are relevant for the individual’s anticipated future employment planning (e.g., vocational profile, positive per-
will be privileged. Therefore, if integrated employment is sonal profile). This profile should objectively describe the
not expected, information that could be instrumental in individual’s performance and any other information rele-
attaining integrated employment may be overlooked. vant to that individual’s future employment success (e.g.,
activities and environments that have been successful). It
Focus should also be written in a language consistent with poten-
tial worksites. This is intended to improve outcomes by pro-
The area of focus is one of the major differences between ducing a document that is easily understood by prospective
transition assessment and the discovery process. First, tran- employers.
sition assessment is used with students with all disabilities,
while the discovery process has most often focused on indi- Personnel
viduals with IDD. Second, whereas transition assessment
should focus on gathering information and planning for all Transition assessment is typically coordinated by the indi-
areas of postsecondary life, the discovery process is focused vidual’s special education teacher or a transition specialist
solely on employment. Third, transition assessment is con- who gathers information from relevant parties including the
ducted for students between the ages of 16 (or younger) and student, family, teachers, related service personnel, and
21. while the discovery process is for an individual seeking employers among others. This is similar to the discovery
employment at any age, though it has primarily been used process, which is generally coordinated by an individual’s
with adults. Finally, the discovery process has an immediate VR counselor and gathers data from the individual, family,
focus on employment, while transition assessment gathers coworkers, employers, and anyone else who can contribute
information for employment, postsecondary education, information. Once again, the difference comes in emphasis
independent living, and instructional planning. as the discovery process specifically prioritizes the individ-
ual as the primary source of information. While this may be
Method consistent with the philosophy of transition assessment, the
emphasis is not as explicit.
Transition assessment and the discovery process rely on
many of the same methods such as record reviews, inter- Collaboration Among Professionals
views, observations, and situational assessments as stan-
dard practice. Differences arise in the emphasis placed on These similarities between transition assessment and the
these methods. As stated previously, the discovery process discovery process show that there is ample room for col-
attempts to exclusively utilize qualitative methods. In prac- laboration between the fields, and the highlighted differ-
tice, this translates to starting with and dedicating the major- ences should add clarity to future collaboration. Below are
ity of time on methods such as observations, interviews, and some suggestions for how this collaboration may work.
situational assessments. Formal methods are only used to
validate the information gathered (e.g., reviews of records) Mr. Avery is ready to find a useful planning process for Jim and
or as a targeted assessment if there is a gap in that informa- other students like him.
tion (e.g., assistive technology assessment). Transition
assessment, on the other hand, has traditionally begun with The overarching recommendation is for school profes-
an examination of formal measures of student performance, sionals to increase their knowledge of the two categories of
and then filled in missing information with the qualitative assessment to increase and improve collaboration with VR.
methods (Sitlington & Clark, 2001). One of the easiest ways to accomplish this is for school per-
sonnel engaged in conducting transition assessment to com-
Documentation municate with the school’s assigned VR counselor, or local
VR office, to learn about the discovery process. This could
In transition assessment, the results are used to create both reduce the barrier of different terminologies between the
(a) a transition plan within the IEP and (b) a Summary fields in multiple ways. First, school personnel could pro-
of Performance document that can be shared with future duce documents that are more accessible to VR staff by
Stevenson and Fowler 61

using employment-focused terminology. Second, schools integration in one’s home community. This would improve
and VR could communicate with a common language. an IEP team’s ability to identify instructional and transition
Finally, learning more about the discovery process could services needed to prepare a student for such environments.
allow school personnel to share information relevant to
employment that may be overlooked by VR (e.g., informa- As Mr. Avery conducts the discovery process, he knows it may
tion from the other domains of transition assessment that be tough for Jim to find a job in the community, but he looks
affects employment). for the information to make that possible. He observes Jim in
relevant settings, setting up visits at potential employment sites
Mr. Avery starts by reaching out to the local VR office and and talking with the supervisors. He looks at the requirements
explaining the situation. They mention a method called the of jobs in the community, making note of what Jim can do and
discovery process, saying they’ve begun to use it with their can learn to do. Also, he makes this expectation clear when
clients. Curious, Mr. Avery opens a web browser and searches interviewing family and teachers to make sure they provide
“discovery process employment.” He finds numerous answers that are relevant to that goal.

resources, and from what he reads he thinks this may be useful A final consideration is to emphasize the qualitative
for Jim’s assessment. Plus, if the VR counselors use this, it may
make their collaborations more effective. methods of the discovery process in all areas of transition
assessment as they are applicable to employment, indepen-
While learning about the discovery process is an impor- dent living, and postsecondary education. For example, for
tant first step, school personnel should go further by actively independent living, observations could be conducted in the
reaching out to collaborate with adult service personnel student’s place of residence and community settings to inform
when completing the transition assessment process. This plan development. Similarly, for postsecondary education, a
cooperation can (a) alleviate some burden on school per- student could be observed sitting in on a lesson at a college or
sonnel, (b) foster the use of language consistent with tar- interview the office of disability services to gather informa-
geted postsecondary outcomes, and (c) facilitate the linkage tion on skills needed for success in that setting. Although this
of families and students to future services. For example, can be more resource intensive, it yields more student cen-
collaborating early with VR in employment planning might tered, actionable information for planning (Neubert &
more seamlessly connect the school’s IEP to the adult ser- Leconte, 2013). Furthermore, qualitative methods may pro-
vices IPE. This would aid in collaboration with adult ser- vide practitioners with an effective process for students with
vice providers, the transition from school-based services, more complex needs for whom identifying postsecondary
and would be consistent with the policy initiatives (e.g., goals can be challenging (e.g., students with IDD).
Rehabilitation Services Administration, 2014; WIOA,
2014). In working through the assessment process, Mr. Avery feels
Having a better understanding of the discovery process and like he is getting more actionable data than usual. Then it
how the school and VR could collaborate on assessment, Mr. occurs to him that he does not need to limit the discovery
Avery contacts Ms. Li, the VR Counselor serving the school. A process to employment. He starts thinking about other ways
meeting is scheduled with Jim and his parents. At the meeting Jim could participate in integrated settings, and uses the
Mr. Avery and Ms. Li explain how the school and VR can both discovery process to plan for Jim learning and living in the
assist Jim in becoming competitively employed through the community.
expanded assessment activities used in the discovery process. In practice, as an initial step in the transition assessment
They emphasize the importance of the family’s contribution to process, a school professional can obtain parent consent to
the process and share how assessment information in the communicate with and request the involvement of the
community, including job site observations, can help determine school’s assigned VR counselor. It may be possible for the
what type of employment would be the best job match. Mr. VR counselor to complete the discovery process as part of
Avery feels confident that Jim’s transition will go more
smoothly because he is collecting transition assessment data he an evaluation or pre-employment transition services and
knows VR can use and Ms. Li is now familiar with Jim. share those results with the IEP team as a source for the
postsecondary employment goal and related transition ser-
A third implication is for school professionals to expect vices. Similarly, this consent to share information could
integrated employment for all students. This is consistent allow the school to share data regarding academic perfor-
with the emphasis by policy makers and advocacy organiza- mance, behavior, or observations of school-based work
tions, and it ensures the least restrictive placement is targeted. experiences with the VR counselor. By planning ways
Furthermore, the expectation for life in integrated settings coordinate the discovery process in transition assessment,
could be translated to all postsecondary areas. This would two of the most critical professionals in the lives of high
mean gathering information relevant for success in integrated school students and young adults with IDD could
environments such as college campuses, transportation, and the assessment process for families and youth, coordinate
62 Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals 39(1)

IEP and IPE services as appropriate, and relieve individual Member, Committee on Education and the Workforce, House
responsibility for data collection. of Representatives. Retrieved from
Three years later, Mr. Avery bumps into Jim who is happily Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004,
working as an inventory attendant in a large home improvement 20 U.S.C. 1400 et seq. (2004).
store in the next town. He casually greets Jim, not wanting to Metzel, D. S., Boeltzig, H., Butterworth, J., Sulewski, J. S., &
distract him from his work. As he walks away he smiles to Gilmore, D. S. (2007). Achieving community membership
himself, knowing the difference a thoughtful planning process through community rehabilitation provider services: Are we
made in Jim’s life. there yet? Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities , 45,
National Governors Association. (2012). A better bottom line:
Conclusion Employing people with disabilities . Bank of America,
As WIOA is implemented, special educators and VR coun- Bloomberg Philanthropies, Intel, ResCare, and Walgreens.
selors will need to increase their collaboration. The transi- Retrieved from
tion assessment and discovery processes appear to be an Better_Bottom_Line.pdf
Neubert, D. A., & Leconte, P. J. (2013). Age appropriate tran-
excellent starting point given the commonalities between sition assessment: The position of the Division on Career
the two. In fact, combining the strengths of both should lead Development and Transition. Career Development and
to improved school and VR transition services for all stu- Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 36, 72–83.
dents with disabilities. Newman, L., Wagner, M., Knokey, A.-M., Marder, C., Nagle,
K., Shaver, D., . . . Schwarting, M. (2011). The post-high
Declaration of Conflicting Interests school outcome of young adults with disabilities up to 8 years
after high school (A report from the National Longitudinal
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with Transition Study–2 [NLTS2]) (NCSER 2011-3005). Menlo
respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this Park, CA: SRI International. Retrieved from
article. reports/
Rehabilitation Services Administration. (2014). Transition plan-
Funding ning and services provided through the State Vocational
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support Rehabilitation Services Program . Technical Assistance
for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article: This Circular. Retrieved from
article was funded across two grants; first, by the Office of Special guid/rsa/tac/2014/tac-14-03.pdf
Education Programs (Grant # H326J110001) and second, by the Sitlington, P. L., & Clark, G. (2001). Career/vocational assess-
Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (Grant # ment: A critical component of transition planning. Assessment
H326E140004). for Effective Intervention, 26, 5–22.
Test, D. W., Aspel, N. P., & Everson, J. M. (2006). Transition
methods for youth with disabilities . Upper Saddle River, NJ:
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