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Transition Assessment


The regulations for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 require "appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age appropriate transition assessments related to training, education, employment, and, where appropriate, independent living skills" (§300.320(b)(1)). Transition assessment is not defined in the law or the regulations, but the following definition is widely used:

"Transition assessment is an on-going process of collecting information on the student's strengths, needs, preferences, and interests as they relate to the demands of current and future living, learning, and working environments. This process should begin in middle school and continue until the student graduates or exits high school. Information from this process should be used to drive the IEP and transition planning process and to develop the SOP [Summary of Performance] document detailing the student's academic and functional performance and postsecondary goals" (Sitlington, Neubert, Begun, Lombard and Leconte, 2007, pp. 2-3)

A commonly used transition assessment framework known as "compatibility or discrepancy analysis" assesses the (a) student and his/her attributes and the (b) student's present, past and future ecologies in order to determine (c) congruence (positive matches) between the two. Student attributes may include interests, abilities, aptitudes, barriers, goals, needs, self-determination, functional levels, assistive technology needs and more.  Student ecologies may include environments, relationships, personal support systems, available resources, and more. (Leconte, 2007)

Three levels of assessment (Leconte, 2007) ensure that the student's transition needs are met:   

Level 1: Screening
This is an initial information-gathering process for all students that includes interviews, questionnaires, inventories, and background information for collecting the information needed to make transition planning and service decisions. If questions arise or more information is needed, level two assessment should ensue.

Level 2: Exploration
This is an intermediate process for students needing more assistance in transition planning and service development. It may include more detailed background information, vocational counseling, additional inventories and career exploration, skills analysis, job matching, and more. If questions arise or more information is needed, level three assessment should ensue.   

Level 3: Comprehensive Assessment
This is a comprehensive process for students with the greatest transition challenges and barriers. It is also known as vocational evaluation, preferably conducted by a team consisting of a vocational evaluator and professionals from the medical, psychological, economic, cultural, social, and vocational fields, as needed. It customarily uses real or simulated work situations in which to collect information and observe student attributes and career interests.

Miller, Lombard, and Corbey (2007, p. 5) identified five types of information to be collected in the transition assessment process to ensure that it is effective:

  • Future planning needs and goals
  • Self-determination and self-advocacy skills
  • Academic strengths and deficits, including learning styles and behaviors
  • Life skills 
  • Vocational interests, aptitudes, and abilities 

Types of transition assessment instruments may include 

  • behavioral assessments
  • aptitude tests
  • interest and work values inventories
  • intelligence tests
  • achievement tests
  • personality or preference tests
  • career maturity of readiness tests
  • self-determination assessments
  • work-related temperament scales
  • transition planning inventories (Walker, Kortering & Fowler, 2007, p.1)

Transition assessment instruments may be either formal or informal. Definitions vary, but formal instruments are usually standardized, i.e., have strict guidelines for administering, scoring, and interpreting, and have been tested for reliability and validity. Types of formal assessments include

  • Adaptive Behavior/Daily Living Skills Assessments
  • General and Specific Aptitude Tests
  • Interest Inventories
  • Intelligence Tests
  • Achievement Tests
  • Temperament Inventories/Instruments
  • Career Maturity or Employability Tests
  • Self-Determination Assessments
  • Transition Planning Inventories (DCDT & NSTTAC, n.d., pp. 1-2)

Informal assessments generally are not standardized and lack formal reliability and validity measures. Types of informal assessments include

  • Interviews
  • Questionnaires
  • Direct observation
  • Curriculum-based assessments (CBA)
  • Environmental analysis (DCDT & NSTTAC, n.d., pp. 2-3)

Transition assessment should include record reviews to incorporate current information, goals, and results from prior testing, planning, and activities (Timmons, Podmostko, Bremer, Lavin, & Wills, 2005). Record reviews will help ensure that students are not needlessly retested for information that is readily available. Additional guidelines for transition assessment include:

  • Assessment activities should be positive and lead to self-empowerment.
  • Self-determination based on informed choices should be an over-riding goal.
  • The purposes and goals of assessment should be clear.
  • Environmental factors affecting the individual should be considered.
  • Assessment reports should be written in easily understandable language (Timmons, Podmostko, Bremer, Lavin, & Wills, 2005, pp. 1-8).


Division of Career Development and Transition and National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center. (n.d.). Age-appropriate transition fact sheet. Ithaca, NY: DCDC & Charlotte, NC: NSTTAC. Available at

Sitlington, P.L., Neubert, D.A., Begun, W.H., Lombard, R.C., & Leconte, P.J. (2007). Assess for success: A practitioner’s handbook on transition assessment. (2nd ed.) Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press. May be ordered from

Timmons, J., Podmostko, M., Bremer, C., Lavin, D., & Wills, J. (2005, October). Career planning begins with assessment: A guide for professionals serving youth with educational and career development challenges. Washington, DC: National Collaborative on Workforce and Disability for Youth, Institute for Educational Leadership. Available at

Walker, A.R., Kortering, L.J., Fowler, C.H.. & Rowe, D. (2010). Age-appropriate transition assessment guide. (2nd ed.). Charlotte, NC: National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, Univerisity of North Carolina at Charlotte. Available at


Age Appropriate Transition Assessment Fact Sheet
This Fact Sheet, jointly developed by the Division on Career Development and Transition and the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center, contains information on formal and information transition assessments, conducting an age appropriate transition assessment, and selecting assessment instruments.   

Career Planning Begins with Assessment: A Guide for Professionals Serving Youth with Educational and Career Development Challenges
Downloadable guide contains information on selecting career-related assessments, determining when to refer youth for additional assessment, and issues such as accommodations, legal issues, and ethical considerations. Also contains a glossary of terms and information on developing interagency assessment collaborations.

Casey Life Skills Assessments
On-line assessments in English, Spanish, and French for the domains of home life, work life, housing and money management, and more. Also contains customized learning plans and teaching resources.

Age Appropriate Transition Assessment Guide (3rd edition)
The third edition of this guide from the National Secondary Transition Technical Assistance Center contains comprehensive information on transition assessment including frameworks for assessment, selecting age-appropriate assessment instruments, and examples of transition assessments.

Transition Assessment in Practice: From Mandate to Meaning
This PowerPoint by Dr. Pam Leconte presents basic assessment information including levels of assessment.

Vocational Assessment: A Guide for Parents and Professionals
Written by the National Information Center for Children and Youth with Disabilities, this article covers assessment types, benefits, uses, timing, trends, and other related information.

Related Reading

Clark, G. M., Patton, J. R. & Moulton, L. R. (2000). Informal assessments for transition planning. Austin. TX: Pro-Ed. May be ordered from

Whitfield, E.A., Feller, R.W., & Wood, C. (2009). A counselor's guide to career assessment instruments. (5th ed.). Broken Arrow, OK: National Career Development Association. 
May be ordered from the National Career Development Association at  




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