At that time, the real extent of these problems was not defined. How widespread were these problems? Were students with particular characteristics more prone to have difficulty making the transition from school to adult life? What could schools or service agencies do to support students in making that transition more effectively?
To obtain answers to these kinds of questions, Congress directed the Department of Education to commission a study of "a sample of handicapped1 students, encompassing the full range of handicapping conditions, examining their educational progress while in special education and their occupational, educational, and independent living status after graduating from secondary school or otherwise leaving special education" [20 U. S. C. 1418(e)(2)(A)]. In 1985, SRI International, under contract to OSEP, began to develop the design, sample, and instruments for the National Longitudinal Transition Study of Special Education Students (NLTS). In 1987, under a separate contract, SRI initiated the study. 2
Since 1987, the NLTS has helped document much of what is known nationally about the experiences of young Americans with disabilities while in secondary school and in the years immediately afterward. Information on secondary school programs is now available, including data on course-taking patterns, support services delivery, and involvement in regular education classes (Wagner, 1993). Information on student performance was also collected, including indicators for absenteeism, grades, reading and mathematics performance levels, and school completion (Wagner, Blackorby, and Hebbeler, 1993). Because the NLTS includes a nationally representative sample of youth with disabilities, it has been able to document the results for youth with disabilities as a whole, and youth in each of the 11 Federal special education disability categories.3 The NLTS has examined the various life paths of young adults after high school, such as participation in postsecondary education, employment, residential arrangements of various kinds, and marriage and parenthood (Wagner, D'Amico, Marder, Newman, and Blackorby, 1992).
This chapter is based on that study and on other research concerning the affect of time spent in regular education on post-school outcomes for young adults with disabilities. The chapter consists of four sections and a summary.
Describing the experiences of students with disabilities and the results they experience in school and beyond is only the first step to understanding how public policy, educational programs, and related services can be used more effectively to help these students improve those results. Policy makers, educators, parents, and service providers also need to know what school experiences help students with disabilities achieve their goals after leaving school. It is important to know whether some school programs or experiences benefit particular kinds of students more than others. To help meet this information need, this chapter addresses the following questions:
2 Findings from the NLTS are based on data from more than 8,000 youth who were ages 13 to 21 and in special education in secondary schools (grade 7 through 12 or ungraded programs) in 1985-86. Data were also collected in 1990 for youth who had been out of school 3 to 5 years.
3 In 1985 when the sample was selected, there were 11 Federal disability classifications. Autism and traumatic brain injury had not yet been added.