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Special Education Secondary Transition

The department encourages districts to prepare all students for Career and College Readiness. The programs, resources, and services included in these guidelines demonstrate best practices in serving Students with Disabilities as they transition from secondary to post-secondary activities such as postsecondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment); continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation.

Transition Tennessee: Blueprint for Student Success

To support strong transition for youth with disabilities, Transition Tennessee is Tennessee’s online home for training and resources on preparing students with disabilities for life after high school. Consider this site the “blueprint” to building a comprehensive transition program for your students.  Through multiple courses, you will learn about the best practices and practical strategies for special educators, students, families, and other transition team members to build a bridge to postsecondary.

Secondary Transition Guidelines for Youth with Disabilities

In accordance with Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) each State must have in place a long range State Performance Plan (SPP) that evaluates the State’s efforts to implement the requirements and purposes of the IDEA and describes how the State will improve such implementation over a 6 year period.   Additionally, each State must report annually on the State’s performance through a  report called the Part B Annual Performance Report (APR) which includes information/measures on each State’s grad rate, dropout rate, state assessment, discipline, LRE, preschool, parent input, eligibility timelines, high school transition and dispute resolution.

The four indicators that relate to Secondary Transition are:

  • Indicator 1 – Percent of youth with IEPs graduation from high school with a regular diploma.
  • Indicator 2 – Percent of youth with IEPs dropping out of high school.
  • Indicator 13 – Percent of youth with IEPs who have all seven transition components included in their transition planning document.
  • Indicator 14 – Percent of youth who are no longer in secondary school, had IEPs in effect at the time they left school, and were:

Regular High School Diploma

High school students must complete 22 credits to graduate. They also will be tested in core subject areas with End of Course exams, part of the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program, or TCAP. Their performance on these exams will factor into their semester grade for the course.

Alternate Academic Diploma

On January 26, 2018, the State Board of Education approved the addition of the alternate academic diploma within High School Policy 2.103. This new diploma will count toward the district graduation rate and will be implemented beginning in the 2018-19 school year. In order to earn the alternate academic diploma, (AAD), a student must:

  1. participate in the alternate assessments;
  2. earn the prescribed 22 credit minimum;
    1. To count toward the graduation rate this must occur within the four years plus one summer timeline
    2. Course requirements are outlined to support schools in the instructional expectations for the 22 credits and can be found here.
  3. receive special education services or supports and make satisfactory progress on an IEP;
  4. have satisfactory records of attendance and conduct; and
  5. complete a transition assessment(s) that measures, at a minimum postsecondary readiness in the areas of postsecondary education and training; employment; independent living; and community involvement.

The AAD does not effect a student’s least restrictive environment but rather, provides guidance related to rigorous standards-based instruction. View the below webinars to learn more about the policy and implementation.

For more information, please contact or

Occupational Diploma

The occupational diploma is one of the three diploma options available for students with an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).  Students that have an IEP first and foremost must be given the option of a general education diploma. The occupational diploma is one of the two options available for students with an IEP that are not on track to receive the general education diploma. The occupational diploma became effective January 11, 2015. 

A team may select the occupational diploma as the goal no sooner than the end of the sophomore year or two years prior to the expected graduation date. Although there may be younger students presumed to be future occupational diploma graduates, it is critical that schools hold high expectations by working towards the general education diploma until the end of students’ second year of high school. 
Students who earn an occupational diploma will count as non-graduates in your district’s graduation rate, as the occupational diploma does not count as a diploma for state and federal reporting and accountability purposes. However, it is believed that the occupational diploma will increase the number of students employed or in post-secondary school following graduation.
To earn an occupational diploma, a student must meet the criteria on the Skills, Knowledge, and Experience Mastery Assessment (SKEMA).

The SKEMA requirements are:

  • A performance level of “3” or higher on all four required skills
  • A performance level of “3” or higher on 8 of 10 critical skills
  • Two years of work experience, paid or unpaid
    • For the 2015-16 school year, one year of work experience is sufficient as this is a new initiative.

Please note: A student with a disability is entitled to special education services until the student either earns a high school diploma or reaches 22 years of age.  A student with a disability who reaches 22 years of age after the beginning of a school year continues to be entitled to special education services for the remainder of that school year. Therefore, if a student receives an occupational diploma at the end of the senior year (fourth high school year) but are still receiving services through the school because they are under 22 years old, they can continue to work towards the general education diploma if the IEP team decides that is appropriate.  Similarly, for students who have received a special education diploma at the end of the senior year (fourth high school year) but are still receiving services through the school because they are under 22 years old, they may work towards the occupational diploma to increase the student’s likelihood of securing employment following school.

Special Education Diploma

A special education diploma may be awarded at the end of the fourth (4th) year of high school to students with disabilities who have (1) not met the requirements for a regular high school diploma, (2) received special education services or supports and made satisfactory progress on an individualized education program (IEP), and (3) have satisfactory records of attendance and conduct. Students who obtain the special education diploma may continue to work toward a regular high school diploma through the end of the school year in which they turn twenty-two (22) years old.

Students who earn a special education diploma will count as non-graduates in your district’s graduation rate, as the special education diploma does not count as a diploma for state and federal reporting and accountability purposes.

On Feb. 8, the Tennessee State Board of Education passed on final reading three new courses and standards for Principles of Transition for Postsecondary Readiness. The courses have been developed to better prepare students with disabilities to enter into postsecondary education or training, employment, community involvement, and independent living with an added emphasis on understanding how to navigate the complex postsecondary service systems for people with disabilities. These new standards will go into effect for the 2019-20 school year.

More information on each course, is available below.

Secondary Transition Consultants provide information, training and technical assistance to stakeholders and others interested in the secondary transition process. Additionally, TDOE provides professional development and technical assistance by way of contractual arrangements with the following entities:

  • Arc of Tennessee - The Arc Tennessee is a statewide non-profit organization that advocates for the rights and full participation of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities in their communities. The Secondary Transition Project funded by the Tennessee Department of Education is one of many education and outreach projects of The Arc. Its primary purposes are to assist students, families and educators in understanding the Secondary Transition process; to teach self-advocacy and self-determination skills to students; and to educate students, families and school systems on how students can more actively participate in and/or lead their own IEP meetings. In addition to these areas of expertise, the staff of the Secondary Transition project offer free workshops in other areas including but not limited to the History of Disability, Person First Language, and Getting a Head Start with Vocational Rehabilitation upon request.
  • STEP, Inc. - STEP staff will provide training and professional development to families who have children with disabilities, transition age students with disabilities, teachers and related service providers who work with transition age youth. Direct in-person training opportunities that can be requested by families, schools, and community sponsors include: Transition Institutes with Information Fairs, Dream Building Activity: Planning for Your Future at Institutes and workshops on “Taking the Mystery out of Transition Planning”, and transition focused person centered planning seminars which include both group instruction and individual work with students, and providing transition information to families whose first language is not English.
  • University of Tennessee, Center for Literacy, Education, and Employment – The Center for Literacy, Education and Employment conducts training and technical assistance in delivering a self-determination and career planning curriculum to school personnel who are interested in empowering students at the point of transition from school to adult life as well as assisting LEAs with developing a student’s plan for a Seamless Transition.

Developed for use with a wide range of student academic and vocational abilities and based on the principles of self-determination, the Self Advocacy curriculum helps students discern their interests and abilities, learn more about post-secondary options, make choices and decisions, and chart a career and life course into their future. Teachers, guidance counselors and others who take the curriculum training will be expected to deliver a program of classroom instruction using the Self Advocacy curriculum, conduct the class within a 9-week period, use the pre-tests and post-tests to generate data and report the data to the Center for Literacy, Education and Employment.

Services include:

  • Basic training that qualifies teachers and other school personnel to use the Self Advocacy curriculum. A $125 fee covers materials and follow-up support.
  • Intensive coaching for selected school systems
  • Direct assistance to student in developing self-advocacy upon request

Getting into college, beginning career training, or starting a new job can be challenging. But even the most difficult barriers can be overcome with the right information. Supported by the Tennessee Department of Education and the Boling Center for Developmental Disabilities, Center staff can assist students, teachers and school systems with these challenges by providing assistance with: