Igniting Postsecondary Aspirations

Proven school-based practices to empower students to transition into meaningful college, career, and community postsecondary pathways


About This Collection

People with disabilities between the ages of 14 and 64 are considerably less likely to be employed, to enroll in and complete postsecondary education programs, and to live independently than people without disabilities. By creating postsecondary pathways that are aligned with student goals and give students real world opportunities in that pathway, students can be better prepared for life after high school.

Igniting Postsecondary Aspirations includes a set of best practices for improving learning and postsecondary outcomes in secondary students — particularly Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty — using transition programming that allows students to seek individualized postsecondary pathways.

Research-to-Impact Practices

This collection includes three best practices that support the education of students with disabilities on behalf of improving learning and postsecondary outcomes for all students. It features two case studies from Uncommon Schools. The first explores how educators use strategic relationships with families to expand enrollment in community-based programs. The second focuses on building relationships between special education staff and their college and career readiness teams to more effectively support students after graduation.

The collection also includes a literature review that synthesizes research on practical approaches to transition planning and programming, with a focus on students with disabilities.

In addition, our work highlights several cross-cutting findings about how schools can improve support for postsecondary transitions:

  • There are many ways to pursue a choice-filled pathway after high school.
  • Running a successful postsecondary transition program requires dedicated staff to lead and oversee this work.
  • Choice-filled transition pathways require partnerships across stakeholders.

Building School-Based Transition Teams to Accelerate Student Progress Toward Postsecondary Goals

Transition progress needs to be monitored in the same way as all other student outcomes in schools so that teams can intervene and adapt supports for students when data indicates they are struggling. This practice explores how postsecondary and/or transition teams can regularly meet to review data and make decisions on how best to support students throughout the year in order to ensure all students achieve their postsecondary goals.

Why it Works

  • Transition planning increases the likelihood that students with disabilities receive services in postsecondary settings.
  • Teams that use data to support transitions help students make progress toward goals.
  • Collaborative teams bring together diverse perspectives.

At Simon Gratz High School, the transition team’s efforts increased the percentage of students enrolled and engaged in postsecondary pathways in education, workforce, military, or job training six months after graduation from 53% to 77%.

Tracking transition activities at Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia, PA

Establishing External Partnerships to Strengthen Work-Based Learning Opportunities

Dual enrollment programs allow students to receive high school credit while also meeting requirements for college, certification, licensing, or other pathways students may choose to enroll in after high school. This practice explores how schools can develop strong partnerships with external organizations or institutions, both public and private, so students have the chance to prepare for the postsecondary pathway of their choosing.

Why it Works

For students with disabilities, dual enrollment programs can be particularly useful:

  • School staff can ensure that programs are a good fit for students and that program staff understand student needs.
  • Students have the opportunity to transition into their postsecondary pathway with the support of their current teacher and school staff.
  • Students can earn credit toward graduation.
  • Classes and services at school can help reinforce skills or lessons needed in programs.
  • Peers attending the same program can support one another.
  • Students can leave high school with work experience, new skills, and a potential future career.

At Mastery Schools’ Simon Gratz High School in Philadelphia, PA, the transition team developed a way for students to get high school credit for participating in work-based learning opportunities during the school day. Within three years, the number of spots available to students pursuing postsecondary employment increased from seven to 91.

Students at Mastery Schools, Philadelphia, PA


Providing Summer Transition Programming for Postsecondary Success

For students who are unable to secure a placement in a postsecondary institution (college, workplace, workforce training center, community living, or the military), it is important for schools to provide intensive support to continue to help those students meet their postsecondary goals during the summer after graduation. This practice explores how counselors work 1:1 and in small groups with students to ensure they are taking all the steps necessary to ensure they have secured a postsecondary placement by the end of summer.

Why it Works

  • Students seeking alternative pathways need continued support.
  • Similar models of support show promising results.

Over nearly five weeks, the postsecondary team at Simon Gratz High School provided individual coaching to about 60 students with disabilities in-person and remotely. By the end of summer, 87% of students had engaged in summer touchpoints with their coach, and 80% of students had enrolled in their postsecondary pathway.

Mastery Schools, Philadelphia, PA


Partnering with Families to Expand Enrollment in Community-Based Programs: Uncommon Schools

Successful transition requires schools and educators to engage directly with families. This case study explores how educators at North Star Academy Lincoln Park High School in Newark, NJ, developed strategic relationships with students, families, and local organizations that provide postsecondary resources to students — and then supported families’ submission and completion of applications to the organizations.

“My goal is just to be the person who is the bridge.”
—Tonya Ballard, Uncommon Special Educator and Instructional Leader

Tonya Ballard, Special Educator and Instructional Leader, Uncommon Schools


Developing Relationships Between Students and Alumni Success Coaches: Uncommon Schools

Counselors who support students after graduation need to understand the unique needs of students with disabilities. This case study explores how Uncommon Schools’ special education teams partnered with postsecondary teams to facilitate relationships and effectively support students with disabilities during their high school-to-postsecondary transition.

“Students who don’t complete their exit interview are less likely to engage with us.”
—Roy Pellew, Uncommon Alumni Success Coach

Roy Pellew, Alumni Success Coach, Uncommon Schools

Explore the Collections

  • MS_Icon_Orange

    Turning the Page to Secondary Literacy

    Tested practices for schools to identify gaps and implement interventions for secondary readers

    Learn More
  • MS_Icon_Orange

    Opening Doors to Collaboration

    Interdisciplinary practices for building collaboration between general and special education teams

    Learn More
  • MS_Icon_Orange

    Navigating Data for Multi-Tiered Systems of Support

    Equity-based practices for using data at the district, school, and classroom levels to accelerate student supports

    Learn More
  • MS_Icon_Orange

    Anchoring Emotions

    One school’s skill-based practices for supporting students with emotional-based disabilities

    Learn More

Join Our Community

Sign up for our newsletter to get updates on the Research-to-Impact Practices and other tools. If you are interested in learning more about our networked improvement communities or other partnerships, please email us at MarshallCoLab@summitps.org.