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 giving students real-world opportunities in those pathways, 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 empowers 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 students and their 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 takeaways 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

The postsecondary transition team meets at Simon Gratz High School, Philadelphia, PA.

When schools routinely monitor transition progress, they can intervene and adapt supports for students when data indicates they are struggling. This practice explores how transition teams can regularly review data and collaboratively take action to support students throughout the year in order to ensure all students achieve their postsecondary goals.

Why it Works

  • Transition planning has an outsized impact on a student’s ability to access and succeed in postsecondary opportunities, particularly for students with disabilities.
  • Regular review of student progress data ensures students are on track to meet their postsecondary milestones or goals long before the end of their senior year.
  • When teams are composed of a diverse set of staff members with various knowledge and viewpoints, they can inclusively support choice-filled postsecondary pathways.

In 2021, 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 ​from 53% to 77%.​ For the class of 2022, 95% of graduates were engaged in their postsecondary pathway one year after graduation.

Establishing External Partnerships to Strengthen Work-Based Learning Opportunities

Students at Mastery Schools, Philadelphia, PA

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:

  • Students can leave high school with work experience, new skills, and a potential future career.
  • Students can earn credit toward graduation while exploring potential postsecondary pathways.
  • School staff can ensure that programs are a good fit for students and that program staff understand student needs.

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 ninety-one.


Providing Summer Transition Programming for Postsecondary Success

Mastery Schools, Philadelphia, PA

Students with disabilities do not just need to graduate from high school. They also need to successfully complete their transition plans so that they can follow their chosen path after graduation. This practice from Mastery Schools explores how to support students, even after graduation, to finish essential steps for postsecondary success in college, careers, and the community.

Why it Works

  • Targeted transition planning and support beyond graduation ensures that students who choose a non-college pathway have the same support as their peers.
  • Similar models of summer postsecondary support show promising results and can be applied for alternative pathways.

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 begun their postsecondary pathway.


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

Tonya Ballard, Special Educator and Instructional Leader, Uncommon Schools

Successful transition requires schools and educators to engage directly with students and their 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 supported student 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


Developing Relationships Between Students and Alumni Success Coaches: Uncommon Schools

Roy Pellew, Alumni Success Coach, 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 and postsecondary teams partnered 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

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
  • MS_Icon_Orange

    Research-to-Impact Home

    Evidence-based practices to improve outcomes for Black and Latinx students with disabilities experiencing poverty

    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.