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Special education students should have college and career readiness encouraged, with consideration for learning supports needed for success.

3 ways to support special education students with college and career readiness


Special education students should have their ambitions and talents encouraged, with consideration for the learning supports needed for success

Key points:

There are more than 140,000 special education (SPED) students in the state of Washington. Often, these students don’t have access to the same level of resources that are available to general education students. While we have made great strides in how we support students receiving special education services, there are still equity gaps that exist in areas like college and career planning. 

Special education students can be perceived as being unable to succeed in general and advanced level high school classes, engage in challenging job training, or succeed in postsecondary education. Often, these low expectations are fostered by previous educational experiences that teachers, school counselors, and parents had during their own K-12 education. Special education students should have their ambitions, interests, and talents acknowledged and encouraged, while also taking into consideration the learning supports needed for them to succeed. 

Regardless of ability, all students are entitled to access the resources that help them develop a successful and fulfilling post-secondary plan. 

Here are three ways to help special education students engage in the college and career planning process: 

Identify goals

Establishing goals is a critical first step for all students in the post-secondary planning process, as this provides a clear vision of what they want to achieve, and begins to create a road map of how to get there. 

School staff and families should work together to help special education students set goals that reflect and embrace the realities of their academic challenges without lowering expectations that could limit their options. These goals should be achievable, ambitious, and most importantly, personalized to include the student’s capabilities, strengths, and aspirations, while pushing them to maximize achievement based on their strengths.

Coursework can offer valuable insights, as well as reviewing what goals students have established for themselves in high school, to help in developing a clear and complete inventory of their skills. This will enable the career and college readiness team to have a solid understanding of what tools and support these students need to succeed.  

It’s important to keep conversations surrounding goal setting positive and focused on strengths, especially for students, staff, and families, who may struggle to see the possibilities for their future. 

Provide personalized experiences and instruction 

As with all students, the skills for college and career readiness can be developed in a variety of environments, with the support of both school staff and the larger community.

Creative opportunities for skill building and workforce training can be found within many schools. For instance, in our school district, we have special education students that work as teacher’s assistants delivering mail to offices and classrooms. Additionally, both hard and soft skills are  learned and cultivated outside the classroom in experiential settings, such as: community service projects, extracurricular activities, job shadowing, career mentorship, informational interviews, internships, practicums, and afterschool programs. 

Evaluate what skills and talents your special education students have, and create multiple opportunities both in and out of the classroom, to help students build upon them and prepare them for post-secondary life. 

Group involvement 

Special education students are often working with many different professionals within the school system, so it’s important that everyone involved has a shared understanding of their interests, strengths, and future goals to help them succeed.

Successful collaboration can help facilitate positive and realistic conversations among the entire team, ensuring all stakeholders are working toward supporting the student in reaching their post-secondary goals. College and career readiness software is a valuable tool that keeps everyone on the same page, allowing multiple individuals to easily track and monitor student progress. For Special Education students, the transition from high school to college or career can be a major step, so parent or guardian involvement is especially critical as they continue to offer support and guidance after graduation. 

Everyone who is a part of the student’s team–administrators, teachers, counselors, paraeducators, and parents–needs to embrace a culture and belief system that Special Education students are capable of high-level work, can succeed in postsecondary education, and can embark upon meaningful careers. Special education students deserve the same opportunities as their general education peers, including the individualized support that their path may require along the way. 

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