vision statement

Transition Planning: The Important Difference Between Postsecondary Goals and Annual Goals

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

One of the most important aspects of transition planning for students with individual education programs (IEPs)—and for every student—is development of postsecondary goals. These goals are often described synonymously as the student’s postsecondary vision: the outcomes that the student and their IEP team expects the student to achieve after exiting public education. Legally, every IEP in the country needs to include explicit postsecondary goals in the areas of education or training, employment, and independent living, when appropriate. In Massachusetts, students need to have goals for Independent Living as well as Community Engagement. Because this topic is so important, I previously wrote a blog describing the importance of measurable postsecondary goals including a formula for writing such goals.

But, two years later, I am still finding that this is a misunderstood aspect of the IEP process, particularly here in Massachusetts. This is in some ways because our state IEP was not designed with transition planning or student-centered planning at the foundation. Currently, when you read an IEP from Massachusetts, there is only one section of the IEP used for describing the Vision Statement for the student. For students under the age of 14, this section is typically used to describe what the parents and team hope and dream for the student over the next 1-to-5-year period. But then, no later than when the student turns 14, we use the same section of the IEP to write out the student’s vision statement for after high school, and that statement legally needs to reflect the student’s preferences and interests and the student’s desired outcomes (i.e., postsecondary goals) for adult independent living and community engagement, work, and learning or training environments. For reference, this is the language currently in the Massachusetts IEP.

This shift is confusing! Parents are used to coming to IEP meetings ready to share their visions for their children, and students are often unprepared to share their goals for life after high school. But this shift is also absolutely critical for ensuring that students receive appropriate transition services. This is because every student on an IEP is legally entitled to participate in a coordinated set of activities that promotes their movement toward their postsecondary goals (i.e., their vision). These activities can include instruction, related services, community experiences, development of employment and post-school living objectives, and acquisition of daily living skills and functional vocational evaluation.[1] The only way a student can receive appropriate transition services, and an appropriately calibrated and coordinated set of transition activities, is if we clearly identify and define appropriate postsecondary (i.e., post-high school) goals for the student. And, these need to be listed out at the start of the IEP. In Massachusetts, these need to be listed in the vision statement.

Nevertheless, once we have done the important work of defining the student’s postsecondary goals or vision (which always involves transition assessment), then we have more important work to do. We have to make sure that the IEP that is developed includes necessary annual IEP goals, and related services, that will effectively support the student in making progress toward their postsecondary goals. We need to carefully crosswalk between each of the postsecondary goals set for the student and the annual goals we are developing. It is vital to make sure that there is at least one annual goal (or objective/benchmark within an annual goal) that addresses each of the student’s measurable postsecondary goals. We are very good at making sure that each of the services a student receives relates to the annual goals a student is working on. But we rarely pay attention to whether each of the student’s measurable postsecondary goals (i.e., each of the goals listed in the student’s vision statements) is supported by an annual goal. Annual goals for transition-aged students need to be determined from two sources: the student’s disability-related needs AND the student’s measurable postsecondary goals. Annual goals and coursework for a student with autism and language-based issues should be different depending on whether the student intends to be an artist or a veterinarian technician. Goals should be different for a student who intends to be a licensed driver and a student who intends to use door-to-door van transportation. In all cases, the team needs to annually discuss what skills the student needs to build this year in order to be able to attain their postsecondary goals in the future. The team needs to make sure that each postsecondary goal that the student has is supported by the student’s annual goals. If this is not explicitly discussed at the team meeting, we are not effectively planning for the student—and we are not effectively supporting students in being able to plan for themselves.

For more information about postsecondary goals and annual IEP goals in Massachusetts, check out Technical Assistance Advisory SPED 2013-1: Postsecondary Goals and Annual IEP Goals in the Transition Planning Process from MA DESE: http://www.doe.mass.edu/sped/advisories/13_1ta.html


[1] https://sites.ed.gov/idea/regs/b/a/300.43


About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.