While school may be wrapping up, Summer is an ideal time to embark on transition assessment and services to ensure that your child’s IEP process is preparing them for learning, living, and working after their public education. The ultimate goal of transition assessment is to identify the necessary skills and services to ready a student age 13-21 for transitioning from high school to the next phase of life. To book an intake and consultation appointment, visit: www.nesca-newton.com/intake. Not sure if you need an assessment? You can schedule a one-hour parent/caregiver intake and consultation.

Vocational Assessment and Transition Planning

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

Transition planning is a complex process centered around helping students, typically who receive special education services, to set goals for their postsecondary adult lives and to engage in learning, services, and experiences that will help them to ultimately reach those goals. Assessment is a critical aspect of this process, both as a means for collecting baseline information about the student and measuring progress throughout the planning process. While transition planning focuses on outcomes in several key areas (e.g., further education and training, employment, independent living, community engagement, adult service involvement), many families who seek transition assessment and planning help are specifically concerned about employment. What can my child do? What career path is best for my daughter? Will my son be able to support himself? For these families, vocational assessment is a critical piece of the transition planning process. Yet, many families do not have a good understanding of what a vocational evaluation includes and the types of results and recommendations that can come from such evaluation.

Vocational assessment has a relatively simple definition. It is the process of gathering information about a student’s interests, abilities, and aptitudes as they relate to the student’s work potential.[i] However, there is not one universal test or process used to collect this information. In fact, any of the following types of tests might be part of vocational assessment:

  • Record review
  • Informal interview with the student
  • Informal interview with parents, teachers, or other professionals who know the student well
  • Observation of student in current familiar environments
  • Interest inventories (informal or formal)
  • Learning style inventories
  • Self-reported skill, ability and achievement inventories
  • Work preference and motivation assessments
  • Work-related behavior inventories
  • Employability/Life skills assessment
  • Formal aptitude assessment
  • Situational assessment of a student in a controlled work environment
  • Work samples
  • Functional assessment of simulated or real job tasks

Importantly, most students do not need to participate in all of the above types of assessments. In fact, a lot of the best information comes from the first few informal steps of the process, record review (which often includes rich data about a student’s cognitive skills, sensory and motor skills, perceptual skills, and learning style) and interviews with the student and adults familiar with the student. Ultimately, the purpose of vocational assessment is to develop a profile of the student’s interests, skills, and aptitudes and formulate measurable short- and long-term career goals. However, it is important to remember that participation in vocational assessment typically does not, and should not, result in identification of one specific career to pursue. That’s not how any of the tests, or the overall process, is designed. Instead, results of vocational assessment will suggest a variety of careers or career families that a student may be interested in exploring more in depth. It is an important starting point of career exploration, especially for students who are unsure about their career goals. Results can also be helpful for identifying where there is alignment in a student’s aptitudes and interests or where more exposure and instruction may be needed to support a student’s career development. The information that comes out of vocational assessment is an invaluable part of comprehensive transition assessment and planning for students with and without disabilities.

For more information about vocation assessment and transition assessment at NESCA, visit our transition services page and our transition FAQs.

Also, stay tuned for more blogs about vocational assessment this fall as my colleague Tabitha Monahan and I will be specifically breaking down some of the above types of testing in greater detail.

[i] Instructional Materials Laboratory. (1998).  Vocational assessment for students with special needs. Columbia, MO: Author.


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.