Services after high school for students with IEPs

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Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Special education ends when your child:

  • Earns their high school diploma, or
  • Turns 22 if they are a student with an IEP, and
  • Your child with a disability can stay in school until they are 22 if they have not yet earned their high school diploma.
If my child has an IEP, when do we start planning for life after high school?

When your child turns 14

Your child's Team must start planning for your child's life after high school beginning at age 14. Your child’s IEP must include goals and services to help your child get ready for education, employment, and independent community living after high school. The Team should base the goals on your child’s interests, preferences and strengths. 

For example

If your child is interested in working with animals, the school could help find a job or volunteer opportunity with an animal shelter.
If your child wants to attend college, your child’s IEP goals might focus on the type of communication skills they will need to get help when they are in college.

The Team uses a Transition Assessment to decide the services your child needs.

Before your child turns 17

Before or when your child turns 17, the school must tell both you and your child about your child's rights to make their own educational decisions when they turn 18.

When your child turns 18

At 18, your child is an adult. They can make their own educational decisions.

You can only make educational decisions for them if:

  • You are their court-appointed guardian. Or
  • They sign a form provided by the school that says either:
    • they want to share decision making with you or 
    • they want you to make their educational decisions for them. This is called “delegating decision making authority” to you.
When can my child graduate from high school?

Your child can get special education services as long as they are in high school. And they can stay in high school until they turn 22.

Your child can stay in school, wait to graduate and keep getting IEP services, even if they passed MCAS and met graduation requirements.

The IEP Team should decide the appropriate time for your child to graduate. The Team should make this decision at least 1 year before your child graduates. If you believe your child is not ready to graduate, and they are under 22, talk to the Team about it. You can reject the part of the IEP related to your child’s graduation date. Tell the team:

  • My child should have made progress towards their IEP goals.
  • My child does not have the basic skills they need for adult life, and
  • My child should stay in school to get more transition services.
Can my child get help with MCAS?

If your child has a 504 plan or an IEP, they can take:

  • The standard MCAS, the same way all other students take it.
  • The standard MCAS tests with help or accommodations. Usually these are the same accommodations they get for classroom instruction, or homework. Some examples of accommodations they might get are: a smaller classroom to take the test in, permission to use a calculator for the math part, a teacher your child is familiar with to supervise the test, or someone to help read test questions out loud. Look at your child's IEP or 504 plan to see the accommodations your child should get.
  • An MCAS Alternative Assessment. The Alternative Assessment is a collection of your child's work that shows their academic knowledge and skills. If your child is allowed to use the MCAS Alternative Assessment, they can graduate with a high school diploma.

See the State or District-Wide Assessment section of the IEP.


Sometimes students who take the Alternative Assessment are not expected to graduate with a diploma. They may be able to get a Certificate of Completion. At IEP Team Meetings, discuss if your child can expect to get a high school diploma. Only a very small number of students should take the MCAS Alternative Assessment.

The IEP Team decides how your child will take the MCAS test.

What if my child needs services after high school?

The school should refer your child to the adult service agency they will work with:

  • At least 2 years before your child graduates, or
  • When your child turns 20.

After the school refers your child to an adult service agency. Staff at the agency, your child's school, you, and your child write an Individual Transition Plan (ITP). The ITP describes:

  • The kinds of support your child needs because of their disability when they leave school and become an adult.
  • The adult agency that is responsible for providing services.
  • The location where services will be provided.
  • How long the services may last.

The Massachusetts adult service agencies are:

Adult services are only available if the agency has enough money in its budget. If your child is eligible for services, but the agency does not have enough money in the budget, the agency can ask the state for more money for the next year. So apply for services before your child will need the services. See a referral form

For more information, see Chapter 688 referral on the DESE website.

Can my child get help getting a job after high school?

If your child wants a job or is interested in a particular career, the school should prepare them. The IEP should include your child's goal of getting a job. It should also include transition services like exploring different types of jobs, learning to interview, and getting internships or volunteer opportunities.

In addition to your child’s IEP services, ask Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC) about Pre-Employment Transition Services (Pre-ETS). These can include:

  • Job exploration counseling,
  • Work readiness training,
  • Work-based learning experiences,
  • Counseling in post-secondary education, and
  • Learning to advocate for yourself.

Contact your local MRC office or ask the school for a referral.


The school must still provide transition services that are in your child's IEP, even if your child gets services from MRC. These services are not the same.

Can my child with disabilities go to college?

If your child with disabilities wants to go to college, the school should help prepare them. Your child will not have an IEP or a 504 plan in college, but they can get accommodations.

They should speak with the college’s disability office. As part of your child’s IEP goals while they are still in high school, the school can help them learn to advocate for themselves when they go to college.

While your child is still in high school, ask the IEP Team about the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative (“ICEI” or “MAICEI”). The program is free. It lets students who are still in high school:

  • take college courses for credit or non-credit,
  • be part of campus life, and 
  • learn skills to help them work and  live alone.

Your child may qualify for the program if they:

  • have an intellectual disability,
  • get special education services through an IEP and,
    • are 21 or 22 years old, or
    • are 18 - 20 and did not pass the MCAS but are still receiving special ed services through an IEP. 

See the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative on the Massachusetts Department of Education website.

What is a transition assessment?

Transition assessments can be formal or informal.

Formal assessments

Formal assessments are standardized tests, checklists, and surveys that show the skills your child has and the skills they need. Professionals give these tests. Formal assessments are things like:

  • Psychological testing: intelligence tests to assess cognitive performance.
  • Aptitude tests measure your child’s strengths and skills. For example, an aptitude test could show if your child has mechanical ability.
  • A career test that matches your child’s strengths and interests with possible jobs.
  • Adaptive behavior and independent living skills evaluation tests for the life skills your child already has or needs in order to live on their own.

Informal assessments

Your child and the people in their life do the informal assessments. Informal assessments include:

  • Self-evaluation. Your child describes their own strengths and skills they need help with.
  • Observation of your child:
    • in the community. For example, taking public transportation, or buying items at a store. Or,
    • at work.

Based on the assessments the Team builds a transition plan. The Team should consider:

  • your child's goals,
  • your child's skills, and
  • the services they need.

For example:

Your child’s IEP could include a goal to go grocery shopping independently.
The skills they need are to create a shopping list and a budget. 
The services they need are in math and real world training in the community.
Your child should be taught as much as possible, in their community, with peers who do not have a disability.

For example:

Your child may be able to work at a job in the community with job coaching support. Or they may be able to take college classes with supports and services through the Massachusetts Inclusive Concurrent Enrollment Initiative. 

What are transition services?

Some transition services are:

  • Internships or job opportunities.
  • Job coaching.
  • Travel training to learn to use public transportation or learning to drive.
  • Independent living skills coaching to learn how to use money and budget, go grocery shopping, do laundry, or make simple meals.
  • Social skills coaching to learn how to communicate with employers, peers, and others in the community.
  • Instruction for self-management of medical needs.
  • Therapeutic services to manage anxiety in real life social situations.
  • Coaching independent living skills to learn how to use money and budget, go grocery shopping, do laundry, or make simple meals.
  • Coaching social skills to learn how to communicate with employers, peers, and others in the community.


If your child gets services from other agencies like the Department of Developmental Services (DDS) or Massachusetts Rehabilitation Commission (MRC), these agencies should also be invited to attend Team meetings.


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