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Arkansas State University

Helping Special Education Students in Arkansas Explore Their Goals

During the 2018-2019 schoolyear, 14% of all public-school students, or 7.1 million children, received special education services. Because this represents a significant portion of classrooms, it is critical that their primary and secondary education providers understand how to best prepare them for life after graduation. In general, these students share the same long-term goals as their peers: to go to college, find a career, and live independently as members of their larger community. And dedicated educators play a pivotal role in helping students with disabilities make progress toward all three of these goals.

Preparing Special Education Students to Attend College

Students with exceptional needs are not uncommon on college campuses. The National Center for Education Statistics, part of the United States Department of Education, found that almost 20% of undergraduate students in 2015-2016 reported having a disability, either physical, emotional, mental or developmental.

Arkansas Transition Services, working with the Arkansas Division of Elementary & Secondary Education, serves all 75 of the state’s counties to assist students with disabilities in transitioning to adult life, including college. As part of its work, it links to free, online assessment forms that help students and educators identify opportunities and challenges for post-secondary education.

The College Readiness Survey, an online and user-friendly assessment, asks students to gauge how well each of 15 statements applies to them. Statements include “I have done some serious thinking about career options” and “I have clear college goals.” The survey is designed to promote discussions about how ready a student with exceptionalities is to attend college. Other self-assessment surveys include “Why Do You Want To Go To College?” and “Do You Have Learning Habits for College Success?”

Educators use these surveys and discussion prompts with their students to facilitate conversations about college preparedness. Honest discussion of a student’s strengths and challenges illuminates not just whether a particular student is prepared for college, but what type of environment or program would best prepare them to succeed.

Preparing Special Education Students to Find a Career

Special educators also work with their students to identify strengths, challenges, preferences and interests that are well suited to a rewarding career. Employment has many benefits to adults with disabilities beyond supplying them with income, including greater community integration and feelings of self-reliance.

Since 2010, Arkansas’ leaders have pledged to make employment for people with disabilities a state priority through a national movement known as Employment First. Through an executive order, state agencies were directed to work collaboratively to increase employment opportunities for Arkansans with disabilities. Now, a multi-agency team oversees this initiative and has created a mentoring group through the state’s Department of Labor Office of Disability Employment Policy.

Educators may find Arkansas Employment First’s resources helpful in answering students’ and families’ logistical questions about entering the workforce. At its website, the program offers answers to frequently asked questions and links to federal integrated employment toolkits for adults and youth. Additionally, it offers contact information for Arkansas’ Work Incentives Planning and Assistance counselors who can offer guidance on how employment would affect a student’s Supplemental Security Income and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits.

Most importantly, though, educators should work with students and families to identify and design a plan for a future that fits their personality and aspirations.

Preparing Special Education Students to Live Independently

While community integrated employment is a building block to living independently, it is not the only requirement. Educators will want to walk alongside their students with disabilities and determine how ready they are to live independently, to participate in the community and to care for themselves. These discussions should include topics such as life skills, financial literacy, personal safety and self-advocacy. Here, too, Arkansas Transition Services has compiled a collection of self-guided surveys and conversation prompts to steer those discussions.
Preparing a student to live independently would include specific and tangible life skill training — like using public transportation, understanding how to vote, caring for personal hygiene and health, shopping for and preparing healthy food, and making and following an emergency plan — as well as more abstract ones. Those include goal-setting, self-advocacy, interpersonal relationship skills and coping skills to handle challenges and setbacks.
A collaborative approach among educators, students, families and communities ensures that Arkansas’ young people with disabilities can meet their long-term goals. Preparing for college life, rewarding jobs, and independent living requires skill building as well as honest assessment of each student’s strengths and challenges. Because each student’s situation is unique, each plan for post-secondary education, work, and living will be, too.

A Master of Arts in Teaching – Special Education K-12 degree from Arkansas State University provides future teachers a strong foundation to serve the needs of these students.

Learn more about A-State’s Master of Arts in Teaching – Special Education K-12 online program.


National Center for Education Statistics: Students With Disabilities: How Many Students in Postsecondary Education Have a Disability?

NCES: Students With Disabilities

Arkansas Transition Services

College Grazing: Are You Ready for College?

Arkansas Employment First: About Us

Arkansas Employment First: Families

Arkansas Transition Services: Tools for Assessing

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