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What is Transition Assessment?

Student and teacher walking through transition assessment on tablet

At a Glance

Understanding Transition Assessment: Explores the ongoing process and various types of assessments used to evaluate students over several years, focusing on their preferences, needs, and strengths.

Legal Requirements and Frameworks: Discusses the legal mandate under IDEA for transition assessments and presents frameworks like PINS (Preferences, Inputs, Needs, Strengths) to guide the assessment process.

Goal-Oriented Assessment Approach: Highlights the importance of aligning assessments with students' future goals, identifying gaps between current abilities and aspirations, and developing strategies for bridging these gaps.

Welcome to our transition assessment series where we are going to be taking a closer look at one of the foundational pieces that can inform both IEP goals and postsecondary transition plans (PTP) while also serving as one of the most valuable tools for gathering relevant information and feedback from the student in question. 

As the Transition Improvement Grant notes in their guide to transition assessments, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) includes a requirement for student IEPs to include “appropriate measurable postsecondary goals based upon age-appropriate transition assessments…” So what exactly is a transition assessment, why are they so important beyond the fact that they are legally required?

In this series we will be digging deeper into this topic, starting in part 1 with what counts as a transition assessment, what they are intended to measure, and ways one might consider deploying them throughout a student’s career. So let’s start with the big question: 

What is Transition Assessment?

While the term “Transition Assessment” might evoke the image of taking a scantron test and being told how to proceed based on one’s results, such forms of assessment only make up a small component of the role Transition Assessment can play in a student’s academic career. 

The term more broadly refers to the ongoing process of evaluating a student, typically over the course of several years though requirements may vary from state to state.

One way it can be helpful to envision Transition Assessment is to break it down into two components: the broad process of assessment over time, and the individual types of assessments one might use to carry out that longer-term measurement. 

In evaluating our broad, ongoing assessment of a student we can make informed choices about what might need to be included as part of future assessments, and in knowing about many different types of individual assessments we can choose options that fit the needs of each individual student. 

That is great but what about the legal requirement?

While it can always feel a little bit daunting to have to navigate specific legal requirements, the good news about Transition Assessment is that as long as you can show you are have worked on it and are continuing to work on it, there is a tremendous amount of flexibility to choose the assessments that work best for your student based on their age, needs, and preference. 

While the rules can again vary somewhat from state to state, probably the closest thing to a hard rule related to Transition Assessment is that students must have completed some form of assessment before any work can begin on establishing their PTP. 

That is reassuring, but how do we know a student has received an appropriate level of baseline assessment?

There are a number of different frameworks that can and have been used to show that teachers are gathering data most relevant to the student’s goals and futures. TIG’s guide to transition assessments emphasizes a focus on student preferences, inputs, needs, and strengths (PINS) and focus on the areas of education/training, employment, and independent living. But while those frameworks can be helpful for remembering to collect different types of information, TIG also notes that one thing good transition assessments will have in common is that they will help answer the following questions:

  • Where is the student presently?
  • Where is the student going?
  • How will you get there?

As much as we love the practical broad strokes that these questions cover, we do think it is possible to have a more student-centered framing with an emphasis on both working on one’s goals and having an evolving understanding of oneself over time:

  • What does the student wish to do or achieve in the future?
  • What are some gaps between where the student currently is and where they wish to go?
  • What strategies can we use to try to bridge those gaps?

With this framework we are doing our best to pursue our goals with the understanding that our priorities or reality might change over time, and that just because we have a goal now doesn’t mean we are set in working toward that goal forever. 

Evolving in the way we think and the things that interest us are prime reasons why we take the time to perform ongoing transition assessment, and it can be incredibly helpful in a student-centered process to consciously establish the framing that we can change and evolve in our goals, even if we originally started down another path.

However you choose to frame it, knowing what your student wants, the things they might have to navigate, and some ways you can work on that together are the most crucial components in showing you’ve completed a transition assessment. 

At the end of the day, the initial transition assessment is just a starting point and it’s always possible to explore the finer details as part of the ongoing assessment process. 

Where can I find transition assessments to use for my students?

There are plenty of different types of transition assessments available both online and as administered by professionals, and we will dig into some of the different types of assessments and how you might use them later in the series. 

In the meantime, if you want a big list of assessments to check out and see what might be a good fit for your students, allow us a moment to shamelessly plug our 100% free Transition Assessment Database, which includes over 100 commonly used transition assessments across domains of interest ranging from Career and Employment, Self-Determination, Education, and Independent Living.


In the meantime, if there’s a topic related to the database or Transition Assessment in general that you would like to see us cover then we would love to hear from you! Just drop us a line at and we will be back next week to cover just why it’s so important to be doing these assessments in the first place! 

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