Preparing for Life After High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012. Volume 1: Comparisons with Other Youth (Full Report)

Publisher: Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance
Mar 28, 2017
Stephen Lipscomb, Joshua Haimson, Albert Y. Liu, John Burghardt, David R. Johnson, and Martha Thurlow

Key Findings:

  • Youth with an IEP are more likely than their peers to be socioeconomically disadvantaged and to face problems with health, communication, and completing typical tasks independently.
  • The vast majority of youth with and without an IEP feel positive about school, but those with an IEP experience bullying and are suspended at higher rates, and are less engaged in school and social activities.
  • Youth with an IEP are more likely than youth without an IEP to struggle academically, yet less likely to receive some forms of school-based support.
  • Youth with an IEP lag their peers in planning and taking steps to obtain postsecondary education and jobs.
  • Youth with a 504 plan face fewer functional, social, and educational challenges than do youth with an IEP, but more than other youth without an IEP.

Policymakers and educators have long recognized the importance of addressing the needs of youth in special education, who today account for 12 percent of all youth in the United States. Concern that this objective was not being adequately met led Congress to pass landmark legislation in 1975, now known as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) (U.S. Department of Education, 2010). IDEA mandates that children and youth with disabilities have access to a free appropriate public education.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS) 2012 provides updated information on youth with disabilities. The study offers a current picture of the backgrounds of secondary school youth and their functional abilities, activities in school and with friends, academic supports received from schools and parents, and preparation for life after high school.

This volume, the first from NLTS 2012, examines the characteristics of youth in special education overall and how these youth are faring relative to their peers. Comparisons are made between youth with and without an IEP, and within the latter group, those with a disability under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. The findings highlight the distinctive features of the characteristics and experiences of youth with an IEP.


National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012


U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences

Time Frame


Senior Staff

John Burghardt
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Joshua Haimson
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Stephen Lipscomb
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