12 Transition to Post Secondary

For students with special needs moving into adulthood, transition planning is a key element of their Individual Education Plan. This transition planning should include a statement of transition goals and, where appropriate, should identify inter-agency responsibilities or linkages that should occur before the student leaves the school setting. The school is in a key position to provide a variety of coordinated activities that lead to employment and/or further education for students with special needs. The commitment should be to early, collaborative and well-planned transitions from school to further training, supported work, or other environments. The success of an individual student in accessing post-secondary options and necessary supports for the future depends in part on consistent information flow and advanced planning, as well as establishing firm linkages with other available agencies and community partners. (British Columbia Ministry of Education, 2016) [1]


While the B.C. government stipulates guidelines for transition planning in the K-12 system (see box above), these guidelines appear to be implemented to varying degrees depending on the district, school, teacher, level of family advocacy, etc. Differences also depend, in part, on whether students are on a “Dogwood Diploma” track or on and Individualized Education Plan (IEP) track to obtain a school leaving certificate, also known as an “Evergreen Certificate.” While students on a dogwood track must meet specific outcomes related to work experience, for those obtaining evergreen certificates, “There are few measurable standards or expectations applied for graduation.” [2] There are no standard requirements for students finishing school with a “school leaving certificate”, or an “Evergreen” certificate, other than for students to have met the goals of their IEP. In fact, many students and families appear unaware that students who receive an “Evergreen” certificate have not actually achieved graduation (See inset below).


The School Completion (“Evergreen”) Certificate is intended to celebrate success in learning that is not recognized in a Certificate of Graduation (Dogwood Diploma). It is used to recognize the accomplishments of students with special needs and an Individual Education Plan, who have met the goals of their education program, other than graduation (and not all students with special needs should be in an Evergreen Certificate Program). The Evergreen Certificate is not a graduation credential; students who receive an Evergreen have not graduated. It is important that students and their parents clearly understand that the Evergreen represents the completion of personal learning goals but does not represent graduation.


There has been little consistency reported in the career education experience for those students leaving the secondary system on the Evergreen track. While some students have had the opportunity to participate in multiple work experiences in high school, either in the community, on campus, or both, others arrive at post-secondary with no work experience. The level of support they may have received on work experience also varies greatly, from working in small groups with an Educational Assistant (EA) present, through to fully independent placements. In The Handbook of Research Based Practices for Students with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, Paul Wehman, et al, state, “It is likely that brief experiences resulting in two to three times a week with one to two hours each time of community-based employment training are not intensive enough to allow young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities to identify their strengths, interests, and preferences.” [3] Given that “…it could be argued that work experience and work during the secondary school years are among the most, if not the most important predictors of adult employment success for all youth who receive special education services,” [4] this inconsistency clearly disadvantages those students who have limited, or no opportunity with work experience prior to leaving high school.


The British Columbia School Completion Certificate or “Evergreen” is awarded to a student with special needs who has an Individual Education Plan and who meets the goals of their educational program other than graduation.

To receive an Evergreen Certificate, the principal, in consultation with teachers, should ensure that the student has met the goals of their educational program.

In order for the Ministry to prepare a British Columbia School Completion Certificate, the school must submit the demographic data for the student to the Ministry, including the date when the student met the goals of their educational program. The Ministry will then prepare and distribute to the school or district office a specially designed Evergreen certificate, distinct from the Dogwood Diploma, for authorized signature and distribution to the student. (British Columbia, Government)


There is “overwhelming anecdotal and empirical evidence that work experience during secondary and post-secondary school years is one of the most important factors that predicts long-term adult employment success, regardless of a youth’s disability label or the nature of his or her educational services.” [5] Consistently, the most prominent factors shown to be associated with successful post-school employment outcomes are paid and unpaid work experiences during the last years of secondary school and the completion of a high school diploma (Colley & Jamison, 1998; Johnson & Thurlow, 2003; Luecking & Fabian 200; Wagner, Newman, Cameto & Levine, 2005, as cited in Luecking, 2009). [6] According to Luecking [7]  “Simply stated, youth benefit from frequent and continuous exposure to real work environments throughout the secondary school years and beyond.”

These students are also not well prepared for transitioning to the increased expectations that accompany post-secondary education, work and adulthood. The transition from high school to post-secondary is significant for all students as they and their families/support networks are faced with challenges related to the change in status from child to adult. At the post-secondary level, students are suddenly expected to demonstrate independence and to take full responsibility for their education.  As with career education, students may or may not have had assistance with transition planning. There are many factors at play in the K-12 system which influence which education and transition supports are available to students, such as individual philosophical and funding differences in schools and districts, supports available, amount of advocacy available, etc. While family support is generally appreciated and welcomed at the post-secondary level, the role and involvement of families and advocates changes, as each student’s right to privacy and autonomy must be respected. This change in status and responsibility requires students to make decisions about their work experiences which their family/advocate may or may not agree with. Institutions are required to follow Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act (FIPPA), which can be problematic if a student chooses to exclude those in their support network or chooses not share information with them. This also limits the scope and application of discovery-type models in developing personal profiles and work themes, as input may be limited to the student and program personnel. Generally, programs try to facilitate communication and supports with families/advocates while respecting the wishes of the student. However, it is a time when many youth grapple with these same decisions about life and their future and some support may be required in making and conveying decisions which or may not be in agreement with their family’s plans for them. Improvements in transition planning and programming would help, as would an increased focus on partnerships with school districts in increasing the availability of dual-credit or early-entry (high school/post-secondary) programming.

  1. British Columbia Ministry of Education. (2016, April). Special education services: A manual of policies, procedures and guidelines. Retrieved October 22, 2017, from https://www2.gov.bc.ca/assets/gov/education/administration/kindergarten-to-grade-12/inclusive/special_ed_policy_manual.pdf
  2. Inclusion BC. (n.d.). Tracking students who graduate with evergreen certificates. Retrieved November 9, 2017, from Inclusion BC: http://www.inclusionbc.org/sites/default/files/Tracking%20Students%20Who%20Graduate%20With%20Evergreen%20Diploma%20-%20July%202013.pdf
  3. Wehman, P., Avelline, L., Brooke, V., Hinterlong, P., Inge, K., Lau, S., & McDonough, J. R. (2017). Transition to Employment, p. 457. In M. Wehmeyer, & K. Shogren (Eds.), Handbook of research-based practices for educating students with intellectual disability (pp. 450-470). New York, New York, United States of America: Routledge.
  4. Luecking, R. G. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition, p. 2. Rockville, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  5. Luecking, R. G. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition, p. xvii. Rockville, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  6. Luecking, R. G. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition, p. 1. Rockville, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.
  7. Luecking, R. G. (2009). The way to work: How to facilitate work experiences for youth in transition, p. 2. Rockville, Maryland, United States of America: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co.


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Transition to Post Secondary Copyright © 2021 by Nicola Soles is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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