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Friday, April 1, 2016

Transition Assessment: Is It Too Early? Is It Too Late??


By Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed.
Transition Specialist

March 25, 2016

At every age and stage of development students pass through several transitions. They move out of the home to school in early childhood, through grade school and eventually to middle and high school - but the most looming is transitioning out of high school to the real world. How do young adults and parents map out a clear plan that is not only achievable, but realistic?

Actively engaging in a transition assessment is an important and positive step in the planning process for leaving high school.

Parents frequently ask when they should begin engagement in this assessment process. It is never too early to start. As with every other developmental phase of adolescence, there is always the question of what next? A transition assessment at any time can map out a course of action. An individualized approach to learning about one’s strengths, interests and aptitudes can only enhance and define a clearer vision for the next steps.

These assessments are designed to help students, parents, and school personnel begin the process of navigating the future while setting attainable short and long term goals along the way. The student will gain access to understanding themselves better while actively forming self-advocacy skills in the process. By participating in this broad assessment students are forming a more defined vision for their future and feel ownership of their vision as part of this process.

In addition to questions about timing of transition assessment, frequently asked questions include:
  • What does transition assessment mean?
  • What is the difference between a transition assessment and a vocational assessment?
  • How do I know what is right for my son/daughter?

At NESCA, transition assessment is a highly individualized process, not a one size fits all approach. We offer several different types of transition assessment and each testing battery is selected specific to the student, their post-secondary vision, and the unique referral question(s) provided by the student, family, school, and/or professional.

Transition Planning Assessment (TPA)

TPA is an assessment that can be conducted as a standalone evaluation or an adjunct to a neuropsychological evaluation at NESCA. This is often a good starting point for younger students as well as individuals interested in gaining new data to inform the transition planning process at school, home and in the community. The TPA measures a student’s interests, preferences, needs and skills related to the demands of current and future social, living, educational, and work environments.

Assessment typically involves parent and student interviews as well as 1-2 office-based testing sessions with a transition specialist. Questionnaire data from the student, parent, and teacher(s) is additionally critical to the process. TPA can help to determine short- and long-term planning goals, identify needed services, support instructional programming decisions, provide information about present level of performance, and refine a student’s personal vision.

Vocational Assessment

Vocational assessment carefully evaluates a student’s preferences, interests and aptitudes in relation to future employment through a variety of informal and formal evaluation tools. A critical component for evaluation of student abilities is situational assessment and/or observation of current work-related activities. Interviews with family, school and community providers familiar with the student’s strengths and needs are also crucial.

As with all transition assessment at NESCA, the vocational assessment process is highly individualized based on the student’s current programming and experience, or lack of experience, with employment. Individualized vocational assessment is often as relevant for a student who has a part-time job at a local supermarket as for a student who has not yet had their first volunteer experience.

Regardless of prior experience, vocational assessment at NESCA includes a detailed written report with specific recommendations for supporting progress toward postsecondary employment goals including appropriate career exploration activities and initial or next work experiences.

Community Based Transition Assessment (CBTA)

CBTA is a person-centered and highly individualized, community-based assessment developed to address questions regarding transition readiness. In response to the student's articulated vision, this assessment includes observation in familiar and novel environment(s) in which they anticipate pursuing their post-secondary goals.

Assessments can be located in a wide range of settings; each unique to the student being assessed. Typical locations may include school, town centers, retail settings, college campuses, recreational settings, volunteer sites, and vocational settings.

Through a combination of structured activities and naturalistic observation, the CBTA functionally assesses key abilities for post-secondary life such as social communication, navigation, executive functioning, self-advocacy, self-determination, problem solving, stamina, and use of technology in real-world environments.

CBTA traditionally includes a document review, student interview, 2-3 hours of observation, parent feedback and a written report with recommendations.

Depending on the unique referral question and focus of evaluation, formal assessment of a specific area of concern (e.g., executive functioning, self-determination, adaptive functioning, or vocational interests) and/or additional observation hours may be added.

As with other transition assessments at NESCA, CBTA can be conducted as a standalone assessment or in combination with a neuropsychological evaluation.

Comprehensive Transition Assessment

NESCA’s comprehensive transition assessment is comprised of a series of tests, interviews, and questionnaires, as well as home, school, vocational, and/or community-based observations. The assessment typically consists of an intake session with the parent, three to five hours of in-office assessment, two to three observations outside of the office (e.g., at school, at an internship site, in the community), and a feedback session.

Comprehensive transition assessments are conducted by a team of experts, as we have found that when it comes to this type of assessment, “two sets of eyes are better than one.”

Best practice indicates that transition assessment should be thought of as a process conducted over a number of years beginning in middle school, rather than as a one-time evaluation.

However, in the event that this process has not taken place (which is not particularly unusual, given that the concept of transition assessment and planning is relatively new to many clinicians, families, and schools), students in their sophomore, junior or senior years of high school might require a comprehensive transition assessment, in which the range of readiness areas (e.g. learning profile, daily living skills, social skills, coping skills, pre-vocational skills) is assessed within a compressed time frame.

Typically, these types of transition assessments span a two to three-month period, from the initial intake session to the time the written report is finalized.

  • Assessment at NESCA provides objectivity that familiar professionals and family cannot easily provide.
  • NESCA clinicians provide flexible and creative scheduling often difficult for school-based personnel to staff.
  • NESCA utilizes a team approach, working with the school and the family to identify and create the desired assessment opportunity. In this regard, NESCA is able to design and implement an individualized transition assessment that will complement school-based transition assessment.
  • NESCA utilizes a collaborative approach during and after assessment: working with students, their families, the school and other team members toward the shared goal of helping the student achieve his/her vision and as such identifies roles for all team members within the recommendations.
  • Assessment is provided by seasoned transition specialists and neuropsychologists who bring decades of experience working with and evaluating students in a multitude of school and community settings and who understand the complex challenges faced in the transition to postsecondary life.

How Do I Get Started?

The first step of transition assessment at NESCA is traditionally a one-hour intake/consultation with parent(s). This time can be used as the parent interview portion of a predetermined evaluation process, as described above, or may be scheduled as an important step in determining the type of evaluation that would be most supportive for a student at the present time.

Families interested in scheduling should complete the Intake Fact Sheet available online at www.nesca-newton.com.

Who provides transition assessment at NESCA? 

Kathleen Pignone, M.Ed. brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to her role as a Transition Specialist at NESCA. Ms. Pignone was the Career Development Director at Bay Cove Academy for 15 years, providing students with classroom and real-world employment skills training, community job placement and on the job employment-training.

She supervised the Career Development Program, developed individualized transition plans for students, created innovative programming for tracking and assessing long-term employability and career success for students. She also trains staff in the areas of career development and transition services.

Prior to working at BCA, Ms. Pignone was an Education Specialist at the Massachusetts Department of Education. She supervised school districts and provided technical assistance to school administrators, teachers and parents regarding plans, grants and reports, facilitated work sessions, team meetings, workshops and retreats for schools on strategic planning and whole systems change, and monitored service providers for quality.

Ms. Pignone also worked in Brockton, MA as the Out of School Youth Coordinator for MY TURN, Inc and has been a Rehabilitation Consultant in a private rehabilitation firm.

She received her undergraduate degree in Sociology from Boston College and her master of education in Rehabilitation Counseling from the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Ms. Pignone joined NESCA in 2016, bringing her unique expertise supporting vocational assessment and employment planning for adolescents and young adults as well as local school programs. In addition to supporting NESCA’s premier transition assessment services, Ms. Pignone engages in person-centered planning with teens and young adults, consultation and training for parents, providers and schools, and community-based coaching.

Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, Director of Transition Services

Transition assessment services are provided and overseen by Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS. Ms. Challen received her Master's Degree and Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from the Harvard University Graduate School of Education.

Initially trained as a school guidance counselor, she completed her practicum work at Boston Latin School, focusing on competitive college counseling. She began facilitating social, life, and career skill development programs for transition-aged youth in 2004.

Prior to joining NESCA, Ms. Challen founded an array of programs for teens and young adults at MGH Aspire, and spent time as Program Director of the Northeast Arc's Spotlight Program, where she often collaborated with schools to develop in-district social skill and transition programming. She is also co-author of the chapter "Technologies to Support Interventions for Social-Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personal Style, and Self-Regulation" for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism.

While Ms. Challen has special expertise in working with students with Asperger's Syndrome and related profiles, she provides transition assessment, consultation, planning, and programming support for individuals with a wide range of learning and developmental needs.

Who are the other members of NESCA’s transition team?

While all of the neuropsychologists at NESCA collaborate with Ms. Challen and Ms. Pignone in supporting transition-aged students, neuropsychologists Jason McCormick, Psy.D., Amity Kulis, Psy.D., and Erin Gibbons, Ph.D., specialize in performing comprehensive transition assessments as well as transition-focused neuropsychological evaluations in close coordination with Ms. Challen.

Dr. McCormick specializes in working with adolescents and young adults, particularly young men, with Asperger’s Syndrome, and is renowned in the field. Offering projective testing when needed, Dr. Kulis specializes in assessing the psychological, social, emotional, and mental health needs of students in transition. Through office testing and situational observation, Dr. Gibbons provides expertise in assessment of clients presenting with a variety of developmental, intellectual, learning and attentional disabilities.

The format of evaluation as well as the nature and extent of each clinician’s involvement are determined by the individual needs of each client.

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