Types of Goals Set by Transition-Age Students with an Intellectual Disability: An Examination

Students often set goals based on teacher expectations. In this study, the implementation of the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) led to students setting a lack of academic or social goals and an abundance of home living goals; this may suggest lower adult expectations for students with significant support needs.

Key Takeaway: Students often set goals based on teacher expectations. In this study, the implementation of the Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction (SDLMI) led to students setting a lack of academic or social goals and an abundance of home living goals; this may suggest lower adult expectations for students with significant support needs. Therefore, it is crucial for students to consider their own interests when setting goals and for teachers to set high expectations during the process. Teachers need to be aware that the SDLMI is designed to promote student agency as the students are the ones who set and go after goals for their future. —Michael Ho

Burke, Shogren, and Carlson (2021) examined and analyzed the types of goals transition-age students with intellectual disabilities set as part of a statewide implementation of the SDLMI. The purpose of this study was to analyze the goals set by students using the SDLMI in a specific context to inform future research and practice. Goal content was emphasized, as opposed to goal attainment. Additionally, the skills associated with self-determination during the entire period of the study were identified. 

The authors investigated the following four research questions: 

  1. What types of goals did transition-age students with intellectual disability set when supported by their teachers to use the SDLMI to enhance postschool outcomes?
  2. How many students had goals across areas and/ or multiple goals in the same area (e.g., academics, vocational education and employment, postsecondary education, home living, social and relationships)?
  3. Within goal areas, what subtopics were represented (e.g., academic goal subtopics may include content mastery, class participation and engagement, study skills, etc.)?
  4. How many goals that incorporated skills associated with self-determination were taught using the SDLMI (e.g., choice making, decision-making, problem-solving, etc.)?

Here are the major takeaways from the article:

  • Apart from being an evidence-based practice for transition-age students with disabilities, “the SDLMI is a model of instruction in which trained facilitators (e.g., teachers) teach students self-regulated problem-solving skills that can be applied to setting and going after goals. The SDLMI comprises three distinct phases—Phase 1: Set a goal, Phase 2: Take action, Phase 3: Adjust goal or plan.”1,2
  • The current literature mentions that SDLMI provides evidence that the model impacts goal attainment. However, there is limited research on how SDLMI supports the content of the goals students set and how goal content may affect goal attainment during transition planning.
  • The current study analyzed 1,546 goals set by 667 transition-age students with intellectual disabilities in Rhode Island. The sample was collected over a period of three years
  • In response to the first research question, primary goal categories, from most identified to least identified, were as follows: home living, vocational education and employment, academics, leisure and recreation, communication, transportation, social and relationships, finances, community access, and postsecondary education. 
  • In response to the second research question, “almost half of the students (n = 315; 47.2%) had goals across multiple categories within a given school year, and 164 total students (24.6%) had repeated goals (i.e., the same goal more than once) within a school year.” This suggests that teachers need to be aware that there is a significant amount of students that may have a diverse range of goals to pursue beyond their secondary education.
  • In response to the third research question, the top subcategories that students identified with were ‘Expressing wants and needs and making requests,’ ‘General speech and language skills,’ ‘Email,’ ‘Driving,’ ‘Taking the bus,’ ‘General transportation knowledge,’ ‘Activities with others,’ ‘Meeting new people,’ ‘Engaging in conversation with others,’ ‘Identifying and counting currency,’ ‘Writing checks or balancing a checkbook,’ and ‘Making purchases.’ Although the subcategories were diverse, there is a lack of identified focus on academic and social goals.
  • In response to the fourth research question, skills associated with self-determination, that were set from either the student’s perspective or the teacher’s perspective, were choice making (5.5%), self-advocacy (4.4%), planning (3.8%), and decision-making (3.4%) were the most common.
  • “Teachers shift toward the role of a supporter rather than a director of goal setting, and the wording of goals is a reflection of buy-in to this process.” The SDLMI needs to fulfill its purpose of emphasizing student agency and student-driven goals.
  • There is a higher number of identified student goals pertaining to home living skills instead of academic or social skills. This suggests that the teachers’ low expectations of students in the area of academic and social skills may be impacting what and how students set goals. Hence, the need for high expectations from educators supporting students in the goal-setting process for academic and social skills cannot be stressed enough.
  • The study has a few limitations, such that student data cannot be linked across three years of the study; therefore, the data cannot be analyzed for growth and change. Furthermore, student goals used in this study may be a reflection of the teacher’s interpretation or adjustments. The teachers may have contributed to student goals from the teachers’ perspectives among students who needed intensive support to communicate their goals.

Summarized Article:

Burke, K. M., Shogren, K. A., & Carlson, S. (2021). Examining Types of Goals Set by Transition-Age Students With Intellectual Disability. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(3), 135–147. 

Summary by: Michael Ho—Michael supports the MARIO Framework because it empowers learners to take full control of their personalized learning journey, ensuring an impactful and meaningful experience.

Additional References:

  1. Shogren, K. A., Raley, S. K., Burke, K. M., & Wehmeyer, M. L. (2018). The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction: Teacher’s guide. Kansas University Center on Developmental Disabilities.
  1. Wehmeyer, M. L., Palmer, S. B., Agran, M., Mithaug, D. E., & Martin, J. E. (2000). Promoting causal agency: The Self-Determined Learning Model of Instruction. Exceptional Children, 66(4), 439–453. https://doi.org/10.1177/001440290006600401
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We are a dedicated group of learners that are constantly seeking to improve the lives of the children we care for. Whether you are a teacher, parent, assistant, or administrator, we give you free access to the most recent special education related research and practices available. Our twice monthly MARIO Memo summarizes and shares studies from peer-reviewed journals, while our learning letters provide insights from MARIO classrooms.

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