Skip Navigation
Funding Opportunities | Search Funded Research Grants and Contracts

IES Grant

Title: Mixed-Methods Exploration of Factors Associated with Postsecondary Success English Language Learners with Disabilities
Center: NCER Year: 2017
Principal Investigator: Trainor, Audrey A. Awardee: New York University
Program: Postsecondary and Adult Education      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years (08/01/2017–07/31/2021) Award Amount: $1,397,251
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A170259

Co-Principal Investigator: Newman, Lynn

Purpose: The purpose of this study was to explore factors associated with positive transition outcomes from high school to postsecondary life for students who are both English learners (ELs) and have a disability. Research suggests these students face multiple barriers to postsecondary success, but few studies have identified the challenges or successes these students experience during this transition. By addressing this gap in knowledge, this project team aimed to inform the development or the modification of programs at secondary schools and postsecondary institutions to leverage the strengths and meet the needs of these students.

Project Activities: Using a mixed-methods design, the research team explored malleable factors related to improved postsecondary outcomes for ELs with disabilities. The researchers used secondary data from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012) and the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) and primary qualitative data from students and adults who support them to examine the secondary and postsecondary school experiences and outcomes for ELs with disabilities. By combining these data sources, the researchers explored which school-related practices (e.g., transition planning, availability of general supports such as writing labs) correlated with positive postsecondary outcomes for these students and identified the possible factors that may influence the correlation between student school experiences and postsecondary outcomes (e.g., student demographics, family involvement).

Key Outcomes: The main findings of this project are as follows:

  • Self-determination impacts postsecondary education enrollment. Specifically, ELs with disabilities with higher autonomy scores were more likely to enroll in 2-year colleges, and those with higher empowerment scores were more likely to enroll in 4-year colleges (Newman et al., 2022).
  • ELs with disabilities are less likely to act autonomously or report empowerment-related behaviors than other students with disabilities or students in the general population (Newman,, 2021).
  • Characteristics that relate to self-determination of ELs with disabilities include gender (with girls reported lower levels of empowerment than boys), disability (with ELs with autism scoring lower empowerment and self-realization than ELs with learning disabilities), and parent expectations for postsecondary education (with those expected to attend being more likely to report empowerment) (Newman,, 2021).
  • Students who expected to attend postsecondary school reported more self-realization behaviors (Newman,, 2021).
  • EL students with disabilities and their families were less likely than other students with disabilities to help develop transition goals at IEP meetings (Trainor et al.,2019).

Structured Abstract

Setting: Qualitative research activities were conducted in six public high schools and five postsecondary education institutions in New York City. Secondary data was obtained from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012) and the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), both of which are nationally representative studies of students with disabilities.

Sample: The primary data collection focused on majority Spanish-speaking English learners (ELs) with disabilities (e.g., learning disabilities, intellectual and development disabilities, and speech/language impairments) as well as the adults who provide support to these students (e.g., parent/guardians, school personnel, vocational rehabilitation counselors). Students with disabilities who spoke languages other than English also participated and included speakers of Arabic, Bengali, and Chinese. This sample of 26 students attended 1 of 6 high schools in a large urban setting. A sample of eight postsecondary students who received special and English education services in high school also completed interviews. The postsecondary students attended one of five postsecondary educational institutions in a large urban setting. The secondary analyses, based on the NTLS 2012 and NLTS2 studies, included ELs with disabilities in all 12 of the federally defined disability categories. These students were from a range of race/ethnicities, linguistic backgrounds, and geographic locations across the United States.

Malleable Factors: This study identified a range of malleable factors related to postsecondary school enrollment for high school students who are dually identified as ELs with disabilities, based on propensity methods. Factors include aspects of self-determination (autonomy and empowerment), transition planning (having a goal of attending college, active student participation in transition planning meetings and goal development, and collaboration between high schools and postsecondary institutions), parent expectations related to postsecondary education, and course taking (completing higher level math courses, earning more academic credits, particularly in a general education setting, and completing a college preparatory course of study). This study also identified factors that may mediate or moderate the influence of malleable factors. For example, multivariate analysis identified several student and family characteristics related to aspects of self-determination of ELs with disabilities, including disability, gender, age, and expectations. Analysis also found that postsecondary ELs with disabilities were more likely to access helpful postsecondary supports and accommodations, those that are disability specific as well as those that are universally available to the general student body, when they had had a high school transition plan that indicated postsecondary supports as a needed post high school service. Qualitative analysis found frequent planning opportunities that engages both student and family was necessary. Student self-determination and expectations, as well as teachers' and parents' fostering of both, supported students' perceptions that transition goals were attainable, but all three stakeholder groups expressed needing more information, more time, and more opportunities to fully explore and pursue postsecondary goals. Resource availability was a moderator of teacher-family-student transition-related collaboration.

Research Design and Methods: The research was two-pronged: a quantitative analysis of the NLTS 2012 and NLTS2 data and a qualitative analysis of student perceptions and experiences. These two branches informed one another. The quantitative work included a descriptive analysis of NLTS 2012 data and logistic regression and propensity modeling analyses of the NLTS2 data. The qualitative research occurred as an iterative approach to interviewing after the first year of the project. For the qualitative studies, the researchers developed protocols for interviews to assess participants' perspectives on in-school and post-school resources that supported or hindered their transition to postsecondary life and education.

Control Condition: Due to the exploratory nature of this study, there was no control condition.

Key Measures: Descriptive measures, including aspects of self-determination, school engagement, and transition planning experiences were based on variables from the NLTS 2012 dataset. Outcome measures focused on enrollment in postsecondary education—overall, in 2-year or community college, in 4-year colleges and universities, and in career/technical education programs. Outcome data came from the NLTS2 data as well as from the qualitative data collected during the interviews. For measures of the malleable factors, the researchers used existing variables within the NLTS2 dataset along with researcher-designed protocols and coding rubrics for the qualitative interview and observational data.

Data Analytic Strategy: The researchers used logistic regression analysis and propensity score modeling to analyze the secondary data. In the qualitative studies, researchers used ethnographic observations, interviews, and document reviews, using grounded theory and content analysis methods of data collection and analysis.

Related Projects: Factors Associated with Postsecondary Success for Students with Disabilities (R305A120300)

Products and Publications

ERIC Citations: Find available citations in ERIC for this award here.

Project Website:

Select Publications:

Journal articles

Newman, L., Trainor, A. A., & Javitz, H. (2022). Effect of self-determination on postsecondary enrollment of English learners with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 1-13. DOI: 10.1177/07419325221081502

Newman, L., Trainor, A. A., García, E., & Chong, M. (2021). National picture of the self-determination characteristics of secondary school English learners with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(4), 216–228. Full text

Padía, L. B., & Traxler, R. E. (2021). Traerás tus Documentos (you will bring your documents): Navigating the intersections of disability and citizenship status in special education. Race Ethnicity and Education, 24(5), 687–702.

Romano, L., Trainor, A. A., & Newman, L. (in press). Triad transition planning for students receiving special education and English Learner services, families, and teachers. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals.

Trainor, A. A., Newman, L., Garcia, E., Woodley, H. H., Traxler, R. E., and Deschene, D. N. (2019). Postsecondary education-focused transition planning experiences of English learners with disabilities. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals. 42, 43–55. doi:10.1177/2165143418811830. Full text

Trainor, A. A., Romano, L., Sarkissian, G., & Newman, L. (in press). The pandemic as a tipping point: The precarity of transition for students who receive special education and English Language services. Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Trainor, A., Newman, L., & Romano, L. (2022). Contextualizing school engagement during transition for students receiving special education and English learner services. The Journal of Special Education, 00224669221107089.