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National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012)

Contract Information

Current Status:

Collection of school records data is underway.


Phase I (Sampling and Survey Collection): September 2010–February 2018; Phase II (Administrative Records Collection): September 2015 – September 2022


Phase I: $24,243,405; Phase II: $9,307,528

Contract Number:

ED-IES-10-C-0073 (Phase I); ED-IES-15-C-0046 (Phase II)


Phase I:
Mathematica Policy Research
University of Minnesota, Institute of Community Integration

Phase II:
RTI International
SRI International
Social Dynamics


Helping students, particularly those with disabilities, to complete high school prepared to pursue postsecondary education, jobs, and independent living is a national priority. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) provides funds to school districts to serve students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and places emphasis on transition services to help youth with disabilities achieve these important post-school outcomes.

The National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (NLTS 2012) is the third longitudinal study conducted by the U.S. Department of Education over several decades to examine the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of a nationally representative sample of youth with disabilities. Part of a congressional mandate to assess IDEA, NLTS 2012 collects information on students initially aged 13 to 21 and in high school, and follows them over time. It is the first study that is able to directly compare youth with an IEP to youth without an IEP, including those who receive accommodations through a plan developed under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and those with neither an IEP nor a 504 plan.

Over the course of the study, the following questions will be addressed:

  • How do the personal, family, and school characteristics and experiences of youth with disabilities differ from those of youth not served under IDEA? (Volume 1; March 2017)
  • How do the characteristics and experiences of youth vary across disability groups? (Volume 2; March 2017)
  • How have the characteristics and experiences of youth with disabilities changed over time? (Volume 3; February 2018)
  • To what extent do youth with disabilities make progress through high school compared to other youth?
  • Are youth with disabilities achieving the post-high school outcomes envisioned by IDEA, and how do their college, training, and employment rates compare to those of other youth?
  • How do these high school and postsecondary outcomes vary with student characteristics?

This descriptive study includes 432 school districts and special schools randomly sampled in 2011 and students randomly sampled within those districts. During Phase I of the study, survey data were collected in 2012-2013 from approximately 12,000 in-school youth and their parents, of which about 10,000 are students with IEPs representing each of the federal disability categories. The surveys asked about the background characteristics of secondary school youth and the schools they attend, their health, functional abilities, and engagement in school, the academic supports they receive, and their expectations for and steps to achieve transitions beyond high school.

Phase II of NLTS 2012 will follow the students through high school and beyond, relying on administrative data collected by the Department and other agencies such as: (1) school district records, including transcripts and assessments (being collected 2017–2020); (2) postsecondary enrollment information from the National Student Clearinghouse (NSC) and financial aid information from the Department's Federal Student Aid (FSA) records (being collected 2017–2020); (3) disability program participation, employment and earnings information from the Social Security Administration (SSA) (to be collected 2019–2020); and (4) information about vocational rehabilitative services and supports youth received from the Department's Rehabilitative Services Administration (RSA) (to be collected 2019–2020). Administrative data will be linked with the 2012–2013 survey data to examine key steps in high school course-taking and completion, and youth's experiences with college, training, and employment.

A May 2018 brief summarizing key findings so far suggests:

  • Although their engagement and use of school supports have increased over the past decade (2003-2012), high school youth with an IEP are more socioeconomically disadvantaged and less likely to have experiences and expectations associated with success after high school than were other students in 2012.
  • Among the disability groups in 2012, youth with intellectual disability, autism, deaf-blindness, multiple disabilities, and orthopedic impairments were found to be most at-risk for not transitioning successfully beyond high school

Key findings will be updated when subsequent reports are released.

Three related report volumes describing the survey information collected have been released (two on March 28, 2017 and the third on February 7, 2018). A brief summarizing the key findings from across the three volumes was released on May 15, 2018. Publications are listed below. Subsequent reports will be announced on

Descriptive Reports

Preparing for Life after High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. Findings from the NLTS 2012. Volume 1: Comparisons with Other Youth (March 2017)

Preparing for Life after High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. Findings from the NLTS 2012. Volume 2: Comparisons among Disability Groups (March 2017)

Preparing for Life after High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. Findings from the NLTS 2012. Volume 3: Comparisons Over Time (February 2018)

Evaluation Brief

Preparing for Life after High School: The Characteristics and Experiences of Youth in Special Education. A Summary of Key Findings from the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2012 (May 2018)

Review Synthesis

Improving Post-High School Outcomes for Transition-Age Students with Disabilities: An Evidence Review (August 2013)

A restricted-use file containing de-identified sampling and 2012-2013 survey data is available for the purposes of replicating study findings and secondary analysis.