Skip Navigation
An Overview of Findings From Wave 2 of the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2)
NCSER 2006-3004
August 2006


In 2001, the U.S. Department of Education funded the National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2) to provide a national picture of the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of secondary school students with disabilities as they transition to young adulthood. NLTS2 includes a sample of more than 11,000 youth who were ages 13 through 16 and receiving special education services in seventh grade or above in the 2000-2001 school year. The sample is nationally representative of youth with disabilities as a group and youth in each of the 12 federal special education disability categories in use for students in the NLTS2 age range.1 Data are being collected in five waves over a 9-year period and include information from parents, youth, school staff, and school records. NLTS2 is the only source of information on such key aspects of youths' experiences as their academic achievement, school completion, and postsecondary education and employment.

Data from Wave 1 of NLTS2 were collected in 2001 and 2002, when youth were ages 13 through 18 and virtually all still were in secondary school. The Wave 1 overview report documented youths' disabilities and functioning; their individual and household demographics; the characteristics of their schools, school programs, and classroom experiences; the experiences of youth in their nonschool hours; and how youth with disabilities fare in the domains of school engagement, academic performance, social adjustment, and independence.

This Wave 2 overview summarizes findings from two NLTS2 reports. One report (Wagner et al. 2006) presents data from direct assessments of youth's reading and mathematics abilities and content knowledge in science and social studies and from teacher- or parent-completed functional ratings for youth for whom a direct assessment was reported to be inappropriate. Youth were 16 through 18 years of age when data were collected. A second report (Wagner et al. 2005) presents findings from data collected in 2003 (Wave 2), when youth were ages 15 through 19 and 28 percent no longer were in secondary school. In that report, the experiences of youth who were out of school at Wave 2 are compared to their experiences at Wave 1, when they were still in high school, to illuminate the changes that accompany school leaving. When data are available, comparisons also are made with the experiences of same-age youth in the general population, using data from the 2000 National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (U.S. Department of Labor n.d.).

This Wave 2 overview addresses two sets of research questions. One set is addressed with data from the direct assessments and functional ratings and includes:

  • How well do youth with disabilities achieve in the areas of language arts, mathematics, science, and social studies?

  • How does their academic achievement compare with the general population of same-age youth?

  • What factors pertaining to youths' disability and functioning, individual and household demographics, family support for their education, and previous school experiences are associated with stronger academic achievement?

  • What are the functional abilities of youth who did not participate in the direct assessment?

A second set of research questions reflects the fact that Wave 2 included the first sizable group of youth with disabilities who had left secondary school. Research questions pertinent to these youth include:

  • To what extent do youth with disabilities complete high school?

  • What are the experiences of youth with disabilities in the postsecondary education, employment, independence, and social domains up to 2 years after high school?

  • What individual and household characteristics and youth experiences are associated with variations in the school completion of youth with disabilities and with their achievements in their early years after high school?

These sets of questions are addressed by using data from the following sources:

  • Youth assessments. Academic achievement and functional performance were measured using one of two forms of assessment. An assessment was attempted for each NLTS2 sample member for whom a telephone interview or mail questionnaire had been completed by a parent and parental consent for the assessment had been provided. Youth were eligible for their single assessment during the data collection wave in which they were 16 through 18 years old.2 This age range was selected to limit the variability in performance that could be attributed to differences in the ages of the youth participating and to mesh with the every-2-year NLTS2 data collection cycle. The oldest two single-year age cohorts of youth (i.e., those ages 15 or 16 when sampled) reached the eligible age range in Wave 1 (2002), and the younger two cohorts (those ages 13 or 14 when sampled) reached the eligible age range when Wave 2 school data were collected (2004). Assessment data are combined across the two waves. A total of 5,222 youth participated in the NLTS2 direct assessment, and a functional rating was completed for 1,051 youth.

    • Direct assessments. The NLTS2 direct assessment includes research editions of subtests of the Woodcock-Johnson III (Woodcock, McGrew, and Mather 2001) that assess language arts skills, mathematics abilities, and content knowledge in science and social studies. The research editions are shorter versions of the standard WJ III assessment battery and were developed for use in NLTS2 by the original WJ III developers.3 The WJ III subtests are particularly advantageous for NLTS2 because they permit comparisons with a general population norm group assessed in 2000. To be eligible for the direct assessment, a youth needed to be able to understand directions given in spoken English, large print, Braille, or sign language; have a consistent response mode (i.e., the assessor could reliably understand a youth's responses); and have the ability to work with an assessor or with someone who was familiar to the student who could and would conduct the assessment in the presence of the assessor. To determine if a youth could participate in the direct assessment, assessors, who typically were school psychologists or teachers, interviewed the school staff person who was most familiar with a youth and his or her school program, usually a special educator. Information was sought from parents if youth were no longer in school. Information provided by school staff or parents also was used to identify any accommodations that a youth required to participate in the assessment; 39 percent of youth who participated in the direct assessment received an accommodation (please refer to chapter 2 of Wagner et al. 2006 for details on direct assessment procedures).
    • Functional ratings. If a youth did not meet the requirements for the direct assessment, even with accommodations, he or she was deemed eligible for the adult-completed functional rating-the Scales of Independent Behavior-Revised (SIB-R; Bruininks et al. 1996). Its fourteen 18- to 20-item subtests form four clusters (motor, social interaction and communication, personal living, and community living skills) as well as an overall measure of independence, thereby providing a comprehensive measure of adaptive functioning in school, home, employment, and community settings. A functional rating was completed by a youth's teacher if the youth was in school or by a parent if he or she was no longer in school.
  • Parents or guardians. NLTS2 study members' parents or guardians were a key source of information in Wave 2 on some aspects of the early postschool outcomes of their adolescent children with disabilities and on factors included in multivariate analyses to explain variations in both academic performance and postschool outcomes. Wave 2 telephone interviews were conducted with parents in spring through fall 2003.

  • Youth. Wave 2 included the first telephone and mail survey information collected from youth with disabilities themselves. Telephone interviews were conducted with youth who were reported by parents to be able to respond to questions about their experiences that were asked over the phone. Those reported to be able to respond to questions but not by phone were mailed written questionnaires; these include a large proportion of youth with hearing impairments. These data sources provided information for out-of-school youth on their experiences since leaving high school. As with parent interviews, Wave 2 youth telephone and mail surveys were conducted in spring through fall 2003.

  • School surveys. Some school-related data included in multivariate analyses of academic achievement come from the NLTS2 Student's School Program Survey. This mail survey was administered to school staff who were most knowledgeable about the overall school programs of NLTS2 sample members who attended their school. Respondents to the General Education Teacher Survey were teachers of general education academic classes attended by NLTS2 sample members, if students took such a class. The surveys collected information about aspects of the classroom experiences of students with disabilities in general education academic classes and in vocational education and special education settings. Both surveys were administered in Waves 1 and 2 for youth still in secondary school at those times. If a youth's direct assessment was conducted in Wave 1, independent variables used school survey data from that wave; similarly, Wave 2 school survey data were used in analyses of youth whose assessment was conducted in that wave.

Analyses of Wave 2 data largely were descriptive (e.g., means and percentages for key variables reported for youth in each disability category); two-tailed F tests were used to identify significant differences between groups. Multivariate analyses (i.e., logistic or ordinary least squares regression) also were conducted to address some research questions.

Highlights of the information NLTS2 obtained from these sources are described below as they relate to the research questions addressed in Wave 2.


1 For additional information on the design of NLTS2 and for downloadable products, go to

2 Wave 1 assessments also included 10 youth whose assessments were not completed until shortly after their 19th birthdays.

3 The research and standard versions of the WJ III share items and administration procedures and have comparable psychometric properties. The difference between them lies in the larger number of items used in the standard version; the time (and, therefore, expense) of the standard version precluded its use for the large number of youth included in the study. The larger number of items in the standard version results in smaller standard errors. This greater precision in estimates for the standard version is necessary when the results are to be used for programmatic decision making about individuals (e.g., eligibility for special education services). The smaller number of items in the research versions results in larger standard errors, but are adequate for use in calculating the group-level statistical estimates used in NLTS2. The norms for the general population are the same for both versions of the instrument.