A considerable body of research explores the relationships between subjective aspects of youth's experiences—e.g., their attitudes, perceptions, motivation, and self-efficacy—and their achievements in school (e.g., Anderman and Maehr 1994; Anderson, Hattie, and Hamilton 2005; Faircloth and Hamm 2005). Research related to the ability of students to "self-regulate" their learning (Schunk and Zimmerman 1994) considers students to be active participants in the learning process (Pintrich et al. 1986; Schunk and Meece 1992). This research also suggests that students make choices about their own participation and effort, in part on the basis of how they perceive learning tasks, the learning environment, and other participants in it, including teachers and other students (Hadwin et al. 2001; Weinstein and Mayer 1986). Those choices, such as whether to do their homework, in turn help shape their achievements, such as how much they learn and the grades or test scores they receive (Akey 2006; Liu et al. 2006; Tuckman 1999). The role of attitudes and perceptions also has been studied in the context of nonacademic achievements, such as musical and athletic success (Wigfield and Eccles 2002), and as they relate to behaviors outside of school (Manlove 1998) and in the years after leaving school (Bandura et al. 2001; Finn 2006).
A recognition of youth's attitudes as one potentially important ingredient in the successful transition of youth to early adulthood is reflected in the recently released National Standards and Quality Indicators: Transition Toolkit for Systems Improvement (National Alliance for Secondary Education and Transition 2005). Standards and indicators for transition support are set forth in five areas, including youth development and leadership, which is defined as "a process that prepares a young person to meet the challenges of adolescence and adulthood and to achieve his or her full potential"; this preparation includes gaining "the ability to analyze one's own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and vocational goals, and have the self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and abilities to carry them out" (p. 8).
The National Longitudinal Transition Study-2 (NLTS2), funded by the National Center for Special Education Research of the Institute of Education Sciences in the U.S. Department of Education, was congressionally mandated in 1997 to provide a national picture of the characteristics, experiences, and outcomes of youth with disabilities as they transition to early adulthood. The many topics addressed in NLTS2 include the "self-representations" (Harter 1999; Repinski 2002) of young people with disabilities; these self-representations are "attributes or characteristics of the self that are consciously acknowledged by the individual through language—that is, how one describes oneself" (Harter 1999, p. 3). Self-representations have been solicited from youth with disabilities regarding themselves, their schooling, their personal relationships, and their hopes for the future. This report presents findings drawn from the first wave of data collected directly from youth on these topics.