David Test

David Test, Ph.D., University of North Carolina at Charlotte

Dr. Test presented research on CIRCLES, a model for interagency collaboration around transition called Communicating Interagency Relationships and Collaborative Linkages for Exceptional Students. The study, conducted at the University of North Carolina and funded by IES, compared transition outcomes for students in special education who underwent transition “service as usual” with those who participated in CIRCLES. The study encompassed 48 different schools and included 1,000 students.

What is “service as usual” and how does the CIRCLES model differ?

Service as usual describes typical transition planning where students identify post-school goals and adult service agency personnel are then invited to IEP meetings. When service providers are an afterthought, they’re not invested in the student’s post-school goals or may be unable to attend the meeting.

The CIRCLES model brings agency personnel more deeply into the process so collaboration isn’t hindered by schedule conflicts or lack of commitment. To do this, CIRCLES uses three levels of overlapping teams to help students set transition goals and connect with community agencies. At the highest level are community teams, which include agency decision makers who meet to collaborate on service delivery. At the next level, school teams serve multiple schools and include school personnel and community service providers. These teams work to coordinate service provision and set goals for the IEP. Last, IEP teams work with students to develop transition goals. These teams include students, school personnel and related service personnel. Only school teams and IEP teams work directly with students and families.

If community teams don’t meet with students, what do they do?

Community teams bring service providers together 2-4 times a year to “braid” resources together and collaborate on service delivery. While the team itself doesn’t meet with students, they appoint representatives to serve on the school level team so there is always a level of communication and collaboration between the two.

What kinds of outcomes did you see?

Results were positive. The study showed students increased their IEP participation and improved self-determination skills. When we asked the students what they thought of the program, they overwhelmingly agreed that their high school had helped them prepare for life after high school, with rates of approval ranging from 86 to 93 percent. One hundred percent of parents agreed they understood their child’s needs and had played an active role in preparing them for life after high school.

What will happen with CIRCLES moving forward?

CIRCLES will be continuing at 10 out of the 12 schools in the study. Also, the model is being replicated in six other states plus Washington, D.C. 


Dr. David W. Test is a Professor of Special Education at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He is a Co-Project Director of the National Technical Assistance Center on Transition (NTACT), Improving Postsecondary Outcomes for All Students with Disabilities, also funded by Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and the Rehabilitation Services Administration (RSA) in 2015. NTACT’s purpose is to assist State Education Agencies, Local Education Agencies, State Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) agencies, and VR service providers in implementing evidence-based and promising practices ensuring students with disabilities, including those with significant disabilities, graduate prepared for success in postsecondary education and employment. Test has been the Principal Investigator for the NCSER-funded CIRCLES project, a 2011 Goal 3 Efficacy Trial currently in the last study year.  He also supported the development of the Transition component for the Center on Secondary Education for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders (CSESA) project beginning in 2012.  Test currently serves as a co-editor of Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals and he was an author of the first transition methods textbook titled Transition Methods for Youth with Disabilities.