High School Application and Placement for Chicago Public School Students with Disabilities: A Research Report from RYH

An education consultant, Lara Pruitt, whose children recently graduated from CPS, noticed the tremendous amount of concern, frustration and anger expressed by CPS parents about the lack of information and support provided to parents of students with disabilities on the critical transition to high school. She reached out to RYH in September 2018 to ask if we might form a volunteer group to research the issue and unearth current problems as well as potential solutions.  

RYH assembled a task force including a number of CPS parents with children who have disabilities and education researcher Dr. Federico Waitoller, associate professor of special education at UIC.

This report was delivered to CPS at the January 2019 monthly meeting of the CPS Board of Education. (Our statements to the BOE are here.)

You can find the full report here- it is downloadable, printable, and contains links to resources.

Quick videos explaining different aspects of the report: Video 1 here.

Executive Summary

Transitioning to High School is a challenging and critical time for all students, but particularly for students with disabilities (SWD). This report examines the range of educational services and school options for SWD transitioning into High School as well as the experiences of parents searching for and selecting an appropriate school for their children. Parents of SWD struggle to understand how to access the most appropriate educational environment for High School in Chicago Public Schools (CPS). There are concrete ways that the CPS District, individual schools and families can improve this process.


Key Findings

  • Finding information about High School programs for SWD is incredibly difficult.
  • There is a lack of quality indicators for parents of SWD to make school selections.
  • CPS families and staff lack understanding about the High School placement process for SWD.
  • Transition planning is an opportunity for improving High School application and placement for SWD.
  • Test scores as a primary admission criteria for High Schools reduce school options for SWD.
  • Parents of SWD want equitable access to a safe High School that has a high-quality academic environment, respect and support for individual need, and a culture of inclusion and acceptance.  
  • Improvement will require efforts by the District, as well as by individual schools and families.



CPS/District Level   

  1. Develop a set of quality indicators for monitoring Special Education (SPED) programs at the individual school level.
  2. Clearly define how the required transition planning process can inform, direct and guide students in High School application and placement.  
  3. Create a training protocol for Elementary School Case Managers and Counselors to understand the High School application and placement process for students with SPED needs.
  4. Allow IEP teams to decide if NWEA test scores are an appropriate criteria to use for placement in High School programs.
  5. Develop a publicly accessible, searchable database that includes: all High School programs at a given school; application and acceptance criteria for each program; facilities information; extracurricular activities available; and types of SPED classrooms available.  
  6. Clarify the process for High School placement for students with extensive support needs.


CPS High Schools (including charter, contract and speciality)

  1. Plan for appropriate access to High School tours and open houses for SWD.
  2. Be transparent about SPED programming.
  3. Create orientation programming specifically for incoming SWD.


CPS Elementary Schools

  1. Create a school-based plan for training staff on transition planning.
  2. Discuss the High School placement process in all middle school IEP meetings.
  3. Share ALL possible options for High School in 7th grade.
  4. Support families to create a plan for High School placement.
  5. Create meaningful and specific short-term and long-term transition plans.
  6. Partner with High Schools to create orientation plans for students with SPED needs as they transition to High School.


CPS Parents of Students With Disabilities

  1. Learn about the High School placement process.
  2. Demand meaningful and specific short-term and long-term transition plans.
  3. Create a plan for High School visits with your student.
  4. Learn about your rights and responsibilities.


Here are direct links to the appendices shared in the report:

Index of Appendices


Task Force Membership


ISBE SPP Indicator 13: Secondary Transition Information for IDEA: Transition Age 14 1⁄2 and Beyond


ISBE Scoring Rubric for Indicator 13 (to use in transition meeting)


HS-Supplemental-Document (“CPS HS Program List”)

En español (“CPS HS Program List” in Spanish)


Continuum of Services Checklist


Example LRE Grid


Transition Checklist

UPDATED 9.4.19: On June 4, 2019, a parent received this CPS Accessibility List via FOIA.