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Assessing Self-Determination Skills

Self-determination has been defined as “the ability to make choices, solve problems, set goals, evaluate options, take initiative to reach one’s goals, and accept consequences of one’s actions” (Rowe, Alverson, et al., 2015). Students with disabilities who are self-determined are more likely to experience postschool success (Mazzotti et al., 2021). The positive impact self-determination skills have upon school performance and positive postsecondary outcomes prompted the Council for Exceptional Children’s Division on Career Development and Transition to recommend educators assess and teach critical self-determination skills (Field et al., 1998). Quality self-determination instruction begins with quality self-determination assessment. To ensure students with disabilities are developing self-determination skills, it is important to have effective assessments to measure growth and support needs over time (Shogren et al., 2021).


Related ICTW Resources
What is Self-Determination Assessment?

Self-determination assessments measure a variety of skill areas. These areas may include autonomy, choosing and expressing goals, taking action to achieve goals, self-regulation, self-direction, psychological empowerment, and self-realization. Assessments are completed by the student, family members, and other Individualized Education Program (IEP) team members, and then discussed and utilized to make data-based decisions for a students’ transition to adult life (Carter et al., 2009).

What the Research Says

Over time, multiple self-determination assessments have been developed specifically for students with disabilities. Each of these assessments measures slightly different aspects of self-determination, yet all have evidence of validity with one or more population.

  • The ChoiceMaker Self-Determination Assessment examines student self-determination skills and opportunities at school to exhibit self-determination skills. The assessment contains three sections: choosing goals, expressing goals, and taking action. Results can be used to compare a student’s current level of self-determination with their opportunity for demonstrating self-determination (Martin & Huber Marshall, 1995). The ChoiceMaker Self-Determination Assessment was validated with over 300 students in middle and high school with mild to moderate disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities) from four states (Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment, n.d.).
  • The AIR Self-Determination Scale assesses a student’s level of self-determination, detects strengths and areas for growth, and identifies goals for a student’s IEP. The assessment was validated with 95 middle and high school students with autism spectrum disorders ranging in age from 13 to 21 years old. Results showed the AIR Self-Determination Scale had evidence to support its use for students with autism spectrum disorders (Chou et al., 2017).
  • The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale-Adolescent Version assesses self-determination across four areas: autonomy, self-regulation, psychological empowerment, and self-realization (Wehmeyer & Palmer, 1995). The assessment was validated with students with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, emotional and behavioral disorders, and autism spectrum disorders (Wehmeyer, 1996; Wehmeyer & Palmer, 2014).
  • The Self-Determination Inventory examines the skill areas of volitional action (i.e., autonomy, self-initiation), agentic action (e.g., self-direction), and action-control beliefs (e.g., psychological empowerment, self-realization; Shogren et al., 2020). This assessment has evidence to support its use with students ages 13 to 22 with disabilities (i.e., learning disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorders, other health impairments) and without disabilities (Shogren et al., 2020). The Self-Determination Inventory was also validated with 2,338 adolescents with disabilities and 2,352 adolescents without disabilities across racial and ethnic backgrounds (i.e., White, Black, Hispanic, Other) and urbanicity (i.e., urban, semiurban, rural) in 39 states (Shogren et al., 2020).
Guidelines for Practice

When selecting self-determination assessments, it is critical to consider the format (e.g., pencil-paper, online) and accessibility of the assessment (Rowe, Mazzotti, et al., 2015). To engage students in the process, provide them a choice in the assessment they complete as well as the format they use to complete the assessment. When completed, review the results with students, and provide students an opportunity to summarize the results of their assessment at their next IEP meeting.

When conducting self-determination assessments, consider using multiple assessments over time. Repeated assessment, involving input from multiple people (e.g., student, parent/guardian, family, teachers), will help to create a complete picture of the student’s self-determination strengths, preferences, interests, and needs (Rowe, Mazzotti, et al., 2015). Use the results of the assessments to determine instructional priorities, transition services, and community experiences to help students achieve their postschool goals.

Additional Resources

Carter, E. W., Owens, L., Trainor, A. A., Sun, Y., Swedeen, B. (2009). Self-determination skills and opportunities of adolescents with severe intellectual and developmental disabilities. American Journal on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, 114(3), 179-192.

Chou, Y-C., Wehmeyer, M. L., Shogren, K. A., Palmer, S. B., & Lee, J. (2017). Autism and self-determination: Factor analysis of two measures of self-determination. Focus on Autism and Other Developmental Disabilities, 32(3), 163-175. 

Field, S., & Hoffman, A. (2007). Self-determination in secondary transition assessment. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 32(3), 181-190.

Field, S., Martin, J., Miller, R., Ward, M., & Wehmeyer, M. (1998). Self-determination for persons with disabilities: A position statement of the Division on Career Development and Transition. Career Development for Exceptional Individuals, 2, 113–128. 

Martin, J. E., & Huber Marshall, L. (1995). ChoiceMaker: A comprehensive self-determination transition program. Intervention in School and Clinic, 30(3), 147-156.  

Mazzotti, V. L., Rowe, D., Kwiatek, S., Voggt, A., Chang, W., Fowler, C. H., Poppen, M., Sinclair, J., & Test, D. W. (2021). Secondary transition predictors of postschool success: An update for the field. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 44(1), 47-64.

Rowe, D. A., Alverson, C. Y., Unruh, D. K., Fowler, C. H., Kellems, R., & Test, D. W. (2015). A delphi study to operationalize evidence-based predictors in secondary transition. Career Development and Transition for Exceptional Individuals, 38, 113-126.

Rowe, D. A., Mazzotti, V. L., Hirano, K., & Alverson, C. Y. (2015). Assessing transition skills in the 21st century. TEACHING Exceptional Children, 47(6), 301-309.

Shogren, K. A., Little, T. D., Grandfield, E., Raley, S., Wehmeyer, M. L., Lang, K. M., & Shaw, L. A. (2020). The Self-Determination Inventory-Student Report: Confirming the factor structure of a new measure. Assessment for Effective Intervention, 45(2), 110-120.

Wehmeyer, M. L. (1996). Student self-report measure of self-determination for students with cognitive disabilities. Education and Training in Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities, 31(4), 282-293. 

Wehmeyer, M. L., & Palmer, S. B. (2014). The Arc’s Self-Determination Scale-Adolescent Version: Procedural guidelines. The Arc of the United States.'s%20Self-Determina....pdf

Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment. (n.d.). ChoiceMaker Self-Determination assessment. Zarrow Center for Learning Enrichment.