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Glossary of Terms

There are so many different acronyms and terms that might be confusing. We hope this will be a place for you to find the information you need. The more informed you are, the better you understand the needs of those who need help.


A tool or procedure that provides equal access to instruction and assessment for students with disabilities.

Adequate yearly progress
The minimum level of improvement that states, school districts, and schools must achieve each year under a federal law called the No Child Left Behind Act.

Short for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. A condition characterized by symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. But not all of these need to be present for a child to be diagnosed with ADHD.

Americans with Disabilities Act
A federal law that protects people with disabilities from discrimination in employment, public businesses, and governments. Often referred to as ADA.

A brain-based disorder that can affect language learning, speaking, listening, comprehension, reading and/or writing.

Asperger’s syndrome
A condition characterized by difficulty with social interactions, unusual or repetitive behaviors, a narrow range of interests, awkward or clumsy movements and trouble with some aspects of communication, such as understanding sarcasm or body language. In 2013, doctors changed the way they diagnose this disorder. It is one of several conditions now included under the category of autism spectrum disorder.

Assistive technology
Any device or software that makes it easier to complete everyday tasks. For example, an app that lets you dictate a message into your phone instead of having to type the words can be considered assistive technology.

Attention-deficit disorder
A condition that is also called ADHD, Predominantly Inattentive Type. Often referred to as ADD.

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder
A condition characterized by symptoms that include inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. But not all of these need to be present for a child to be diagnosed with this. Often referred to as ADHD.

Auditory processing disorder
A condition in which a child has trouble accurately processing and interpreting information he hears. Often referred to as APD, this condition makes it difficult to recognize subtle differences in the way words sound. Kids with APD may have trouble filtering out background noise or listening to and following multi-step directions. Also called central auditory processing disorder.

Autism spectrum disorder
A brain-based developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulty with social interactions and communication. Often referred to as autism or ASD, it includes symptoms such as poor eye contact, repetitive body movements, and difficulty adapting to social situations and responding to sensory input such as certain tastes or textures.

Behavior intervention plan
A plan that includes positive strategies, program modifications and supplementary aids and supports that address a student’s disruptive behaviors. Often referred to as BIP.

Bilingual education
A program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction.

Common Core
A state-led, voluntary effort that established a single set of language arts and mathematics standards for kindergarten through 12th grade. Its formal name is the Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Comprehension strategy instruction
The explicit teaching of techniques that are particularly effective for comprehending text, including direct explanation, teacher modeling (“think aloud”), guided practice and application.

Cooperative learning
A teaching model involving students working together as partners or in small groups on clearly defined tasks.

Curriculum-based assessment
An informal assessment in which the teacher assesses student performance in a specific area. The teacher then uses that information to figure out in which areas a child might need additional instruction or support.

Curriculum-based measurement
Tools for measuring student competency and progress in the basic skill areas of reading fluency, spelling, mathematics and written language. Often referred to as CBM.

Sounding out letters and words.

Developmental delay
A disability category that states may use for certain students ages 3 through 9 as a way to provide them with services and supports before the children are identified as having a specific disability.

Developmental lag
When a child’s development in a particular area is behind that of most children of the same age.

Differentiated instruction
A teaching approach in which lessons are presented in different ways to different groups of students in the class, depending on those students’ learning strengths.

Digital literacy
The ability to effectively navigate, evaluate and generate information using digital technology (computers, software, digital devices, and the Internet).

Direct instruction
An instructional approach to academic subjects that emphasizes the use of carefully sequenced steps, including demonstration, modeling, guided practice, and independent application.

Dominant language
The language in which a bilingual or multilingual speaker has the greatest proficiency or that the speaker uses more often.

Dual-language program
Also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual education. Two language groups are put together and instruction is delivered through both languages.

Due process complaint
A written complaint filed by a parent or a school district involving any matter relating to the identification, evaluation, educational placement or provision of a free and appropriate public education to a student with a disability.

Due process hearing
A formal, quasi-legal procedure before an impartial hearing officer or administrative law judge (or panel of judges) who is not an employee of the state educational agency or school district. The parents and the school district both present arguments and evidence.

A specific learning disability in math. Kids with dyscalculia may have difficulty understanding number-related concepts or using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.

A specific learning disability in writing. Kids with dysgraphia may have difficulty writing legibly and at age-appropriate speed. Many children with dysgraphia also struggle to put their thoughts down on paper. This is sometimes called a disorder of written expression.

A specific learning disability in reading. Kids with dyslexia have trouble reading accurately and fluently. They may also have trouble with reading comprehension, spelling, and writing.

Sometimes called developmental coordination disorder. Kids with dyspraxia may have difficulty planning and performing tasks that require fine motor skills, such as writing, tying shoelaces or using buttons or zippers.

Early intervention
Services for infants and toddlers provided under Part C of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Services include multidisciplinary evaluation of children and identification of the needs of each family as set out in an Individualized Family Service Plan.

English as a second language
An educational approach in which English language learners are instructed in the use of the English language. Their instruction is based on a special curriculum that typically involves little or no use of the native language. Often referred to as ESL.

English language learner
A student whose first language is not English and who is in the process of learning English. Often referred to as ELL.

Executive function
The ability to organize cognitive processes. This includes the ability to plan ahead, prioritize, stop and start activities, shift from one activity to another activity and monitor one’s own behavior.

Executive functioning issues
Difficulty organizing oneself to accomplish tasks. Kids with these issues often have trouble planning ahead, prioritizing, self-correcting, starting activities and shifting from one task to another. Sometimes referred to as an executive functioning disorder.

Expressive language
The aspect of spoken language that includes speaking and the aspect of written language that includes composing or writing. Kids with expressive language issues may have trouble finding the right word to say or may mix up past and present verb tenses. The term language disorder also covers these symptoms.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act
A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. Often referred to as FERPA.

Formal assessment
The process of gathering information using standardized published tests to make instructional decisions.

Free and appropriate public education
Special education and related services that are provided at public expense. Services are supervised by the school and must meet state standards. There is no charge to the parent. Often referred to as FAPE.

Functional behavioral assessment
A way to figure out what triggers a behavior problem. The information is used in designing a plan to address problem behaviors and prevent them from happening in the future. Often referred to as FBA.

Functional print
Writing used for a specified purpose, such as signs, directions, lists, and personal messages.

Functional skills
Skills needed for independent living, such as cooking, shopping, working with or managing money, using public transportation and knowing how to be safe in the community.

General education curriculum
The knowledge and skills that all students in the state are expected to master.

Graphic organizer
A text, diagram or other pictorial device that summarizes and illustrates interrelationships among concepts in a text. Maps, webs, graphs, charts, frames, and clusters are graphic organizers.

Short for Individualized Education Program. A plan that details the support and services (such as speech therapy or multisensory reading instruction) a school will provide to meet the individual needs of a student with a disability who qualifies for special education.

Independent educational evaluation
An evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the school district. Often referred to as IEE.

Independent school for students with learning disabilities
A private school specifically designed to educate students with learning disabilities. Many of these schools also specialize in educating students with ADHD. These schools charge tuition, but some families may receive some public funding for students eligible for special education.

Individualized Education Program
A plan that details the support and services (such as speech therapy or multisensory reading instruction) a school will provide to meet the individual needs of a student with a disability who qualifies for special education. Often referred to as IEP.

Individualized Family Service Plan
A plan for services for a child under age 3 who qualifies for early intervention. It lays out the services a baby or toddler should receive and what results are hoped for. Often referred to as IFSP.

Individualized Transition Plan
A plan developed by the IEP team to help teens with a disability set and reach goals for the transition from high school into adulthood. Often referred to as ITP.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
The federal law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. Often referred to as IDEA.

Instructional intervention
A change in the way a student is taught to try to improve learning and achieve adequate progress.

Intelligence quotient
A measure of someone’s intelligence as indicated by an intelligence test, where an average score is 100.

Short for intelligence quotient. A measure of someone’s intelligence as indicated by an intelligence test, where an average score is 100.

Short for learning disability. A disorder that results in learning challenges that are not caused by low intelligence, problems with hearing or vision or lack of educational opportunity. Many children with learning disabilities have difficulties in particular skill areas, such as reading or math. These children may also have trouble paying attention and getting along with their peers.

Learning disability
Disorders that result in learning challenges that are not caused by low intelligence, problems with hearing or vision or lack of educational opportunity. Many children with learning disabilities have difficulties in particular skill areas, such as reading or math. These children may also have trouble paying attention and getting along with their peers. Often referred to as LD.

Least restrictive environment
A setting that provides a child with appropriate opportunities to learn alongside non-disabled students, to the greatest extent. Often referred to as LRE.

Letter recognition
The ability to name a letter that is displayed or find a letter in a group of letters.

Listening comprehension
Understanding speech. Lower levels of listening comprehension would include understanding only the facts stated in a basic spoken passage. Advanced levels of listening comprehension would include the ability to understand the meaning behind what is said or draw inferences from advanced spoken passages.

Literacy coach
A reading specialist who provides training, support, and guidance to teachers so they can be successful in the use of various instructional programs and practices.

Objects or materials students can touch and move around to make it easier to learn concepts in math and other subjects.

A change in what a student is taught or expected to learn. This term is used in Individualized Education Programs and 504 plans and is often paired with accommodations, which are changes that allow a student to more fully participate in learning.

Multidisciplinary evaluation
An evaluation of a student by at least two professionals, using a few tests. The purpose is to see if the student qualifies for special education services.

Multiple intelligences
A theory that proposes eight different types of intelligence: linguistic, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, musical, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist.

Multisensory structured language education
An educational approach that uses visual (what students see), auditory (what they hear) and kinesthetic-tactile (what they feel and touch) cues to help students learn.

Native language
The first language a person acquires in life, or the language a person identifies with as a member of an ethnic group.

No Child Left Behind
The current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA)—the principal federal law affecting public education from kindergarten through high school in the United States. Often referred to as NCLB.

Nonverbal learning disabilities
Difficulties recognizing and responding to unspoken or nonliteral communication. Often referred to as NVLD. These difficulties may make it hard for kids to understand body language or sarcasm. Kids with NVLD may also have weaknesses in such areas as abstract reasoning and physical coordination.

Occupational therapy
A rehabilitative service for people with mental, physical, emotional or developmental impairments. Services are focused mostly on activities for daily living, such as helping a student work on gripping a pencil. Often referred to as OT.

Office for Civil Rights
A branch of the U.S. Department of Education that investigates allegations of civil rights violations in schools and in the workplace. Often referred to as OCR.

Office of Special Education Programs
An office of the U.S. Department of Education whose goal is to improve results for children with disabilities (ages birth through 21) by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts. Often referred to as OSEP.

A multisensory approach to addressing dyslexia, created by Dr. Samuel Orton, a neuropsychiatrist and pathologist, and Anna Gillingham, an educator and psychologist.


Also known as an instructional aide or a teacher’s aide. This person assists the teacher in the classroom. A paraprofessional helps a student understand what is being taught by speaking in the child’s home language or providing other types of supports.

Personalized learning
Tailoring what students learn—as well as where, how and when they learn it—based on their individual strengths, needs, and interests. One goal of this approach is to let students take ownership of their learning. Technology often plays a big role in personalized learning and assessment.

Pervasive developmental disorder
A group of conditions that involves delays in the development of basic social and cognitive skills. Often referred to as PDD. It can make children behave as if they are younger than their actual age.

The relationship between letters and the sounds they represent.

Physical therapy
Instructional support and treatment of physical disabilities, under a doctor’s prescription, that helps a person improve the use of bones, muscles, joints, and nerves. Often referred to as PT.

The type of setting in which a child with disabilities is educated. Examples include spending all or most of the day in general education classrooms with some supports or services. Other placements include special classrooms and separate schools. By law, schools have to educate kids with disabilities alongside their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent that is appropriate.

Positive behavioral interventions and supports
A schoolwide approach that is designed to create a social culture and systems of support that makes misbehavior less attractive and that rewards desired behaviors.

Postsecondary education
Formal education or training beyond high school, including college, university, vocational school, and trade school.

Activities designed to provide students with needed background knowledge about a topic, or to help students identify their purpose before they begin reading the material.

Pre-referral interventions
Interventions delivered in the student’s regular classroom that attempt to improve learning before a child is referred for formal special education evaluation.

Primary language
Usually the language learned at birth or in early childhood; it is the language that the person best understands.

Prior written notice
A written notice that the school must provide to the parents of a student with a disability within a reasonable time if they wish to evaluate the student, determine whether the student is eligible for special education services, change the student’s evaluation or educational placement or educational plan, or refuse the parents’ request to evaluate their child or change their child’s educational plan (IEP) or placement.

Private school
An independent school that charges tuition and that is not part of the public school system. There are different types of private schools, including traditional independent schools, Montessori schools, religious or parochial schools, country day schools and military schools that may or may not offer much support for students with learning and attention issues. There are also independent special education schools that are specifically designed for students with various disabilities. Some independent special education schools specialize in teaching kids with learning and attention issues.

Progress monitoring
A scientifically based practice used to assess students’ academic performance and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring can be implemented with individual students or with an entire class.

Reading comprehension
How well children understand what they read. This is closely related to listening comprehension, but some kids who struggle to follow a story that is read aloud do better when they read silently and vice versa.

Reading disability
Another term for dyslexia sometimes referred to as a reading disorder or reading difference.

Receptive language
The aspect of language that includes comprehending the meaning of speech. Kids with receptive language issues may have trouble following spoken directions, especially directions involving multiple steps or unfamiliar words. The term language disorder also covers these symptoms.

Related services
Support services that are required to help a child with a disability benefit from special education.

Research-based instruction
Curriculum and educational interventions that have been proven—in independent studies—to be effective for most students.

Resolution session
A mandatory meeting that the school district must convene within 15 days of receiving a parent’s due process complaint. The resolution session includes parents, members of the IEP team relevant to the complaint, and a representative of the school district who has decision-making authority.

Response to intervention
A comprehensive, multi-step process that closely monitors how the student is responding to different types of services and instruction. Often referred to as RTI.

Root words
Words from other languages, often Greek or Latin, that are the origin of many English words.

Temporary guidance or assistance provided to a student by a teacher, another adult or a more capable peer, enabling the student to perform a task. The goal is for the student to eventually be able to perform the task alone.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act
A federal law that requires a school district to provide a free and appropriate public education to each child with a disability in the district.

The skills and understanding needed to enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities or needs to others.

The ability to observe yourself and know if you are doing an activity according to a standard. For example, knowing if you do or do not understand what you are reading, or whether your tone of voice is appropriate for the circumstances.

Involving both sensory and motor functions. Also called “sensory-motor.” Kids need to be able to combine sensory information (such as what they see or touch) with movement in order to do things like balance on one foot or ride a bike.

Sensory Processing Issues
Over- or under-responding to sensory information such as bright lights or unexpected sounds. Kids with sensory processing issues may have difficulty with changes in their daily routine, the tastes or textures of certain foods or the feeling of certain fabrics on their skin. Sometimes referred to as sensory processing disorder.

Sight Word
A word that a child recognizes and reads without having to sound it out.

Social Communication Disorder
Sometimes called pragmatic language impairment or semantic pragmatic disorder. Kids with a social communication disorder may have difficulty with the subtle rules of communication. They may not have a strong sense about the give-and-take of conversation or the physical space needed to make a speaking partner feel comfortable.

Special Education
Specially designed instruction, provided at no cost to parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability. It can include specialized activities in gym, music and arts education and specialized instruction in the classroom, home or other settings.

Specially Designed Instruction
Content, approaches and/or delivery of instruction designed to address the unique needs that result from the child’s disability.

Specific Learning Disability
A disorder—unrelated to intelligence, motivation, effort, or other known causes of low achievement—that makes a child struggle in certain areas of learning, such as reading, writing or math. Sometimes referred to as SLD.

Speech Impairment
Difficulty making speech sounds in one’s native language. Often referred to as SI.

Speech Therapy
Sometimes referred to as speech/language therapy or SLT. This type of therapy is designed to help kids speak more clearly, express their thoughts and ideas and understand what other people are saying.

Speech Language Pathologist
An expert who can help those who have language disorders to understand and give directions, ask and answer questions, convey ideas, and improve the language skills that lead to better academic performance. Often referred to as SLP.

State Complaint
A written complaint that can be filed by any organization or individual claiming that a school district within the state has either violated a requirement of Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or the state’s special education law or regulations. State complaints must be filed within one year of the alleged violation.

Transition Plan
A plan developed by the IEP team to help teens with a disability set and reach goals for the transition from high school into adulthood. Sometimes referred to as an Individualized Transition Plan (ITP).

Twice Exceptional
A description many educators use for students who have outstanding talents in some academic areas and significant learning difficulties in other areas. Sometimes referred to as “2e students,” twice-exceptional learners may qualify for gifted programs as well as special education services.

Universal Screening
A step taken by school personnel early in the school year to determine which students are at risk of not meeting grade-level standards.

Verbal Comprehension
How well children understand the language they hear or read. This can be measured in a variety of ways, including kids’ ability to follow directions and distinguish between essential and nonessential information.

Visual Processing Issues
Difficulty processing or interpreting visual information. Kids with visual processing issues may have difficulty telling the difference between two shapes or finding a specific piece of information on a page. Sometimes referred to as a visual processing disorder (VPD).

Involving both visual and motor functions. Also called “visual-motor.” Kids need to combine movement with visual information to do things like catch a ball, cut with scissors or put puzzle pieces together. These skills are also called “hand-eye coordination.”

Vocational Rehabilitation
A set of services offered to individuals with disabilities, designed to teach the skills needed to get and keep a job. Often referred to as VR.

Word AttackSskills
The ways readers make sense of a new word they encounter in print. Strategies include recognizing the sounds of the letters and putting them together. More advanced readers also use context and other clues such as root words, prefixes, and suffixes to figure out what the new word means.

Word Wall
Usually a chart used to help young readers learn to recognize and read specific words. Words are listed alphabetically on the chart and are displayed so that the students can refer to it while reading.

Working Memory
The ability to store and manage information in one’s mind for a short period of time.

504 Plan
A plan that lists the accommodations a school will provide, such as audiobooks, note-taking aids or extended time to complete tests, so that a student with a disability has equal access to the general education curriculum.

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