Special Education Terminology
One of the things I regularly notice about the special education profession is that we love to assign acronyms to ideas, programs, processes, or systems within public education. As I look around my desk as I type this, I see several examples of this: abbreviations, educational jargon, references to educational programs, and psychoeducational lingo is all around me. This is evident not just at this moment, but anytime I'm around an educational setting.
It's no wonder why parents sometimes sit quietly in meetings with the school. I would do the same thing if I were to go to their place of employment and listen to their conversations. Every profession has terminology and references that would be meaningless to those not around that environment. However, when a parent doesn't understand what services or systems are in place at their child's school solely due to the school's use of 10-dollar-words and strange acronyms, then something is wrong. It is the school's responsibility to ensure that every member of the IEP team be informed about the language being used as a part of those team discussions.
The purpose of this page is to give meaning to the terms commonly found around schools today. This certainly won't be a complete list, but it's my desire for it to be exhaustive enough to be useful for many readers.
APE: Adapted Physical Education. A specialized physical education program designed for students with mental or physical disabilities that would prohibit that student from participating in general physical education classes.
ADHD: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. One of several mental health disorders that may impact a child's performance in school. ADHD is often characterized by an inability to sustain attention to a task for even a brief period of time, or unusually high levels of physical activity at inappropriate times.
Assessment: A method of determining a person's ability or performance on a given task. Often informally called "testing" or "evaluation".
ASP: After School Program. An optional enrichment opportunity for students that offers additional instructional or developmental support. The program takes place after school hours and often requires both parental and school agreement in order for a child to attend.
AT: Assistive Technology. A type of educationally based technology product that works to supplement a child's educational abilities. Often AT devices are communication devices that are used to help students communicate with others or are physical supports that enable a child to physically access materials. AT devices are a part of the larger collection of educational technology software and hardware devices.
AYP: Adequate Yearly Progress. A term made well-known from NCLB, referring to the growth a student is expected to make within one calendar year. Traditionally, courts have defined AYP as achieving from one grade level to the next within the academic year.
BD: Behavior Disorder. Individuals who have behavior disorders certainly can receive a diagnosis of such through a mental health center; however, BD is not one of the special education exceptionalities. BD students are often confused with ED students due to similar aggressive outbursts, yet there are several factors which distinguish one group from the other.
BIP: Behavior Intervention Plan. Often a specific part of a child's IEP (but can be used for students who don't have IEPs) that provides individual program planning and interventions for that student's behavior. Often used with BD and ED students in order to teach appropriate behavior while minimizing the occurrence of maladaptive behavior.
Blend: A phonology term referencing two (or more) consonants that, when placed together in a word, each keep their own sound. For example, the word stop has four unique sounds, /s/, /t/, /o/, and /p/. The word blend is also and example of a blend; although the b and l are together, you can still hear the individual /b/ and /l/ sounds.
Comprehensive: Complete, full, detailed. Often used to describe a comprehensive assessment process or comprehensive instructional program.
Digraph: A phonology term that refers to two (or more) consonants that make one sound. Example: ship or them.
Diphthong: A phonology term that refers to two (or more) vowels placed together that make one sound (not two distinct sounds.) Example: mouse or boy.
DSM-5: The major publication of the American Psychiatric Association, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition (the DSM-5). This book serves as the manual that all mental health providers (psychologists, psychiatrists, clinical mental health practitioners, etc.) use to make a clinical diagnosis of a mental health condition. While not required to be used in schools, it often provides information which school teams and parents may wish to consider when discussion options for students with any of the recognized types of educational disabilities.
EBI: Evidence-Based Intervention. Refers to the process of using research-based interventions for working with students (usually behavior management, academic interventions, and other supportive techniques). EBIs require that formal/published research be conducted to verify the potential effectiveness of the intervention. Similar with EBP.
EBP: Evidence-Based Practice. Refers to the process of using research-based practices for working with students (usually behavior management, academic interventions, and other supportive techniques). EBPs require that formal/published research be conducted to verify the potential effectiveness of the practice. Similar with EBI.
EC or ECH: Early Childhood. In special education, this refers to Part B of Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. Usually, EC or ECH refers to a preschool-aged student.
ECSE: Early Childhood Special Education. Refers to preschool-aged students who receive special education services.
ED: Emotional Disturbance. One of the educational exceptionalities that allow students access to specially designed instruction. Similar to Severe Emotional Disturbance (SED).
Ed.S: An Educational Specialist degree. A common level of education for school psychologists, school administrators, or other content area specialists. The Ed.S degree is more advanced than a master's degree and less advanced than a doctoral degree.
Ed Tech: Educational Technology. Refers to both software programs and hardware devices that are used to supplement traditional educational programs.
FAPE: Free Appropriate Public Education. This is one of the major requirements of IDEA 2004 that states that students with exceptionalities are entitled to specially designed instruction in the Least Restrictive Environment.
FBA: Functional Behavior Assessment. An individual assessment of a student (not norm or criterion referenced) that is completed in order to determine the function of a student's behavior. It's often used with both ED and BD students to plan appropriate intervention strategies and BIPs.
FERPA: Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The federal legislation that outlines the required privacy practices and confidentiality of student records. FERPA also applies to students in university settings.
GEI: General Education Interventions. Refers to the process of implementing explicit, targeted instruction to students needing additional support in general education settings.
IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004. This is the current set of legal requirements that guide special education in American schools.
IEP: Individual Education Plan. This specialized program is designed to offer students with disabilities educational programming tailored to their unique needs.
IFSP: Individual Family Service Plan. This type of plan is designed for students in preschool who are served through an IDEA Part C program. Generally, students with an IFSP are eligible to transition to an IEP when they reach school age (they must be found eligible through an evaluation.)
Inclusion or Inclusive: Refers to programs for students receiving special education services inside a general education classroom. This is usually a very mild form of special education, for students who do not need intensive, restrictive programming. This is sometimes referred to as "para-support".
KAA: Kansas Alternate Assessment. A type of state assessment that is given to a very small percentage (1-3%) of students in Kansas because their IEP teams have determined that typical state assessment system would not be an appropriate measurement of their progress.
KAMM: Kansas Assessment with Modified Measures. This type of assessment is designed for students whom have academic performance skills that are “multiple years behind grade level expectations.”
LEA: Local Education Agency. Refers to the organization/agency that is responsible for providing the education for the student. This is usually the local school district, but may also be a cooperative organization or specialized instructional facility.
LD: Learning Disability. One of the types of special education exceptionalities. Students with LD have psychological processing disorders which impede their ability to learn. Synonymous with Specific Learning Disability (SLD).
LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. This refers to the educational setting for a student who receives special education that is both appropriately designed, and the most similar to the general environment. All students who receive special education are required to be served in the least restrictive environment, as determined by the IEP team.
MTSS: Multi-Tiered Systems of Support. In Kansas (and a few other states), MTSS is the name of the model that provides students with interventions in core content areas and at the student’s level of performance.
NCLB: The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. The current authorization of the federal laws regulating education in the United States.
Parental Rights: Also referred to as "Procedural Safeguards". These are physical documents that must be given to each parent of an exceptional child that outlines their rights as a parent of a student who receives special education or related services.
PLAAFP: Present Levels of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance. Previously referred to as PLEPs (Present Levels of Educational Performance), this term refers to the level of academic and functional skill that a student demonstrates. The PLAAFP is a key element in the development of an IEP.
Procedural Safeguards: Also referred to as "Parental Rights". These are physical documents that must be given to each parent of an exceptional child that outlines their rights as a parent of a student who receives special education or related services.
PWN: Prior Written Notice. Before major changes are made to any child’s IEP, the parents should agree, in writing to such change. The PWN form is a written proposal from the child’s school to which the parents may agree or refuse. In some circumstances, the PWN does not need a parent’s agreement and the PWN simply provides a prior written notice that the change will be made.
R-Controlled Vowels: A phonology term referencing a vowel that changes sounds when grouped with a consonant. Example: bird, compared to bid (the vowel sound changes, due to the r.)
RTI: Response to Intervention. While this term is often used in Kansas, it is used in many other states (and referenced in federal laws) to refer to the process through which students are offered increasingly more intense levels of support to remediate learning or behavioral issues. In Kansas, MTSS is used for all students, which replaces the use of RTI only for struggling students.
SBHC: School-Based Health Center. Typically a medical or mental health treatment center located within a school. Often these programs are only seen in urban settings or large schools with funding to provide several full-time staff to operate the facility (there are approximately 2,000 SBHCs located in the US today.) These centers nearly always provide treatment for students at no cost, regardless of the student's insurance status.
SEA: State Education Agency. In Kansas, our SEA is the Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE).
SED: Severe Emotional Disturbance. A mental health diagnosis that may prompt an evaluation to determine the need for identification as a student with a school-based emotional disturbance. (A diagnosis of SED doesn’t automatically make a student eligible for special education programs in Kansas.)
SIP: Student Improvement Plan. This formal plan is developed at the consensus of the SIT meeting. This plan outlines changes to the child's general education program which are designed to increase student performance toward a desired goal. The SIP is similar to an IEP or a 504 plan; the major difference is that the SIP is enforced only through the school's individual problem solving team.
SIT: Student Improvement Team or Student Intervention Team. The most common name (in Kansas) for the school-wide individual problem solving team required by IDEA. The SIT is designed to discuss issues with individual students in academics and behavior. SIT then implements interventions and changes to the student's educational program, through the Student Improvement Plan (SIP). The SIP is monitored to ensure it is effective and is changed when the SIT determines that a change needs to be made in order to produce greater student change.
SLD: Specific Learning Disability. One of the types of special education exceptionalities. Students with LD have psychological processing disorders which impede their ability to learn. Synonymous with Learning Disability (LD).
Taxonomy: An organization system; a system used to classify. Often used when discussing Bloom's Taxonomy. Bloom's taxonomy refers to an organizational system of educational rigor.