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Terminology & Acronyms

We created this page to help parents understand the language used in special and general education. Many times during meetings or school visits, words or acronyms are used that are unfamiliar to most people.

We hope that this list will help parents understand what is being said and make you feel more comfortable with the language of education!

We'll start with the terminology that you are most likely to hear:

  • "IEP" - Individualized Education Program
    • An IEP is a written education program for a child with disabilities that is developed by a team of professionals and the child’s parents. It is reviewed and updated at least yearly and describes the child’s present performance, what the child’s learning needs are, what services the child will need, when and for how long, and also identifies who will provide the services
  • "504" - 504 Plan (Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973)
    • This is a federal civil rights law to stop discrimination against people with disabilities.  A 504 plan is developed to ensure that a child who has a disability and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment. 
  • "Evals" - Educational Evaluation
    • An educational evaluation is also referred to as an educational assessment or a school evaluation. An evaluation looks for issues that might make a child eligible for special education services and is often the first step to getting your child the support they need.
  • "BIP" - Behavioral Intervention Plan
    • A plan that is put in place to teach a child appropriate behavior and social skills. It should be positive in nature, not punitive.
  • "Neuro" or "Neuro Psych" - A Neuropsychological Examination
    • A neuropsychological evaluation, also called neuropsychological testing, is an in-depth assessment of skills and abilities linked to brain function. The evaluation measures such areas as attention, problem solving, memory, language, I.Q., visual-spatial skills, academic skills, and social-emotional functioning. A neuropsychological evaluation is different from tests included in a neurological evaluation (e.g., EEG) or neuroimaging (e.g., CT or MRI scan)


Along with the basic special education terminology, there are some phrases and acronyms you need to know:

  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The federal law governing special education, originally passed in 1975, which mandates a free, appropriate public education for eligible children with disabilities. Part B of the act refers to special education services for children age three through twenty-one. Part C refers to the early intervention program for infants and toddlers with disabilities from birth through age two and their families.
  • Free, Appropriate, Public Education (FAPE): One of the key principles of IDEA, which requires that an education program be provided for all school-aged children (regardless of disability) without cost to families.
  • Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC): Any system that aids individuals who are not independent verbal communicators. The system can include speech, gestures, sign language, symbols, synthesized speech, dedicated communication aids or microcomputers.
  • Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): A federal law which defines “disability” and prohibits discrimination by employers, facilities open to the general public, and by state and local public agencies that provide services such as transportation.
  • Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA): An intensive, highly structured teaching program focusing on behavior. Behaviors to be taught are broken down into their simplest elements.
  • Assistive Technology (AT): Any item, piece of equipment or product system, whether acquired commercially, off the shelf, modified or customized, that is used to increase, maintain or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.
  • Charter School: A self-governing educational facility that operates under contract between the school’s organizers and the sponsors.  Organizers are often teachers, parents, or private organizations. The charter may detail the school’s instructional design, methods of assessment, management and finances.
  • Due Process: In special education, due process applies to action taken to protect the educational rights of students with disabilities.
  • Early Intervening Services: Services and support for students in grades K-12 who have not been identified as needing special education or related services but who need additional academic and behavioral support to succeed in a general education environment.
  • Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA): The federal law governing K-12 public education in the United States, formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). It requires states to ensure that their academic standards prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace, and to create accountability systems that recognize student growth and school progress toward meeting that goal.
  • English Language Learners (ELL): A student whose first language is a language other than English and who is in a special program for learning English.
  • Extended School Year (ESY): Special education and related services that are provided to a student, in accordance with the student’s IEP, beyond the normal school year and at no cost to parents. The determination of the need for ESY services for a student is determined by the IEP team on an individual basis.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): A federal law that gives all parents or students over the age of 18 or attending post-secondary schools, the right to see, correct and control access to student records.
  • Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA): An assessment that looks at why a child behaves the way he or she does, given the nature of the child and what is happening in the environment. It is a process for collecting data to determine the possible causes of problem behaviors and to identify strategies to address the behaviors.
  • Grade Level Expectations (GLE): A description of what students should know and be able to do at the end of a grade level.
  • Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE): An evaluation performed by a certified and/or licensed professional examiner who is not employed by the school system responsible for the education of the child.
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): An annual written plan that describes a child’s strengths and needs as well as the family’s concerns and priorities for their child. It also details what services and supports need to be provided including their location and frequency.  In some states this may be called an Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP)
  • IEP Team:  A group of individuals including the child’s parents and school professionals who determine the specific educational needs of the child and develop, review and revise a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).  Parents or guardians are critical members of the team and parent concerns must be considered.
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): A term describes the requirement that students with disabilities are placed in general education classrooms to the maximum extent possible. Special classes or separate schools other than general education classrooms are used only when the nature or severity of the disability is such that even with aids and services education cannot be achieved.
  • Local Education Agency (LEA): The public schools operating as independent districts in accordance with statutes, regulations and policies of the State Department of Education.
  • Magnet Schools: Alternative public schools, most of which focus on a particular area of study, such as performing arts or science and technology, but also offer regular school subjects.
  • Mediation: A voluntary process that allows parties to resolve their dispute without litigation. A qualified and impartial mediator helps parents and schools express their views and positions in order to reach a mutual agreement.
  • Office of Civil Rights (OCR): A branch of the U.S. Department of Education that enforces several federal civil rights laws (such as Section 504) that prohibit discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. These laws prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, national origin, sex, disability, or age.
  • Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP): A division of the U.S. Department of Education dedicated to improving results for children with disabilities, ages birth through 21, by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts. OSEP administers the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.
  • Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS): An approach to addressing challenging behaviors that includes functional assessment of the behavior, organizing the environment, teaching skills regarding positive behaviors, anticipating situations and monitoring the effect of interventions, and redesigning interventions as necessary.
  • Post-School Outcome Goal Statements (PSOGS): Goals that a student hopes to achieve after leaving school related to postsecondary education/training, employment, and where appropriate, independent living.
  • Related Services: Transportation, developmental, corrective and other supportive services that a child with disabilities requires in order to benefit from special education. Services may include: speech pathology and audiology, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation, counseling services and medical services for diagnostic and evaluation purposes, school health services, social work services in school, and parent counseling and training.
  • Response to Intervention (RTI): Response to Intervention (RTI) is a process used by educators to help students who are struggling with a skill, for example, reading.  At the lowest end of the RTI framework, students in the general classroom may be given less intense interventions. Most students respond favorably to them and no other interventions are needed; however, if they don’t demonstrate progress, more intensive interventions are tried (a move upward on the continuum Tiers I, II, III). At the highest end of the framework (Tier III), students are given intense interventions. In order for RTI to work, the essential components must be implemented rigorously, with integrity and documented progress monitoring. Only then will parents and school staff know the type and intensity of intervention needed for each student to succeed. It is important to note that intervention plan should be in place for a maximum of 8 instructional weeks.  RTI is NOT meant to be a replacement for special education services.
  • SMART Goal: A goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant/realistic, time-bound.  
  • Summary of Performance (SOP): A summary of a student’s skills and abilities that is written when the student is leaving school to help with services after high school.
  • Title 1: A federal program that provides additional educational services for low income students and families.

Rhode Island Advocacy for Children is now a Program of The Arc Rhode Island.

The Arc promotes and protects the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively supports their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes.


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