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Special Education Terms

  • “A child with a disability”: A student who has been evaluated for special education and is found to have a disability, which results in the need for special education and related services.
  • Accommodations:  Changes to the environment, response modes, curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual with a disability to gain access to content and/or complete assigned tasks. Accommodations do not alter what is being taught. Examples of classroom accommodations might include extended time on quizzes and tests, a copy of class notes, and written responses to replace oral responses.
  • Accommodations in state-wide assessment: Changes in test format, response, setting, timing or scheduling that do not change what a test measures or the comparability of scores.
  • Adaptive behavior: Measured by rating scales that parents and teachers may be asked to complete. It identifies how well a student functions within his or her environment (day to day activities).
  • Advocate: An individual who may not an attorney, but who helps families in their dealings with school districts regarding the children’s special education programs.
  • Age of majority: Rights are transferred from the parent to the student on the student’s 18th birthday. This must be addressed by an IEP team prior to the student reaching age 18.
  • American with Disabilities Act (ADA): This U.S. act prohibits discrimination of individuals based on disability. It requires public transportation services to be accessible to individuals with disabilities and prohibits discrimination in employment of qualified individuals with disabilities.
  • Adapted physical education (APE): This related service is for students with disabilities who require specialized physical education (PE).
  • Alternate assessment: An assessment designed for the small number of students with disabilities who cannot participate in statewide testing. It is a way of including students with the most severe disabilities in a state’s assessment and accountability program.
  • Annual goals: A required component of an IEP. What a student can be expected to accomplish within a 12 month period (educational goal).
  • Assistive technology device: Any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of a child with a disability (i.e. typewriting devices, computers, etc).
  • Behavior specialist: A person who has been trained in behavior interventions.
  • Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan for a changing a student’s behavior using interventions. It is usually developed by an IEP team.
  • Cognitive: A term which refers to reasoning or intellectual capacity/ability (i.e. IQ).
  • Community-based: Some skills may be taught at varied locations in the community (i.e. job sites) rather than in the classroom.
  • Compliance complaint: Complaint filed with a state agency by a person who feels that a special education law has been violated.
  • Continuum of services: Services which must be available to students in a school district so that they may be served in the least restrictive environment.
  • Conference: Term that may refer to a conference, IEP meeting, annual review, or other type of meeting among members of a student’s educational team.
  • Curriculum: Subject matter taught within a school.
  • Curriculum-based assessment: A method in which a child’s progress in the curriculum is measured at frequent intervals.
  • Delay: Development which does not occur at expected times.
  • Disability: A physical, sensory, cognitive or affective impairment that causes the student to need special education.
  • Due process: Procedural safeguards to ensure the protection of the rights of the parent/guardian and the student under IDEA and related state and federal laws and regulations.
  • Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EHA): More commonly identified as P.L. 94-142. It became effective in 1975 and was modified by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Extended school day: A provision for a special education student to receive instruction for a period longer than the standard school day. This could include later afternoons, or earlier starting times.
  • Extended school year (ESY): A provision for a special education student to receive instruction during ordinary school “vacation” periods. There are requirements students must meet to receive ESY services (skills regression).
  • Early childhood education (ECE): Early identification and special education and related services that are provided to children ages 0-5.
  • Evaluation: Procedures used to determine whether a child has a disability, and what special education and related services a child may need.
  • Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): A U.S. federal law that regulates the management of student records and disclosure of information from those records. The purpose of this act is to set out requirements for the protection of privacy of parents and students.
  • “Free Appropriate Public Education” (FAPE): One of the key requirements of IDEA, which requires that an education program be provided for all students (regardless of disability) without cost to families.
  • Fine motor: Activities which require tiny muscle movements. For example, writing, grasping, or typing would require fine motor movement.
  • Functional curriculum: A curriculum focused on practical life skills and usually taught in community-based settings with materials that are a regular part of everyday life. The purpose of this type of instruction is to maximize the student’s skills in real life.
  • Functional Analysis Assessment (FAA) or Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): An assessment of behavior conducted by an IEP team to identify the function of a student’s behavior (i.e. to determine what is maintaining the behavior).
  • Gross motor: Activities which require large muscle movements. For example, walking, kicking, or jumping would require gross motor movement.
  • Heterogeneous grouping: Students of diverse abilities are placed within the same instructional groups.
  • Homogeneous grouping: Students of similar abilities are placed within the same instructional groups.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): U.S law that ensures that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education (FAPE) which emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet students’ needs, and prepares them for employment, independent living, and post-secondary contexts.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Law Reporter (IDELR): A specialized full text reporting service that publishes policy letters and administrative level actions as well as case law.
  • Inclusion: A belief that that every child be educated to the extent possible, in the school and classroom he or she would otherwise attend. It involves bringing the services to the child (rather than moving the child to the services) and requires only that the child will benefit from being in the class (rather than having to keep up with the other students).
  • Infants and toddlers: Children who are not yet three years of age.
  • In-home interventions: Special education services delivered in a child’s own home.
  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): A written educational plan developed at an IEP meeting for a student with disabilities. It documents the child’s present level of educational performance, sets annual goals and objectives, and describes the special education services and related services needed to meet those goals and objectives.
  • IEP meeting: A meeting required at least annually (once per year) under IDEA in which an IEP is developed for a student receiving special education.
  • Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP): Document which outlines the services to be delivered to families of infants and toddlers receiving special services. Each eligible infant or toddler has an IFSP. The IFSP is in place of the IEP.
  • Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE): An evaluation conducted by an examiner who is not employed by the district responsible for the education of the child.
  • Individual Services Plan (ISP): The plan that is used for students who are enrolled in private schools by their parents that describes the specific special education and related services that the local education agency will provide to the child.
  • Individual Transition Plan (ITP): Plan that is included in the student’s IEP beginning at age 16 or younger that addresses transition needs and interagency responsibilities that are needed for the student to successfully transition from school to adult life.
  • Informed consent:  Parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his/her primary language or other mode of communication.
  • Local educational agency (LEA): A local public school district which has responsibility to provide special education services to eligible students.
  • Least restrictive environment (LRE): A component of IDEA that includes a variety of options designed and available to meet the individual needs of students. The goal of LRE is to ensure that child with a disability is served in a setting where the child can be educated successfully with nondisabled peers.
  • Low incidence disability: Severe disability – incidence of less than one percent of a total school district’s enrollment.
  • Mainstreaming: The education of every child with a disability in the least restrictive environment. The term has been widely used to refer to the return of children with disabilities to a regular classroom for a portion of each school day.
  • Manifestation determination: A review conducted by an IEP team that looks at the relationship between a child’s disability and a behavior which results in a disciplinary action that involves a removal of the student with a disability (that constitutes a change in educational placement).
  • Mediation: A dispute resolution process used to resolve a special education compliance complaint.
  • Modifications:  Changes in the content or learning objectives to meet the needs of a student with a disability.These are not the same as accommodations.Examples of classroom modifications might include alternate reading assignments, easier math problems, or shorter writing assignments.
  • Occupational therapy (OT): A special education related service which is usually focused on a student’s fine motor skills and the ability to perform tasks for independent functioning.
  • US Office for Civil Rights (OCR): An agency of the federal government’s executive branch within the Department of Education. It ensures equal opportunity and accessibility for users of programs and services that receive federal funding.
  • US Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP): An office charged with assuring that the various states comply with IDEA. OSEP’s focuses on the free appropriate public education of children and youth with disabilities from birth through age 21.
  • US Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS): An agency of the federal government’s executive branch within the Department of Education.
  • Orientation and mobility: Services provided to students who are blind or have a visual impairment. These services enable students to move safely within their environments in school, home and community.
  • Placement: A student’s special education setting according to the IEP.
  • Present levels of educational performance: A required IEP component which documents the things a student is doing at the present time.
  • Prior written notice: A written notice that must be given to the parents of a child with a disability. This is required before an LEA proposes to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child.  Notice is also required before an LEA refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of a child.
  • Procedural safeguards: This is also known as “Parent Rights.” Procedural safeguards must be given to the parents of a child upon initial referral for evaluation, upon each notification of an IEP meeting, upon reevaluation of a child, and upon receipt of a request for due process.
  • Referral: Written request that a student be assessed to determine whether there is a disability that may require special education. A referral sets certain timelines in place.
  • Regression/recoupment: The amount of loss of skills a child experiences over an instructional break (primarily summer vacation) and the amount of time it takes the student to recover the lost skills. Standards for when regression and recoupment require summer school vary from state to state.
  • Related services: IDEA requires that school districts provide whatever related services a child needs in order to benefit from his or her special education program. These services are required to assist the child with a disability to benefit from their education. These services could include speech/language therapy and audiological services, psychological services, physical and occupational therapy, recreation including therapeutic recreation, counseling services, orientation and mobility services, and transportation services.
  • Section 504: Provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 which prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance. Any person is protected who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such an impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such an impairment. Major life activities include walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, learning, working, caring for oneself, and performing manual tasks.
  • Short-term objectives: Part of an IEP that lists small sequential steps that will help a child learn a particular skill or reach a particular goal.
  • Standardized tests: Tests which have norms reflecting the performance of children throughout the country on the same tests. These norms can be age or grade-based.
  • Supplementary aids and services: Accommodations required under IDEA and noted in the IEP which could permit a student to benefit from instruction in the least restrictive environment. These can be provided in general education classes or other education-related settings.
  • Surrogate parent: An individual trained to exercise special education rights on behalf of children with disabilities who are wards of the state or are otherwise without access to parents. The surrogate parent may represent the child in all matters relating to the identification, evaluation, and educational placement and the provision of a free appropriate public education to the child.
  • Special day class (SDC): Intensive instruction for students with disabilities who require special education instruction for more than 50% of the school day.
  • Special education: Specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the individual needs of a child with a disability.
  • Therapeutic day program: An educational placement for students with serious emotional disabilities in which treatment for the emotional difficulties are part of the school program. Services may include psychotherapy, behavior management, or other interventions.
  • Transition planning: Process of preparing a student to function in the future. The plan emphasizes a move from one educational program to another (e.g., infant program to preschool; from high school to work). It is based on the individual student’s needs, taking into account the student’s preferences and interests.
  • Visual-motor: Ability to coordinate the eyes with the movement of the hands and the process of thinking. For example, one uses visual-motor coordination when catching a ball.


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