Frequently used educational terms: learning and attention problems

Cut through the confusion by becoming familiar with the medical, psychological, legal and educational terms often used in educational settings.

By Jan Baumel, M.S.

As you address your child's learning or attention problems with teachers and other professionals, you will probably hear many terms that are new or confusing to you. Following is a guide to terms frequently used in educational settings.

Accommodations: Techniques and materials that don't change the basic curriculum but do make learning a little easier or help kids communicate what they know

Achievement Tests: Measures of acquired knowledge in academic skills, such as reading, math, writing and science

Advocacy: Recognizing and communicating needs, rights and interests on behalf of a child; making informed choices

Asperger's Syndrome (AS): An Autism Spectrum Disorder that is milder than autism but shares some symptoms. Common features include obsessive interest in a single subject, difficulty with social interactions and strange movements or mannerisms. Treatments aim to help improve communication skills and modify repetitive routines. Find out more about AS

Assessment: Process of identifying strengths and needs to assist in educational planning; includes observation, record review, interviews, and tests

Assistive Technology (AT): Any item, piece of equipment or system that helps kids with disabilities bypass, work around or compensate for specific learning deficits

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD): A neurobehavioral disorder that causes an individual to be inattentive or hyperactive/impulsive or to display a combination of those symptoms

Auditory Discrimination: Ability to identify differences between words and sounds that are similar

Auditory Processing: Among kids with normal hearing, the ability to understand spoken language

Autism (AU): A disorder that usually arises in early childhood. Symptoms include major problems with communication, social interactions and repetitive behaviors. Autism, sometimes referred to as Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD), is considered a "spectrum disorder" because the symptoms and features range widely. Current treatments for autism include behavior and communication therapies and medications that may help control symptoms. Find out more about autism

Behavioral Intervention Plan (BIP): A set of strategies designed to encourage appropriate classroom behavior and social skills. It may be necessary to develop a BIP as part of your child's IEP (Individualized Education Program, see below) if teachers find that her behavior interferes significantly with learning. Depending on the circumstances, a BIP may specifically aim to teach your child new skills, reinforce positive behaviors or increase motivation. The plan should be based on positive feedback rather than punishment and must be reevaluated regularly. 

Collaboration: Working in partnership on behalf of a child; e.g., parent and teacher, or special education teacher and general education teacher

Compliance Complaint: Complaint filed with the state department of education or local school district by a person who feels that an educational law has been broken

Designated Instruction and Services (DIS): Sometimes called related services; specialized instructional, and/or support services identified through an assessment and written on an IEP as necessary for a child to benefit from special education (e.g., speech/language therapy, vision services, etc.)

Discrepancy: Difference between two tests, such as between measures of a child's intellectual ability and his academic achievement

Due Process: Procedural safeguards to protect the rights of the parent/guardian and the child under federal and state laws and regulations for special education; includes voluntary mediation or a due process hearing to resolve differences with the school

Dysarthria: Disorder of fine motor muscles involved in speech; affects ability to pronounce sounds correctly

Dyscalculia: Problems with basic math skills; trouble calculating

Dysgraphia: Difficulty writing legibly with age-appropriate speed

Dyslexia: A language-based learning disability. In addition to reading problems, dyslexia can also involve difficulty with writing, spelling, listening, speaking and math

Dysnomia: Difficulty remembering names or recalling specific words; word-finding problems

Dyspraxia: Difficulty performing and sequencing fine motor movements such as buttoning

Emotional Disturbance (ED): Under current federal law, students with emotional, behavior or mental disorders are categorized as having an ED. A student may have this condition if he displays inappropriate behaviors and feelings, an inability to learn or develop interpersonal relationships and a general mood of unhappiness over a long period of time. 

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Entitles a public school child with a disability to an educational program and related services to meet her unique educational needs at no cost to the parents; based on IEP; under public supervision and meets state standards

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): Federal law that provides for special education and related services to eligible children with disabilities

Individualized Education Program (IEP): Written plan to meet the unique educational needs of a child with a disability who requires special education services to benefit from the general education program; applies to kids enrolled in public schools

Informed Consent: Agreement in writing from parents that they have been informed and understand implications of special education evaluation and program decisions; permission is voluntary and may be withdrawn

Intelligence Quotient (IQ): Score used to indicate general cognitive ability; average range of intelligence, which includes 84 percent of the population, is 85 to 115

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Educational instruction in a place that encourages maximum interaction between disabled and nondisabled kids and is appropriate to both

Learning Disability (LD): A neurobiological disorder that affects the way a person of average to above-average intelligence receives, processes or expresses information. LD impacts one's ability to learn the basic skills of reading, writing or math

Modification: Modifications are changes in the delivery, content or instructional level of a subject or test. They result in changed or lowered expectations and create a different standard for kids with disabilities than for those without disabilities

Multidisciplinary Team: Professionals with different training and expertise; may include, but not limited to, any combination of the following public school personnel - general education teacher, special education teacher, administrator, school psychologist, speech and language therapist, counselor - and the parent

Out-of-Level Testing: When a student who is in one grade is assessed using a level of a test developed for students in another grade. Below-grade-level testing is generally what is meant when the term "out-of-level testing" is used.

Primary Language: Language the child first learned, or the language that's spoken in the home

Procedural Safeguards: Legal requirements that ensure parents and kids will be treated fairly and equally in the decision-making process about special education

Pupil Records: Personal information about the child that is kept by the school system and is available for review by legal guardians and others directly involved in her education

Referral: Written request for assessment to see if the student is a "child with a disability" who needs special education and related services to benefit from her general education program

Resiliency: Ability to pursue personal goals and bounce back from challenges

Resource Specialist Program (RSP): Students receiving special education instruction can be "pulled out" of the regular education classroom for special assistance during specific periods of the day or week and are taught by credentialed resource specialists

Retention: The practice of having a student repeat a certain grade level (year) in school; also called "grade retention"

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act: Federal civil rights law requiring school programs and buildings to be accessible to children with disabilities; protects from discrimination

Self-Advocacy: Child's ability to explain specific learning needs and seek necessary assistance or accommodations

Special Day Class (SDC): Students in Special Day Classes (SDC) are enrolled in self-contained special education classes. They are assigned to these classes by their IEP eligibility and receive support from the Special Day Class teacher and the support staff.

Special Education: Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of eligible kids whose educational needs can't be met through modification of the regular instructional program; provides for a range of options for services, such as pull-out programs, special day classes; available to kids enrolled in public schools

Transition: Process of preparing kids to function in future environments and emphasizing movement from one educational program to another, such as from elementary school to middle school, or from school to work

Visual Processing: Among kids with normal sight, the ability to interpret visual information.

Jan Baumel, M.S., Licensed Educational Psychologist, spent 35 years in education as a teacher, school psychologist, and special education administrator before joining Schwab Learning. Today she is a consultant to local school districts and university field supervisor for student teachers.