Have you heard school personnel speak in what sounds like a foreign language — using words such as “authentic assessment” and “multiple intelligences”? To help you understand what teachers or other school officials are talking about when they use educational jargon, we present 25 of our favorite edubabble terms and their definitions.

Advanced Placement (AP)

A high school program offering classes designed to provide students with college-level courses and examinations (AP tests) in specific subjects, for the purpose of earning college credits. There are more than 30 AP subjects, and high schools offer different courses depending on demand and resources. For more information, visit The College Board.

At-risk student

A broadly used term to describe a student whose educational experiences are threatened as a result of an adverse condition in his life. At-risk students may have socioeconomic disadvantages, minority status, learning or physical disabilities, dysfunctional families, or histories of malnutrition or poverty.

Authentic assessment

A method of testing a student’s knowledge and understanding with real-life applications of the skills being taught. For example, an essay exam may provide an authentic assessment of a student’s writing skills.

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Categorical funds

Public money, usually from the state, that is designated for a specific purpose or population of students. The money supplements the financial base all schools receive. Examples include federal Title I money for educationally disadvantaged youths and state funding for the Gifted Education program.

Criterion-referenced test

A test designed to measure how well a student performs against a set of defined standards or criteria rather than how she compares with other students (“norm group”). For example, if the criterion is being able to add three-digit numbers, the test would measure whether a student had mastered that skill.

Differentiated instruction

A teaching practice that seeks to meet students’ varied learning needs by offering several learning experiences that can be geared to different individuals, depending on their abilities and learning styles. Activities and materials may vary by difficulty to challenge students at different readiness levels, by topic in response to students’ interests, and by their preferred ways of learning or expressing themselves. Typically, differentiated instruction offers two to four different learning experiences for a class.

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Dual immersion

A program that puts English speakers and speakers of other languages in the same class and splits the time between teaching completely in English and the other language. Dual immersion is designed to both develop the English skills of non-English speakers and to help English speakers develop foreign-language skills.

English learner

A term used to describe a student whose first language is one other than English and who requires instruction to gain English-language skills.

Gateway assessment/indicator

The assessments or performances that are essential to progress toward a desired goal. For example, a student might need to have successfully completed a course in algebra in order to take geometry in high school. On a more global level, successfully completing an eighth-grade algebra course is considered a gateway to the college-preparation sequence of courses in high school.

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High-frequency words

Words that appear most often in printed materials. They are also called “sight words.” Many of these words don’t follow spelling rules or guidelines. Learning to spell and recognize high-frequency words will be of immediate use in students’ writing and reading.


The practice of including students with special needs in as many regular classes as possible. Full inclusion refers to the policy followed by some school districts of placing all special education students in mainstream classrooms.

International Baccalaureate

A program that emphasizes international understanding and responsible citizenship as well as intellectual rigor and high academic standards. The International Baccalaureate Organization offers the Diploma Programme for the last two years of high school, the Middle Year Programme for students in the 11-16 age range, and the Primary Years Programme for students ages 3 to 12. Diploma Programme students are required to conduct research and write at a college level and receive college credit for such work. For more information, visit International Baccalaureate Organization.

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Leveled reading book

A book that is evaluated according to reading difficulty and assigned a grade level for which the book is appropriate. Some school libraries have collections of leveled books that are used in literacy programs.

Multiple intelligences

A concept that approaches teaching with respect to eight types of intelligence, including linguistic, musical and interpersonal. The basic theory is that students have and should develop multiple ways of learning and succeeding academically.

Norm-referenced test

Any test in which the scoring includes reference to a group of students representing a known comparison population. Most often the comparison group is a national representative sample, and an individual score can be seen as higher than, lower than or the same as the national average.

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Performance assessment

Any assessment in which the student is asked to perform a task rather than respond to a multiple-choice or fill-in-the-blank question. Typically, a performance assessment takes several minutes to several hours to complete and involves creating a product, such as an essay. A selected-response format typically involves choosing a correct answer from several alternatives in a shorter time frame (rarely more than a minute or a minute and a half).


The understanding that there is a predictable relationship between the sounds of spoken language and the letters and spellings that represent those sounds in written language.

Pull-out program

A program that helps schools meet their students’ special needs outside of the classroom by occasionally pulling them out of their classes for individualized help. For example, a student may be pulled out once a week to work on reading skills with a literacy specialist.

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Resource Specialist Program (RSP)

Students receiving special education instruction can be pulled out of the regular education classroom for special assistance at specific times of the day or week and are taught by credentialed resource specialists.


A scoring guide generally based on a set of standards that is used to score performance assessments. Rubrics generally contain a scale (e.g., 4, 3, 2, 1 or “distinguished, proficient, competent, beginning”) and descriptions or qualities of the characteristics expected in the performance. For example, a score of 4 might be given to an essay that contained a specific level of organization, clarity, understanding of the subject, and use of conventions of English as described in the rubric for a point-4 response. Scorers match a response to the sample response it most closely resembles.

School site council (SSC)

A group, made up of a school’s principal and some parents, students, teachers and other staff members, whose role includes reviewing student achievement data, creating a comprehensive school plan, recommending that plan to the local board, continually reviewing the plan’s effectiveness, and revising the plan on an annual basis.

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Specific expectations of what students should know and be able to do in each content area of every grade level. State Departments of Education set these standards for each state, and many states have adopted some version of Common Core Standards.

Student Study Team (SST)

A formal meeting and the first step in a legal process for providing assistance to a student having difficulty in school and for whom other interventions have not been successful. This meeting typically includes the principal, the classroom teacher, the parents, a psychologist, the RSP (see “Resource Specialist Program” entry above for more information) teacher and other support staff. When appropriate the student also attends this meeting. Detailed notes/minutes are taken of the proceedings and recommendations.

Whole language

A type of instruction that involves the teaching of language skills (reading, writing, spelling, grammar) through an emphasis on reading for meaning and in context.

Whole math

A controversial approach that became popular in the 1990s, whole math emphasizes real-life, hands-on experience and group discussion to teach abstract concepts, while downplaying memorization and drills.

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Visit the GreatSchools education glossary where we’ve decoded more eduspeak terms that may be confusing you.

To find terms and phrases specific to learning disorders, refer to Frequently Used Educational Terms: Learning and Attention Problems.