Special Education Terms to Know


Special Education Terms to Know

Reading Special Education-related records or documents can be hard! Sometimes it can feel like trying to understand a new language. Below is a list of some of the acronyms and terms. We hope it will help you better understand your child’s records.

Disclaimer: This publication is legal information only and is not legal advice about your individual situation. It is current as of the date posted. We try to update our materials regularly. However, laws are regularly changing. If you want to make sure the law has not changed, contact DRC or another legal office.

Reading Special Education-related records or documents can be hard! Sometimes it can feel like trying to understand a new language. Below is a list of some of the acronyms and terms. We hope it will help you better understand your child’s records.

If you have any further questions or need more information, you can visit our website anytime at www.disabilityrightsca.org, or call us at 1-800-776-5746 (TTY: 1-800-719-5798), Monday through Friday, 9:00AM to 4:00PM.

Top 6 Terms to Remember

504 Plan: Section 504 is a law that requires schools to give students with disabilities equal access to the education afforded to all students. A 504 Plan is a plan that describes services, accommodations and modifications that schools will provide to a student to ensure that equal access.

FAPE: Free and Appropriate Public Education. Student with disabilities must receive a public education that allows them to make progress and is free to the student and their families.

IDEA: Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. A federal education law for students who fall within one of 13 qualifying categories of disabilities and who need specialized support to benefit from education. Specialized support and services are outlined in a student’s IEP.

IEP: Individualized Education Program. A plan for students who are eligible for special education. The plan describes a student’s current educational performance, creates goals for development, and services that will be provided to help support the student. At minimum, the plan must be updated once per year.

LRE: Least Restrictive Environment. A student with disabilities shall be educated alongside nondisabled peers to the maximum extent possible for that individual student.

SWD: Student with Disabilities.

Agencies to Know

CSS: California Children’s Services. Gives some medically-based therapies, usually outside of school hours, to students. CSS often has facilities located on school campuses.

CDE: California Department of Education. A state agency that oversees public education. It manages things like funding, testing, and holding local education agencies (such as school districts) accountable for student achievement. CDE also receives Compliance Complaints.

CTC: Commission on Teacher Credentialing. Allows anyone to look up a teacher’s credentials online or file a complaint. CTC also provides guidance on the appropriate credentials for certificated positions.

DDS: California Department of Developmental Services. Oversees the coordination and delivery of services to Californians with developmental disabilities.

DOR: Department of Rehabilitation. Can become involved when a student has reached transition age (16 years or older). DOR helps Californians with disabilities find and keep a job and maximize their equality and ability to live independently.

DSS: California Department of Social Services. State agency that oversees public assistance programs like cash assistance, adult services, and CalFresh.

OAH: Office of Administrative Hearings. State Agency that receives Due Process complaints.

OCR: Office for Civil Rights. Federal entity that can receive complaints about violations of civil rights, including OCR Complaints that allege disability discrimination.

OCRA : Office of Client Rights’ Advocacy. A DRC program that works with DDS to provide free legal information, advice, and representation to regional center consumers.

PTI: Parent Training and Information Centers. Provide direct support services to children or youth with disabilities and their families. Services might include helping parents or guardians participate effectively in their child’s education or working with the families of individuals with disabilities, from birth to age 26.

Regional Centers: Overseen by DDS. A network of 21 community-based agencies that provide assessments, determine eligibility for services, and offer case management services to people with developmental disabilities.

SCDD: State Council on Developmental Disabilities. An independent state agency that makes sure people with developmental disabilities and their families receive the services and supports they need.

Tests and Evaluations

BASC: Behavior Assessment System for Children. A test that asks the teacher and parents a series of questions about the student’s behavior.

CAA: California Alternate Assessment

CAS: Cognitive Assessment System. A test that assess a student’s cognitive processes.

CCSS: Common Core State Standards

CELDT: California English Language Development Test. English proficiency test that has now been replaced with the ELPAC.

Developmental Vision Assessment: The name of the test that would be conducted prior to an IEP team meeting(?) determining if Vision Therapy is needed, or would help, a given student.

DRA: Diagnostic Reading Assessment

ELPAC: English Learner Proficient Assessments for California, Replaced the CELDT. California Test that determines English Proficiency levels for students.

FBA: Functional Behavior Assessment. Can sometimes be called Functional Analysis Assessment (FAA). Test used to determine the function of a student’s behavior.

NAR: Nurse Assessment Report

SBAC: Smarter-Balanced Assessment Consortium. Standardized assessments used in California.

WIAT: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, third edition. A test to measure the student’s academic performance.

WJ-IV: Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement, fourth edition. Another test to measure the student’s academic performance.

WISC-V: An IQ test to measure a student’s cognitive ability. Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, Fifth Edition.

Laws and Legal Terms

ADA: Americans with Disabilities Act. Law that provides protection for students with disabilities in public schools, childcare centers, recreation programs, and community-based job training or placement. It also outlines requirement of reasonable accommodations to perform essential functions for eligible students with a disability.

ADR: Alternative Dispute Resolution. A process to settle disputes with the school district without going to trial and that might include mediation.

ALJ: Administrative Law Judge. Oversees hearing held through the Office of Administrative hearings.

Compliance Complaint: Less formal complaint procedure through the California Department of Education. Allows parent to assert the school is not following special education law or implementing an IEP. CDE can investigate and order corrective actions if the District is found out of compliance with either the IEP or special education law.

CPRA: California Public Records Act. Allows members of the public to request information from public agencies, including school districts. This includes information such as school district policies, training documents, and data.

Due Process: Procedural safeguard that gives guardians and local education agencies the ability to formally disagree with the offer of a Free and Appropriate Public Education and have that disagreement resolved by an Administrative Law Judge.

ESSA: Every Student Succeeds Act. A federal law that replaced NCLB (No Child Left Behind) Act.

FERPA: Federal Educational Rights & Privacy Act. Gives parents and students some control over disclosure of records and allows for parental access and review. Also provides a process for amending the content of records.

Mediation: Formal meeting between two parties to a dispute to try to resolve issues prior to a Due Process hearing. Often includes an independent mediator, typically an Administrative Law Judge, to help the parties mediate.

Mediation Settlement: Agreement between parties reached as result of mediation session or sessions.

NDA: Non-Disclosure Agreement. Settlements with a school district may require the guardian or student to sign a confidentiality agreement saying certain information cannot be shared with other persons or agencies.

Procedural Safeguards: Rules or procedures designed to protect the rights of students with disabilities and their parents while also outlining a way to resolve their disputes.

Section 504: Refers to Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. A federal anti-discrimination law that protects all people with disabilities that impair one or more major life activity and provides accommodations to remove discriminatory barriers.

Special Education Terms

ABA: Applied Behavior Analysis. ABA is a data-driven intervention used to help shape behavior.

Accommodations: Written on the “Special Factors” pages of an IEP. Accommodations don’t change or lower the expectations or standards, but instead gives additional supports, like Preferential Seating, Extended Time, and so on, that help students with disabilities have equal access to instruction and materials.

ADL: Activities of Daily Living. Often referenced in assessments. ADL include activities like dressing, toileting, and feeding.

Annual IEP: At least yearly, a student with an IEP must have an IEP team meeting to evaluate the student’s progress towards their goals, identify the needed placement, review given accommodations, and propose new related services.

APE: Adaptive Physical Education. Usually group-based related service that offers a modified P.E. curriculum for students with disabilities.

Articulation: The formation of sounds in speech; will likely be seen in reference to how clear and understandable a student’s speech is.

ASL: American Sign Language

AT: Assistive Technology. High-tech or low-tech devices used to give a SWD access to their lessons.

Auditory: Having to do with hearing and interpreting sounds

AUT: Abbreviation for “Autism” that is used to show federal eligibility for special education.

Benchmark: Shorter-term learning objective that lays out a path to meet an annual goal.

BIP: Behavior Intervention Plan. Can also be listed as a Behavior Support Plan or Behavior Plan. A formal, written plan that lists a student’s problem behavior, what causes it, and the strategies or supports in place to help the student.

Blended Classroom Early Childhood: Special Education placement option that offers both a general education preschool teacher and a special education preschool teacher who share a class of students.

BSR: Behavior Support Resources. Responsible for providing training and support as needed to classroom staff members.

CAPD: Central Auditory Processing Disorder. A specific type of audiological testing that is usually done after age 10.

CBI: Community-Based Instruction. Usually an important consideration as a student proceeds through transition. CBI gives hands-on learning opportunities for students who need instruction in functional skills and life skills.

CCTE: College Career Technical Education. Emphasizes “hands-on”, skills acquisition to help students prepare to enter post-secondary employment.

Co-Teaching: Can refer to situations where an Educational Specialist and a general education teacher teach a class of students together.

Comprehension: How much meaning words, phrases, sentences, and paragraphs have to a student. Does the student understand what they are reading?

Compensatory Education/ Services: Describe services that were not provided according to the IEP and now have to be given after the fact; sometimes given as part of a corrective action or if the student wins through a due process complaint.

Container: A SWD’s cumulative pupil record, including initial determination of eligibility for an IEP, all assessments, all subsequent IEPs, etc.

Corrective Action: A term to describe orders from an entity to the local education agency that must be undertaken. Example, to satisfy a complaint in which the district was found out-of-compliance, the district might have to provide training and documentation to prove that it trained a staff member.

COTA: Certified Occupational Therapy Assistant

Cumulative Records: See Container. Cumulative records also include all general education and enrollment information for a student.

D/HH: Abbreviation for “Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing” that is used to show federal eligibility for special education.

DB: Abbreviation for “Deaf [and] Blind” that is used to show federal eligibility for special education.

DD: Abbreviation for “Developmental Delay” that is used to show federal eligibility for special education.

Decoding: A student’s sound/symbol competency; How well a student sounds out words.

Diploma Bound: Identifies a student as being on-track to graduate on time with their high school diploma. All students are considered diploma-bound UNLESS the IEP determines otherwise. The decision to label a student non-diploma-bound does not occur until 7th grade at the earliest.

Discrepancy Model: Possible way to reach a determination that a student has a learning disability. Happens when a student’s intellectual functioning scores are 1.5 standard deviations above their scores on an achievement test.

Dysfluency: Refers to a stutter.

Dysgraphia: Disorder that causes difficulty with writing.

Dyslexia: Disorder that causes difficulty with reading.

Dysphagia: Disorder that causes difficulty with swallowing.

Dyspraxia: Developmental motor coordination disorder.

ECSE: Early Childhood Special Education. Program serving infants, toddlers and preschoolers who have disabilities.

ED: Abbreviation for “Emotional Disturbance” that is used to show federal eligibility for special education.

Education Specialist: A teacher credentialed to deliver special education services.

EL: English Learner.

ELA: English Language Arts.

ELST: English Learner Support Teacher.

ERMHS: Educationally Related Mental Health Services. Specific mental health services provided to special education students with social-emotional needs that impact their ability to learn.

ESY: Extended School Year. Specialized instruction or related services that are part of a child’s IEP and are typically provided when schools are not in session. Students who qualify for ESY are those that have an IEP and have a disability that will likely continue for a prolonged period of time. Students will also need to show that not receiving services during school breaks may cause them to lose skills, that they have a limited ability to relearn the lost skills, and, because of this, it is impossible or unlikely that the SWD will reach self-sufficiency without the ESY services.

Executive Function: A student’s ability to select and control their own behavior to meet a goal. Requires simultaneous and complex thought together with working memory.

Expressive Language: Output of ideas. This might include gestures, signs, expression, and speech.

Fine Motor: Having to do with precise movements of the hands and fingers. As an example, students use fine motor skills for handwriting and buttoning clothes.

Function of Behavior: Describes why a student may be displaying certain disruptive behavior. Generally, falls into one (or more) of 4 categories: Access preferred item/activity; Escape demand; Obtain attention from another person; and Sensory input.

Goal: An individualized, measurable outcome to address an area of need for a SWD; usually written in an IEP and meant to be met within one year. Goals must be SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound.

Gross Motor: Having to do with large muscles (i.e., movement and coordination).

HSDP: High School Diploma Program

IAES: Interim Alternate Educational Setting. During a prolonged suspension, a student might receive instruction and services in an Interim Alternate Educational Setting, a placement that is different than where they usually receive instruction and services.

ID: Abbreviation for “Intellectual Disability” that is used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

IEE: Independent Educational Evaluation. An IEE is an assessment completed by someone who does not work for the school district. Parents and guardians can get an IEE paid for by the district if they disagree with the findings or recommendations of a district special education assessment.

IEP Amendment: When an annual IEP is changed to update a portion of the IEP. Holding an IEP meeting to amend an IEP does not remove the local education agency’s responsibility to hold an annual review.

IFSP: Individual Family Service Plan. Describes early intervention services that a child will receive through the Regional Center until their 3rd birthday.

IPP: Individual Program Plan. Describes goals and services outside of education through the Regional Center for persons with disabilities.

ITP: Individualized Transition Plan. A written plan designed to help prepare a student for passing from school to post-school life. Should include objectives, timelines, and people responsible for meeting the objectives.

LEA: Local Education Agency. A public board of education or other public authority that administers or directs public elementary schools or secondary schools in a city or county.

Low Incidence: Disabilities that are rare. Examples include, but are not limited to, deafness and blindness.

Mainstreaming: Some staff still use this word to mean “inclusion” or to reflect the SWD spending time in the general education environment.

Manifestation Determination: An important meeting that occurs if a SWD has been suspended for more than10 days during one school year OR if the student is being recommended for expulsion. During this meeting the school must review if the behavior was caused by the student’s disability.

MD: Abbreviation for “Multiple Disabilities” used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

Modifications: When the substance of instruction or materials provided to a SWD is different from the curriculum being given to same-age peers.

MPC: Formerly called “medically-fragile” classrooms. It’s a separate setting classroom for students with medical or physical challenges.

MT: Music Therapist. Provides Music Therapy as a related service.

NPA: Non-Public Agency. A non-school district entity providing an educational service to a SWD. Must be certified by CDE.

NPS: Non-Public School. A school that a school district contracts with to provide educational services and supports for a SWD. Must be certified by CDE.

OHI: Abbreviation for “Other Health Impaired” used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

OI: Abbreviation for “Orthopedic Impairment” used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

Olfactory: Having to do with the sense of smell.

OT: Occupational Therapist or Occupational Therapy

Pacing: How fast someone speaks.

PBIS: Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports. Intervention program with an emphasis on rewarding a student’s desired behavior.

PK or Pre-K: Preschool

Pragmatics: The use of language for function, such as requesting information or greeting someone.

Pre-Vocational Skills: Skills a person will need to be ready to have a job. Might be “soft skills” like communication and appropriate behaviors. May also be “work ethic” development like persistence, asking for clarification, and accepting constructive criticism.

Pro-ACT: Professional Assault Crisis Training. A training program to ensure teachers, paraprofessionals, and related service providers (and other site staff members) may intervene when students exhibit behaviors that may imperil themselves or others. Focus is on de-escalation; with physical intervention as last resort. Common training program for restraint and/or seclusion.

Progress Report: At least as often as a same-aged peer would receive a report card, a SWD is entitled to receive a report on their progress on IEP goals. Sometimes referred to as “annotated goals”.

Prompt: Used to specify the level of direction given to a student; usually noted in the goals or objectives on an IEP. Includes physical, verbal, gestural, and visual prompts.

Proprioception: How our brains process body movement and position.

Prosody: The pacing and tone of language and sounds.

PT: Physical Therapist or Physical Therapy

PWN: Prior Written Notice. A school district has to give PWN in certain situations; some examples include when it refuses to take an action that the parent requested, when it wants to change the placement or identification of a student with disabilities, or when it plans to assess a student with disabilities.

Receptive Language: The ability to hear sounds and translate them into meaningful ideas. Also includes the ability to interpret the gestures and expressions of others.

Recoupment: The length of time necessary to recover a lost skill. See regression.

Recreation Therapy: A related service that may be part of an offer of FAPE.

Regression: Loss of critical skills by a SWD during a natural break in the school year. See recoupment.

Related Services: Services that may be required to help a student with disabilities to meet their IEP goals. Examples include Speech/Language Therapy or Occupational Therapy.

RSP: Resource Specialist

RTI: Response-to-Intervention. A general education program that aims to give high-quality instruction and to ensure that every child is screened for appropriate access to the curriculum.

SAI: Specialized Academic Instruction

SCERTS: Social Communication/ Emotional Regulation/ Transactional Support. An overall educational approach to address the core challenges faced by children on the Autism Spectrum; focuses on building social communication, emotional regulation, and transactional support.

SCIA: Special Circumstances Instructional Assistant. A term used by some school districts to describe a one-on-one aide.

SEA: Special Education Assistant

Self-determination: Places the focus on the SWD having significant input and choice in the decisions made about them. This approach considers things like individual preferences, relative strengths, dislikes, goals, and circles of support.

SELPA: Special Education Local Plan Area

SESA: Special Education Site Administrator

SET: Special Education Technician

SLD: Abbreviation for “Specific Learning Disability” used to convey federal eligibility for special education; sometimes referred to as “LD” for “learning disability”.

SLI: Abbreviation for “Speech/Language Impairment” used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

SLP: Speech/Language Pathologist

SST: Student Study Team. A process where educators and parents meet to talk about why a student is not making progress in the general curriculum and resources or strategies that can be put in place. This can sometimes happen before a referral to special education is made, but it is not necessary. If you suspect your student has a disability, you should request special education assessments.

TBI: Abbreviation for “Traumatic Brain Injury” used to convey federal eligibility for special education.

TK: Transitional Kindergarten

Transition: Refers to the process of moving from secondary education to adulthood. A school district must develop an ITP to help students with IEPs through this process. This should begin when the student is between 14 and 16 years old.

Triennial IEP: May also be called a triennial assessment or triennial review. A reassessment made every three years to determine if a student is still eligible for special education services in all areas of suspected disability.

Vestibular: How our brains process balance and orient us within space.

VI: Abbreviation for “Visual Impairment” used to convey federal eligibility for special education

Visual: Having to do with seeing as well as processing/interpreting sights.

Vocational Skills: Activities and concepts that pertain to a job. Will often be associated with transition.

VT: Vision Therapy