Commonly Used Special Education Terms

Academic Life Skills (ALS)

Instructional setting which focuses on academics and functional life skills.

Academic and Vocational Life Skills (AVLS)

Instructional setting which focuses on vocational/pre-vocational, functional life skills, as well as academics related to daily living.

Accelerated Instructional Plan

Intervention plan for accelerated instruction. The purpose of the AIP is to assist the student in achieving grade level achievement.

Achievement Test

A test designed to measure a child’s knowledge, skill and understanding in subject areas. For instance, these tests may measure the child’s reading comprehension, math calculation or spelling capability as compared to other children in the same grade or same age.

Adaptive Behavior

The ability to socially function in school, home or community environment.It involves skills such as: making friends, bathing and dressing appropriately, being punctual for appointments, budgeting, etc.

Adequate Yearly Progress

The method by which each state measures all students’ ability to meet the state’s student academic achievement standards.

Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) Committee

This Committee makes decisions regarding the special education needs of the child. It determines if the child has a disability, if special education services are needed, and if modifications in general education are required. The parent or surrogate parent is an important member, and is encouraged to attend and participate.

Age / Grade Equivalent

The scores from tests given to a student are defined in years and months that are equal to the average score of children of that age/grade group.

Annual Goals

These are broad academic or behavioral goals the child is to accomplish for the year (i.e., Lisa will master TEKS at the third grade level with 70% accuracy. Must be measurable according to IDEIA re-authorization [2004]).


A process of determining student skills through a variety of means. Assessment includes state or district wide tests (e.g., TAKS, RTPE or district administered achievement tests) and informal skill determination that occurs on an on-going basis in the classroom by the student’s teacher. Assessment does not require parental consent.

Audiological Services

This related service includes the evaluation of hearing ability and recommendation of certain types of hearing equipment for a child with a hearing impairment.

Auditory Impairment

A disability in which the child has hearing problems which delay or prevent him/her from developing speech, language or academic skill.


A rare disorder with a neurological basis, in which the child experiences severe language disorders, may display inappropriate bizarre behaviors, have abnormal intellectual capability, and have impaired social interactions.

Battery of Tests

A group of tests given to a child to determine strengths and weaknesses.


An intermediate step or level attained in acquiring a new skill.

Behavior Intervention Class

Classroom for students with severe emotional/behavioral concerns.

Central Nervous System

The brain and spinal cord.


Intellectual abilities, such as memory and the ability to solve problems and make judgments.


Before a child can be tested or placed in a special education program, a parent must give informed written permission for these services to take place. Consent is required for all formal evaluations.


The level of skill acquisition set by the ARD Committee and used to determine whether or not an educational goal/objective is being met. For example, a Acriteria@ for spelling achievement is correctly spelling 9 out of 10 words.

Cumulative Record

The main school file for a student’s educational records. The records begin when a child enters school and follows the child from school to school. They include information about health records, grades, attendance and achievement tests.


The subject matter a school is going to teach the child, including the us of special activities and materials to help the child learn. In Texas, curricular activities are the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).


Students who meet the criteria for both Visual Impairment and Auditory Impairment fall into this category. The combination of these impairments causes such severe, significant communication and other developmental and educational problems, that they cannot be accommodated in special education programs solely for children with deafness or children with blindness.

Due Process

A guarantee of rights and privileges that neither the government nor any other public agency can take away. For example, the parent’s right to be notified before any action can be taken concerning their child.

Early Childhood

Public school education can begin at age 3 years for young children with adisability. Currently referred to as Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD).

Educational Benefit

Educational benefit is the second prong of the requirement for providing FAPE. Four factors for evaluating whether a child is receiving educational benefit:

1. whether there is an individualized program based on the student’s assessment and performance;

2. whether the individualized program is administered in the least restrictive environment (LRE);

3. whether the services are provided in a coordinated and collaborative manner by the key stakeholders and;

4. whether positive benefits are demonstrated both academically and non-academically.

Educational Diagnostician

A professional in special education who gives tests to determine the academic and intellectual abilities of children. In some districts/states a school psychologist, a LSSP (Licensed Specialist in School Psychology) or a psychometrist may fulfill this role.

Education Service Center (ESC)

One of 20 regional offices within Texas to provide consultation, professional development and assistance to local school districts. Our local region is


Emotional Disturbance (ED)

A disability in which a child’s behavior is interfering with social skills, coping skills and/or academic areas.


An evaluation consists of tests or measures used to determine the child’s special needs. Evaluation may include intellectual, social, emotional, educational achievement, physical, auditory, speech, language, etc. Parental consent is required for evaluation.

Expressive Language

Describes how a child uses spoken or written language to communicate with others. Expressive language can also include gestures or hand signs.

Eye-Hand Coordination

The ability to use the eye and hand simultaneously to effectively complete a task. Activities of eye-hand coordination include copying designs from a book, cutting with scissors on a line, or painting with a brush.

Fine Motor Development

The skills developed by a child that involve precision tasks done with the hands, such as writing, gripping an object, playing with puzzles, stringing beads, etc.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

In order to offer a free appropriate public education, the school district must comply with the procedural requirements of IDEA and the school district must design and implement a program reasonably calculated to enable the child to receive educational benefits.

Functional Life Skills

Functional life skills classes are designed to provide instruction for students whose educational needs cannot be met in other settings. Students have severe to profound delays in the area of cognition and are generally non-ambulatory and/or medically fragile.

General Education Program

Education programs for all students. Students with disabilities must be allowed access to the general education program.

Grade Placement Committee

Makes decisions regarding a plan for accelerated instruction and grade advancement for students that do not pass the state mandated tests. (For students with disabilities this is the ARD Committee.)

Gross Motor Development

A person’s large muscle development exhibited in such skills as crawling, walking, jumping, throwing or running.


A person who has legal authority to make decisions for a minor. The parent is the legal guardian of a minor child. A person 18 years or older does not have a guardian unless one is appointed by a court.

Homebound Program

An instructional arrangement for special education in which the teacher instructs the student at the hospital or home for a minimum of four hours a week.


An educational philosophy in which all children with disabilities are educated in only general education classrooms. The special services needed by the child would be provided within the general classroom setting.


An acronym for The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Federal legislation which amended PL94-142 by adding two new disabilities (TBI & Autism), and required the planning of post secondary transitional services (Individual Transition Plan). IDEA was re-authorized in 1997 and again in 2004. It is now PL105-17.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A written plan for education and related services. It contains the educational/behavioral goals and objectives, present levels of performance, the amount of special education services needed and modifications for the general education program. The IEP is reviewed for progress each year.


Describes how a child’s special services will be provided.

Individual Transition Plan

Plan to transition students successfully from high school into post secondary experiences. It is developed as a part of an ARD/IEP meeting.

Intellectual Disability (ID)

A disability for children whose intellectual ability is significantly lower than the population average. IQ score of 70 or below and deficits in adaptive behavior.

Interpreter Service

This related service provides sign language help for children with hearing impairments.

Learning Disability (LD)

A disability in which a child with average or above average intelligence has significant problems in academic achievement (basic reading, reading comprehension, math calculation, math reasoning, listening comprehension, oral expression or written expression).

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Assurances that a child with a disability is educated to the maximum extent appropriate with non-disabled students.


A child with disabilities is placed in all general education classes with appropriate special education supports and services.

Managing Conservator

A suitable, competent adult, parent or authorized agency appointed by the court to have responsibilities and rights of a parent. When a public agency is managing conservator of a child with disabilities, a surrogate parent must be appointed.

Mental Age

A child’s mental ability compared to children of the same chronological age. For example, a child with retardation may have a mental age of 4 years but might be 18 years old.

Multi-disciplinary Team

More than two educational professionals working together to evaluate and help a special child. May include a variety of disciplines, e.g., teacher, speech pathologist, counselor, psychologist, OT, PT.

Multiple Disability

An eligibility that applies when a combination of impairments occurs that is expected to continue indefinitely and severely impairs performance in two or more of the following areas: psychomotor skills, self-care skills, communication, social and emotional development or cognition.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

2001 revision of the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

A related service to help a child develop fine motor skills. The OT may also suggest equipment to help children in daily activities.

Orthopedic Impairment (OI)

A disability category for a child with physical challenges of the bones, joints or muscles that affect the ability to move.

Other Health Impairment (OHI)

A disability category for children with serious health problems that limit their strength, vitality or alertness. These serious health problems may be heart disease, seizure disorders, cancer, respiratory disorders, etc.

Physical Therapy (PT)

A related service provided to a child who has difficulty using motor skills (large and fine muscles).

Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD)

A program of services available for students ages 3-5.

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP)

Describes the present skill level of a student.

Psychological Services

A related service which may include evaluation of social and emotional behaviors of a child. A psychologist may also provide counseling/therapy to the child, or consult with the family or teachers to work on the child’s challenging behaviors.

Public Law 94-142

Legislation passed by the U.S. Congress guaranteeing a free, appropriate education for all disabled children. It has been reauthorized in the latest version as IDEIA 2004.

Reading Proficiency Test in English

Test administered to limited English proficient (LEP) students in grades 3-12. RPTE is part of the TELPAS for assessing LEP students’ academic progress.

Receptive Language

Describes how a child receives and understands verbal and non-verbal information from others.


Positive praise or other rewards (food, toys, etc.) given to a child when they successfully complete a task.

Related Service

Special programs a child can receive if he/she needs special help or support in learning. These services may include occupational therapy, physical therapy, audiological services, psychological services , interpreter, orientation and mobility training, as well as others. Related services are provided, when appropriate, to support the implementation of the IEP.

Resource Room

A special education instructional arrangement where a student can spend a part of their school day receiving special instruction. The majority of the student’s instruction will be from general education teachers.

Response to Intervention

A federal/state mandate to provide instructional or behavioral interventions at each of four TIERS on the Pyramid of interventions as a mandatory component of the special education evaluation process.

Schedule of Services

A schedule of the student’s classes which designates all of the student’s daily services, whether each subject/service is provided in general or special education and the amount of time the student receives in each subject/service.

Section 504

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which protects the rights of persons with disabilities from discrimination on the basis of a disability.

Self-Contained Classroom

An instructional arrangement in which a student receives the major portion of daily instruction from a special education teacher. May include more restrictive placement due to significant academic or behavioral needs.

Self-help Skills

Skills that a child uses in daily living, such as eating, dressing and toileting.

Service Plan

A plan for private/home school students selected to receive a part or all of the special education services they would be entitled if enrolled full time in the public schools.

Short-term Objective

Small instructional steps which lead to the accomplishment of the child’s annual goal. These objectives must be observable and measurable. May also be called benchmarks.

Special Education

Those services which are additional or different from those provided to Atypical@ students. Special curriculum, materials, teaching techniques, management strategies and equipment are provided to meet the needs of children with disabilities.

Speech Impairment (SI)

A disability category for children having expressive and/or receptive language difficulties or with voice/fluency impairments.

Speech and Language Therapy

Therapy which includes evaluation and instruction in articulation, fluency (stuttering), voice stress or expressive/receptive language skills. Speech therapy in the public schools must be based on educational needs of the students.


The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness replaced the TAKS. It isthe current assessment used to determine if student’s have mastered the curriculum and standards established by the State of Texas.


STAAR A is an online accommodated version of the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness.


The State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness is the alternate version of STAAR for students who meet the participation requirements established by the Texas Education Agency for student receiving special education services.

Student Success Initiative

The SSI is a set of three initiatives that together provide a system of academic support to help ensure achievement on grade level in reading and math, so that every student can succeed throughout his or her school career.

Summary of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance

A written summary of academic and functional performance given to all graduating seniors and/or exiting students.

Summary of Performance (SOP)

A written summary of academic and functional performance given to all graduating seniors and/or exiting students.

Support Services for Students (SSS)

Special education supports and services provided to students in general education classes and in some pull-out settings. There are two underlying principles of the service that are essential to its success.

1. Students can learn and succeed in the mainstream with appropriate accommodations and support.

2. Students receiving SOS must receive some service(s) outside the general education classroom but may also receive instructional supports in the general education classroom. The amount of pull-out time must be designated on the schedule of services.

Surrogate Parent

A surrogate parent must be appointed for any child in special education whose parents’ rights have been terminated or the parents are unknown. A surrogate parent represents a student in all the same matters that would require a natural parent’s involvement.

Texas Behavior Support Initiative

Designed to build campus level knowledge and skills on the use of positive behavior supports for students with disabilities.

Texas Education Agency (TEA)

The state agency that is responsible for administering all educational programs in Texas.

Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS)

State mandated assessment for LEP students.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

A revision of curriculum standards adopted by the Texas State Board of Education. Replaces the Essential Elements (EEs) of Chapter 75.

Transition Services

The term transition services means a coordinated set of activities for a child with a disability that is designed to be a results oriented process, that is focused on improving the academic and functional achievement of the child with a disability to facilitate the child’s movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational education, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living or community participation.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)

A disability category for children who have experienced an injury to the brain caused by external forces.

Visual Impairment (VI)

A disability category for children with difficulties processing visual information. Partially sighted children have a visual acuity of 20/60 with correction and can read print. Blindness is defined as central vision of 20/200 with correction or field vision (side vision) of no more than 20 degrees.