Special Education Lingo

Dictionary on a table

Special Education Definitions: Photo courtesy of greeblie

The field of Special Education is filled with acronyms and terminology that can be very confusing. This list represents the most frequently used terms.

Accommodations: Provisions that allow students with unique needs access to the same curriculum and learning environment as their peers. Accommodations do not alter the content taught. Therefore, the same grading scale is used.

Adaptive Behavior: A measure of personal and social skills needed for every day living

Assistive Technology: Any device, equipment, or product used to increase or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

Augmentative Alternative Communication (AAC): A method of communication for individuals with restrictions on spoken or written language. AAC can range from using pictures to make requests to speech generating devices.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A specific plan to help a child change a behavior. IEP teams collect information about the function of the behavior prior to writing the BIP. The BIP should focus on replacement behaviors and positive rewards to encourage the desired behavior.

Continuum of Services: Varying levels of special education services ranging from minimum to maximum support. The level of services that a student requires is documented in the IEP and provided to allow the student to access his or her least restrictive environment.

Cumulative File: Permanent school records. This file generally contains previous report cards, attendance information, state or district assessment results, and registration paperwork. Special education records are kept separate from the student’s cumulative file.

Curriculum: The subject matter/content taught. This term could also refer to specific programs adopted by a school district.


Curriculum-Based Assessment: Tests, or assessments, administered at frequent intervals that measure a child’s progress in the curriculum

Extended School Year (ESY): A provision to provide special education services to students with disabilities during extended breaks from school. Students must generally demonstrate significant regression coupled with a lack of recoupment or be at a critical stage of development in order to require ESY services.

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA): Federal law that regulates the management of student records and the disclosure of information to third parties.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Special education and related services that are provided at public expense and meet state standards

Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): A problem-solving process to examine a specific behavior. The behavior is defined and data is collected to determine the current antecedents and consequences of the behavior. This information is used to write the Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP).

Inclusion: This term is not defined in federal regulations. It is the process of educating students with disabilities in a general education classroom. Inclusion is a process, not merely a placement. It must be based on the student’s least restrictive environment (LRE).

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004): Federal law ensuring services to children with disabilities

Individual Education Plan (IEP): A written statement for a child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with IDEA (2004) (34 CFR §614(d)). This document sets the standard for how special education services will be provided to a student with a disability.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Students with disabilities have the right, by federal law, to be educated with non-disabled peers to the greatest extent appropriate. LRE is dependent on the needs of the student. A general education classroom is not always a student’s least restrictive environment.

Local Educational Agency (LEA): The public school district

Mainstreaming: This term does not appear in the federal regulations. It is generally used to refer to a student with disabilities educated in a general education classroom for portions of the school day.

Manifestation Determination: The process to determine if a student’s behavior was related to or caused by a disability. The IEP team must complete this process within 10 days if a student with a disability has been suspended for 10 or more cumulative days in a school year.

Mediation: A voluntary dispute resolution process where the parent and school district present information to a neutral arbitrator in order to reach an agreement.

Modifications: Changes to the curriculum for students with disabilities. Because the curriculum is altered, a different grading scale must be used.

Placement: The setting where special education services are delivered to a student

Prior Written Notice (PWN): A written statement from the school district informing a parent about any proposed or refused actions related to the student’s eligibility, evaluation, IEP, FAPE, or educational placement.

Regression/Recoupment: The amount of skills lost over an instructional break coupled with the amount of time it takes for the child to regain lost skills.


Resource Room: Special education classroom where students receive specially designed instruction in a small group or individualized setting for a portion of the school day.

Related Services: Support services designed to enable a child with a disability access to a free appropriate public education. Related services allow a child to benefit from special education services. Related services include, but are not limited to: speech-language pathology, interpreting services, physical and occupational therapy, psychological services, counseling, and nursing services.

Section 504: Provision of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that prohibits recipients of federal funds from discriminating against individuals with disabilities.

Self-Contained Classroom: Special education classroom in which a student spends at least half of the school day with other students with disabilities.

Special Education: Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability.

Standardized Tests: Tests that have norms reflecting a larger population

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