Special Education » Special Education Glossary

Special Education Glossary


A state/federal program to share medically related disability costs using Medicaid (MA) funds in schools for certain services for eligible children.


The level of a child's accomplishment on a test of knowledge or skill.


Americans with Disabilities Act: 1990's Federal legislation expanding civil rights of persons with disabilities in public and private sectors; affects employment, transportation, architectural barriers, and public accommodations.

Adaptive Behavior

An individual's ability to cope with the demands of the environment, including self-help skills, communication and socialization.


Attention Deficit Disorder: A disorder characterized by the inability to concentrate. Between three and ten percent of the nation's school-age children are thought to have ADD.


Attention Deficit Disorder w/Hyperactivity: A psychiatric classification used to describe individuals who exhibit impulsivity and hyperactivity, as well as poor attention and distractibility.


An individual, usually either a parent or professional, who works with parents to establish or improve services for exceptional children.

Age Norms

Standards based on the average performance of individuals in different age groups.

Amplification Device

Any device that increases the volume of sound, e.g., an FM trainer.

Anecdotal Record

A procedure for recording observations of a child's behavior with an objective, narrative description.

Annual Goals

Yearly activities or achievements to be completed or attained by the disabled child, documented on the Individual Educational Plan.


The production of distinct language sounds


Autism Spectrum Disorders: Three distinct developmental disorders recognized as exceptionalities under Title 22, Chapter 14 of the PA school code. ASDs include Pervasive Developmental disorder, Autism and Asperger's Disorder.


The process of observation, educational testing and analysis of daily performance in order to make educational decisions.


As defined by IDEA, Assistive Technology includes "any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of a child with a disability.' The Central Instructional Support Center (PA Dept. of Ed.) explains Assistive Technology as one tool to provide access to the curriculum. Educational institutions must adhere to the federal "least restrictive' mandate, considering no tech options, light tech, and high tech programs and devices in sequence.

At Risk

When used in regard to infants or children, it describes those with a high potential for experiencing future medical or learning problems.


A complex developmental disability that typically appears during the first three years of life. The result of a neurological disorder that affects the functioning of the brain, autism impacts the normal development of the brain in the areas of social interaction and communication skills. Children and adults with autism typically have difficulties in verbal and non-verbal communication, social interactions, and leisure or play activities.


Adequate Yearly Progress: An annual measurement of improvement in student achievement based on state academic standards. School districts and schools must meet this minimum standard as part of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

Baseline Measure/Data

The level of frequency of behavior prior to the implementation of an instructional procedure that will later be evaluated.

Behavior Modification

The techniques used to change behavior by applying principles of reinforcement learning.


Having the ability to speak two languages.


Bureau of Special Education: A division of the State Department of Education responsible for overseeing and regulating all public and private special education in the Commonwealth.

Categorical Resource Room

An auxiliary pull-out program that offers supportive services to exceptional children with the same disability.


Curriculum Based Assessment: A methodology of increasing importance in special education in which a child's progress in the curriculum is measured at frequent intervals by testing on or with the material studied.


Council for Exceptional Children: Professional organization for persons serving exceptional school age children.


The understanding of information.


A persistent, repetitive act that the individual cannot consciously control.

Criterion Referenced Tests

Tests in which the child is evaluated on his/her own performance according to a set of criteria and not in comparison with others.


The process in which a disabled child is no longer considered in need of special education services. This requires a meeting of the IEP team and can be requested by the parent, school, or child (if over the age of 18).


A level of performance that is less than expected for a child.


Identification of specific disorder(s) as a result of some evaluation or assessment.


Difficulty in maintaining attention.

Due Process

The legal steps and processes outlined in educational law that protect the rights of disabled children.

Dyscalculia (also sometimes called Dyscalculia)

A serious learning disability in which the child's ability to calculate, apply, solve or identify mathematical functions is greatly impaired.


Difficulty in production of fluent speech, as in stuttering.


A serious learning disability in which the child's ability to write is greatly impaired.


A serious learning disability in which a child's ability to read is greatly impaired.


A serious learning disability that affects a child's ability to spell.


The repetition of what other people say, as if echoing them.


Emotionally Disturbed: (formerly Severely Emotionally Disturbed). Official state term for students with major psychological disorders meeting current federal/state definition.


Education of All Handicapped Children Act: Public Law 94-142, federal legislation passed in 1975, which makes available a free and appropriate public education (see FAPE) for all handicapped children in the United States.


Providing a child with extra and more sophisticated learning experiences than those normally presented in the curriculum.


Evaluation Report: A summary report on the special education eligibility and needs of a student generally prepared before first entry into special education and every three years thereafter (every two years if classified as mentally retarded); the result of a multi-disciplinary team evaluation.


English as a Second Language: Refers to non-native English speaking students or programs pertaining to the teaching of non-native English speaking students.


Extended School Year: Refers to a summer program; eligibility for ESY is determined at each IEP meeting, along with determination of the services to be provided. Many factors are considered for eligibility (regression, recoupment, severity of disability, etc.).

Exceptional Children

Children who require special instruction, assistance, or equipment; also includes gifted children.


Free and Appropriate Public Education: This refers to the special education and related services that are provided at public expense to children with disabilities, conform to the state requirements, and conform to the individual's IEP.


Functional Behavior Analysis: A standardized interview/observation/ intervention procedure that includes the systematic collection of data used to support hypotheses regarding behaviors and prescribe specific interventions.


Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act: A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records. These rights include: the right to inspect and review the student's education record maintained by the school; the right to request that a school correct records which they believe to be inaccurate or misleading; and the expectation that written permission be given in order to release any information from a student's record (some exceptions are allowed under this law). The rights of the parent or guardian transfer to the student when the student reaches the age of 18.

Homebound Instruction vs. Instruction in the Home

Homebound Instruction is not a special education service and is typically "meant to address a short-term medical condition at the conclusion of which the student is expected to return to school.' The "Pennsylvania Department of Education will only reimburse a District for up to five hours of homebound instruction per week.' Instruction in the Home, on the other hand, "is a recognized special education placement option' and is "considered to be one of the most restrictive special education settings.'


Excessive physical and muscular activity characterized by excessive restlessness and mobility. The condition may be associated with attention deficit disorder.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act: The main federal law requiring states and school districts to provide a "free and appropriate' special education to all eligible children; provides regulations, rights, guarantees and some funding to states; formerly known as the Education for All Handicapped Children's Act (1975).


Individualized Education Program: A written educational program that outlines a disabled child's current levels of performance, related services, educational goals, and modifications. This plan is developed by a team including the child's parent(s), teacher(s) and supportive staff.


Non-goal oriented activity exhibited by individuals who lack careful thought and reflection prior to a behavior.


Education of disabled children with non-handicapped children in the same class.


Preventive, remedial, compensatory, or survival services made on behalf of a disabled individual.


Intelligence Quotient: A numerical representation of a person's cognitive abilities obtained through formal testing.


Instructional Support Team: A term used in public school districts to identify members of the IEP team who provide direct instruction services to the student.


Intermediate Unit: One of 29 geographically determined subdivisions of PA's public school system; all school districts "belong to' one; they provide a wide variety of services to districts, including special education for low-incidence students and often preschoolers; funding comes partly from the state, mostly from districts, some from contracts and grants.


Learning Disability: Formal, legal term for a significant discrepancy between measured ability and current academic functioning not due to mental retardation, brain injury, sensory problems or lack of opportunity, also known as Specific Learning Disability.


Local Education Agency: Generally refers to the school district of legal residence for a child/family. An LEA may be the charter school that the student attends.


Least Restrictive Environment: A requirement of IDEA. It is the least restrictive setting in which the disabled child can function without difficulty.


Medical Assistance: Also known as Medicaid; a federal/state program providing financial assistance for certain medical services for financially eligible children and families.

Multidisciplinary Team

Individuals from a variety of disciplines engaged in a collaborative effort to assess the needs of a child in order to develop appropriate remedial strategies and to implement an educational program.


No Child Left Behind: The NCLB was signed into law in January 2002. It amended Titles I and III of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). NCLB redefines the federal role in K-12 education and is intended to close the achievement gap between disadvantaged and minority students and their peers.

Non-Categorical Resource Room

A resource room in a school that provides services to children with all types of classified disabilities.


Notification Of Recommended Educational Placement: The NOREP contains specific information as to the appropriate grouping, level of intervention, and location of special education services provided. This is issued to the parents for their approval/disapproval prior to a district initiating or changing the educational placement of the child.

Norm Referenced Tests

Tests used to compare a child's performance with the performance of others using the same measure.


A repetitive and persistent idea that intrudes into a person's thoughts.


Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: An anxiety disorder in which a person feels trapped in repetitive, persistent thoughts (obsessions) and repetitive, ritualized behaviors (compulsions). Attempts to resist a compulsion produce mounting tension and anxiety, which are relieved immediately by giving into it.

Occupational Therapist

A professional who works with students to improve sensory, motor and social skills as a foundation for successful school performance.


Oppositional Defiant Disorder: The display of underlying aggression by patterns of obstinate or provocative behavior.


Occupational Therapy: Technical/legal term for certain evaluative, consultative and direct services provided by a state licensed Occupational Therapist. Includes, among others, fine motor skills, sensory integration, activities of daily living, etc.


Program of Adventure-Based Counseling Experiences: An adventure-based counseling program utilizing a group model and a series of structured activities to promote behavior change and improvement of self-esteem.


Trained individuals who assist the classroom teacher in the education process.


Pervasive Developmental Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified: A neurobiological disorder that affects a child's social, cognitive, emotional, linguistic, and physical development; one of the three disorders under Autism Spectrum Disorder in the DSM- IV


Pennsylvania Department of Education: The state administrative agency responsible for overseeing all public and private preschool, school-age and higher education in the Commonwealth.

Physical Therapist

A professional trained to assist and help disabled individuals to maintain and develop muscular and orthopedic capability and to learn to make correct and useful movements that will facilitate successful participation in all educational and vocational programs.

Positive Reinforcement

Any stimulus or event, occurring after a behavior has been exhibited, that increases the possibility of repetition of that behavior in the future.


Pennsylvania System of School Assessment: Standards based criterion-referenced assessment used to measure Pennsylvania students' attainment of the academic standards, and determining the degree to which school programs enable students to attain proficiency of the standards. Pennsylvania students in 5th, 8th and 11th grade are assessed in reading and math, and students in grades 6, 9 and 11 are assessed in writing.


Physical Therapy: Evaluative, consultative and therapeutic services provided to help restore gross motor functioning to individuals with a wide range of acute and chronic neurological, physical and health problems by a state licensed practitioner with physician's prescription.

Related Services

Services provided to disabled children to assist in their ability to learn and function in the least restrictive environment.


Educational programming designed to teach children to overcome some deficit or disability through education and training.

Resource Room

An auxiliary service provided to disabled children for part of the school day. It is intended to service children's special needs so that they can be maintained within the least restrictive educational setting.

Re-evaluation Report (See ER)

A summary report on the special education eligibility and needs of a student generally prepared every 2 or 3 years (depending on disability) to establish continued eligibility for special education services.

Section 504

Contained in the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 in which guarantees are provided for the civil rights of disabled children and adults. It also applies to the provision of services for children whose disability is not severe enough to warrant classification, but who could benefit from supportive services and classroom modifications.

Self-Contained Class

A classroom for exceptional children usually located within a regular school building that requires limited physical transitions throughout the school day.


Student Environment Tasks and Tools: A framework considering the particular student (age, functional levels, strengths, etc.), his/her environment (the student's location when asked to perform academic tasks and the physical layout), tasks (what needs to be done), and tools (strategies and accommodations being used now and those to explore to further access to IEP goals). A SETT meeting is held to determine if no-tech, low-tech, and/or on-site technology will meet the student's needs. Recommendations may be made for equipment loans and/or trials. This follows data collection as a part of the Assistive Technology evaluation and acquisition process.


Supplemental Security Income: Cash payment, along with health and other benefits, for individuals meeting both disability and income/assets guidelines. Operated by the Social Security administration though separate from regular Social Security; primarily federal funds with some state contribution; also funds the SSI-Disabled Children's Program for eligible children on a youngest-first basis providing coordination of health and related services.

TBI (formerly Neurologically Impaired)

Traumatic Brain Injury: Official category of disability in PA for children with clearly diagnosed brain injury.

Token Economy

A system of reinforcing various behaviors through the delivery of tokens; a form of positive reinforcement.