Glossary of Common Special Education Terms

Glossary of Common Special Education Terms

In order to provide families with an understanding of common terms and phrases used in the field of disability services, we provide the following glossary.


Changes made to the format, response, setting, timing, or scheduling that do not significantly change the original objective

Adapted Physical Education (APE)
Related service for students with disabilities who require developmental, corrective, and/or supportive instruction in physical education

Adaptive Behavior
The ability of an individual to demonstrate appropriate personal independence, social responsibility, and environmental awareness for his or her chronological age and cultural group

Alternate Assessment (AA)
The alternate assessment is designed for students with disabilities who cannot participate in the state standardized testing and reporting system. It is a means of including students with the most severe disabilities in the State’s assessment and accountability program.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
This act prohibits discrimination against individuals based on disability. Public transportation services have to be accessible to individuals with disabilities and discrimination in the employment of qualified individuals with disabilities is prohibited.

Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA)
Application of learning principles derived from operant conditioning; used to increase or decrease specific behaviors; considerable research supporting its use with individuals with autism

Process of gathering information and identifying a student’s strengths and needs; data used in making decisions regarding a student’s eligibility for special education and IEP needs.

Assistive Technology (AT)
Any item, piece of equipment, or product system that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the capabilities of or enhance learning for students with disabilities.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
A developmental disorder characterized by abnormal or impaired development in social-communication skills and restricted and/or repetitive patterns of behavior.

Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA)
A BCBA is a behavioral specialist who has completed the requisite course work, practicum hours, and test scores in order to fulfill the nationally-accredited certification. It is a prestigious and difficult certification to achieve and specialists with this degree are considered experts in behavioral programming and modification for students with ASD.

Board Certified Assistant Behavior Analysts (BCaBA)
A certification one step below BCBA that indicates a teacher has completed the requisite school, experiential, and test work to demonstrate comprehension and application of behavioral analysis skills.

Cognitive Skills
The act or process of knowing; analytical or logical thinking.

Assurance that no information contained in school records be released without parental permission, except as provided by law.

Permission from the parent/student (eighteen years or older) is required by law for individualized assessment and/or implementation of an IEP for the provision of special education services.

Core Curriculum
The core curriculum is the range of knowledge and skills which are included in the district-adopted course of study and which must be learned for successful grade promotion and graduation. The curriculum may include academic as well as cultural, social, and moral knowledge and skills. IEP goals should reflect knowledge and implementation of the district’s core curriculum as adapted for the student with a disability.

Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE)

The Committee on Preschool Special Education (CPSE) is responsible for identifying and arranging for the delivery of special education services for preschool children with disabilities from ages three to five. The CPSE is responsible for guiding parents in a process that includes evaluation and, if eligible, the recommendation for placement in approved programs and services for each preschool student with a disability. The educational programs and services for preschool children with disabilities are the responsibility of the school district in which the student resides in accordance with New York State Education Law, Article 89. When parents contact the CPSE in Rush-Henrietta School District, they must establish proof of residency.

The CPSE shall review, at least annually, the status of each preschool child with a disability.

The membership of each committee on preschool special education shall include, but not be limited to:

  • The parents of a preschool child.
  • At least one regular education teacher of the child whenever the child is or may be participating in the regular education environment.
  • At least one special education teacher for the child, or, if appropriate, not less than one special education provider for the child.
  • A representative of the school district who is qualified to provide or supervise special education and who is knowledgeable about the general education curriculum and the availability of preschool special education programs and services and other resources of the school district and the municipality. The representative of the school district shall serve as the chairperson of the committee.
  • An additional parent member of a child with a disability residing in the school district or a neighboring school district and whose child is enrolled in a preschool or elementary level education program, provided that such parent is not a required member of the parent(s) of the child request that the additional parent member not participate.
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results, the school psychologist, the representative of the school district.
  • Other persons having the knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel as appropriate, as the school district or the parents shall designate. The determination of knowledge or special expertise of such person shall be made by the party (parents or school district) who invited the individual to be a member of the committee on special education.
  • For a child in transition from early intervention programs and services, the appropriate professional designated by the agency who has been charged with the responsibility for the preschool child.
  • A representative of the municipality of the preschool child’s residence. The attendance of the representative of the municipality shall not be required for a quorum.”

Committee on Special Education (CSE)

The Board of Education annually appoints a Committee on Special Education (CSE) whose membership includes, but is not limited to the following members:

  • Parents/guardians of the student
  • At least one regular education teacher of such student (if the student is or may be participating in the regular education environment)
  • At least one special education teacher or one special education provider (i.e., related service provider) of the student
  • A representative of the District who is qualified to provide/administer/supervise special education and who is knowledgeable about the general curriculum and the availability of resources in the District
  • An individual who can interpret the instructional implications of evaluation results; may be a CSE member selected from the regular education teacher, the special education teacher or provider, the school psychologist, or the District representative described above, or a person having the knowledge or special expertise regarding the student as determined by the District
  • At the discretion of the parents/guardians or the District, other individuals who have the knowledge or special expertise regarding the student, including related services personnel
  • When appropriate, the student with a disability
  • School psychologist
  • School physician (if requested in writing by the parents/guardians or District at least 72 hours prior to the meeting)
  • Parent member (The parent member is a parent/guardian of a student with a disability residing in the District or a neighboring school district. The parent member shall not be a required member if the parents/guardians of the student request, in writing, that the additional parent member not participate in the meeting.)

An inability or incapacity to perform a task or activity in a normative manner.

Discrete Trial Training (DTT)
An instructional procedure in which students are presented with many trials of the same task and receive reinforcement for making correct responses; DTT is a common educational strategy for learners with autism

Due Process
Procedural safeguards to ensure the protection of the rights of the parent/guardian and the student under IDEA

Emotional Disability
Special education eligibility criteria for students who exhibit one or more of the identified characteristics to a marked degree over an extended period of time in a variety of settings that adversely affects a student’s educational performance.

Procedures used by qualified personnel to determine whether a child has a disability and the nature and extent of the special education and/or related services that the child needs.

Expressive Language Skills
Skills required to produce language for reliable communication with others; speaking and writing are expressive language skills

Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA)
This Act indicates requirements for the protection of the privacy of parents and students

Fine Motor Skills
Functions that require small muscle movements such as writing, tying shoes, and buttoning a shirt

Formal Assessment
Using published, standardized tests usually for measuring student characteristics, such as “intelligence” or “achievement,” rather than skills, such as “brushing teeth” or “following a schedule;” these tests have a standard set of directions for their use and interpretation.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)
Every student with a disability is entitled to special education services in a setting that meets his or her individual needs and the IEP is designed to provide educational benefit

Functional Academics
Substitution of life skills as a means for teaching academic tasks; the core of many instructional programs for students with moderate to severe disabilities

Functional Analysis (FA)
Functional analysis is conducted for a student with a disability who displays a serious behavior problem. In a clinical setting, trained behavior therapists manipulate the environment in order to “test” different behavioral hypotheses. An FA provides the most conclusive evidence for behavioral function.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)
A functional behavioral assessment is a systematic strategy for determining the function of challenging behavior. Trained therapists collect data, interview service providers, and observe the student in order to identify the most probably motivating factor for a specific behavior

Gross Motor Skills
Functions that require large muscle movements such as running, jumping, or swimming

Inclusion is a philosophy and /or practice focused on educating each child with a disability, to the maximum extent appropriate, in the school and/or classroom he or she would otherwise attend. Inclusion entails bringing the support services to the child instead of relocating the child to an alternative setting to receive services

Individual Family Service Plan (IFSP)
A plan developed by the child’s educational team that coordinates special education services for eligible infants and toddlers and their families

Individual Services Plan (ISP)
A plan that describes the special education and/or related services that the LEA will provide to an eligible student voluntarily enrolled by their parent in a private school setting

Individual Transition Plan (ITP)
A plan included in a student’s IEP beginning at age 16 or younger that addresses transition needs, interagency responsibilities, and prerequisite skills that a student requires to successfully transition from school to adult life

Individualized Educational Program (IEP)
A written detailed plan developed by a collaborative team for each student ages 3-21 who receives special education services

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act (IDEIA)
The federal law ensures that all children with disabilities have access to free appropriate public education that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their needs

Informal Assessment
Measuring student performance through classroom observations, interviewing, or teacher-made tests that have not been utilized with large groups of people and which do not necessarily have a standard set of instructions for their use and interpretation

Informed Consent
In accordance with 34 Code of Federal Regulations and Education Code: (1) Parent has been fully informed of all information relevant to the activity for which consent is sought, in his/her primary language or other mode of communication; (2) The parent understands and agrees in writing to the carrying out of the activity for which his/her consent is sought, and the consent describes the activity and lists the record (if any) which will be released and to whom; and (3) The parent understands that the granting of consent is voluntary on his/her part and may be revoked at any time

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)
The score obtained on a test of mental ability; determined by comparing an individual’s test score to his or her age.

Intelligence Test
A standardized series of questions and/or tasks designed to measure mental abilities, including how a person thinks, reasons, solves problems, remembers, and learns new information

Intellectual Disability (ID)
Replaces the term mental retardation; means significantly below average general intellectual functioning, existing concurrently with deficits in adaptive behavior and manifested during the developmental period that negatively impacts a child’s educational performance

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)
The concept in State and Federal law is that students with disabilities will be provided special education and related services in a setting which promotes interaction with the general school population and classmates who are typically developing, to a degree appropriate to the needs of both. The LRE is determined by the IEP team on an individual student basis.

Local Educational Agency (LEA)
A local school district, County Office of Education, or approved independent charter school which has the responsibility to provide special education services to eligible students.

Refers to the selective placement of students with disabilities in one or more general education classes and/or other school activities.

A conflict resolution process that can be used to resolve special education issues. Mediation is entered into prior to holding a due process hearing. It is the intent of the legislature that the mediation conference is an intervening, informal process conducted in a non-adversarial atmosphere that allows the parties to create their own solutions rather than having one imposed upon them through the judicial process. When a parent files, the mediation will be scheduled within thirty-five days of state receipt of a hearing request. When a district files, the mediation will be scheduled within fifteen days of state receipt of a hearing request.

Changes to curriculum and assessment that significantly alter the expectations for the student

Group of professionals from different disciplines who function as a team but perform their roles independently of one another

Nickerson Letter
If a child has not received special education before and is recommended for a self-contained class and the DOE fails to provide an appropriate placement within 60 school days following special education consent, then parents are entitled to a P-1 Nickerson Letter. This letter requires the DOE to pay tuition when the child attends a state-approved NPS.

Non-Public Schools (NPS)
A private, nonsectarian school that enrolls students with disabilities who are on an IEP

Occupational Therapist
Professionals trained in helping students address daily living skills, fine motor skills, and sensory issues in 1:1 or small group settings

Occupational Therapy (OT)
Services provided by a qualified occupational therapist that remediate daily living skills, fine motor skills, and sensory issues

Other Health Impaired (OHI)
Means having limited strength, vitality, or alertness, including a heightened alertness to environmental stimuli that results in limited alertness with respect to the educational environment is due to chronic or acute health problems and adversely affects a student’s educational performance

The natural or adoptive parent, guardian, or person appointed to act as a parent for a student

Procedural Safeguards
Procedural Safeguards must be given to the parents of a child with a disability at a minimum (a) Upon initial referral for evaluation; (b) Upon each notification of an IEP meeting; (c) Upon reevaluation of a child; and (d) Upon receipt of a request for due process; also called Parent Rights

Program Specialist (PS)
A specialist who holds a valid special education credential and has advanced training and related experience in the education of students with disabilities.

Public Law 94 -142 Education for the Handicapped Act (EHA) of 1975, now entitled IDEIA
The federal legislation governs the education of all handicapped students. PL 94 -142 mandated that all public schools in the U.S. provide “a free, appropriate public education and related services” to “all handicapped children.” Law has been revised numerous times since its original introduction; renamed IDEA and then IDEIA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act)

Reading Comprehension
Ability to understand what one has read

Receptive Language
Receiving and understanding spoken or written communication; receptive language skills include listening and reading

The process of requesting an evaluation for a student who is suspected of having a disability to determine eligibility for special education and/or related services.

The learning principle states that when behaviors are immediately followed by a preferred item, activity, or condition then that behavior will be more likely to occur in the future

Related Services
Services defined by federal law whose purpose is to assist a student with a disability to derive benefit from special education; includes transportation services, speech/language therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, counseling, etc.

Response to Intervention (RTI)
A tiered model for intervention in which students who are at risk for special education referrals are exposed to gradually increasing levels of support instead of placement changes.

School Psychologist
Professional trained to give psychological tests, interpret results, provide counseling, and suggest appropriate educational approaches to learning or behavioral problems

Section 504
A civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability in programs and activities, public and private, that receive federal financial assistance. Any person is protected who (1) has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, (2) has a record of such impairment, or (3) is regarded as having such impairment.

Self-help Skills
Refers to feeding, dressing, and other activities necessary for independent functioning in a family, in school, and in the community

Service Provider
Refers to a person or agency providing some type of service to children with a disability and/or their families.

Social Skills Training
Using direct instruction to teach students appropriate social behaviors that increase an individual’s social competency, acceptance, and adaptation

Special Education
Specifically designed instruction, at no cost to parents, to meet the individual needs of a child with a disability

Speech-Language Impairment (SLI)
A communication disorder, such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment, that negatively impacts a student’s educational performance

Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP)
Professional trained to identify, assess, diagnose, and correct various types of communication disorders

Task Analysis (TA)
Instructional strategy in which complex, multi-step tasks are analyzed and broken down into sequential component parts, with each part taught separately and then as a whole

Transition services are a coordinated set of activities for a student, designed within an outcome-oriented process, which promote movement from school to post-school activities, including post-secondary education, vocational training, integrated employment (i.e. supported employment), continuing education, adult services, independent living, or community participation. These activities are derived from the individual student’s needs, taking into account the student’s preferences and interests. The process begins at sixteen years (or younger) and includes the student, family, education personnel, and vocational and adult service providers

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
An acquired injury to the brain caused by an external physical force, resulting in total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment, or both, that negatively impacts a student’s educational performance.