Special Education Terms Glossary: Volume 1




Too many special education terms to memorize? Trying to figure out the difference between an IEP and transition plan? Wading in the waters of alphabet soup? 


This glossary is your go-to resource for defining the top terms in special education. Log-in to ExceptionALLY to get more vocabulary, more tips, and more information – all free, and designed just for you and your child. 



  • 504 Plan: A plan named after a civil rights law to give students with disabilities equal access to instruction, equipment, facilities.  A 504 Plan cannot stipulate that a child receive specially designed instruction.


  • Accommodations: Designed to help students access grade-level curriculum/assessment in a different way than peers. Often confused with modifications.


  • Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD): In some states, the term for an IEP meeting.  


  • Annual Review (AR): The law requires at least one yearly IEP meeting to reviews a child’s IEP goals, present levels of functioning, and adjustments goals as needed.


  • Annual goals: Goals on an IEP that estimate the learning progress a student might make in one year’s time.  Goals should be clear, concise, specific to the child’s learning needs, measurable, and within that student’s range of achievement.  


  • Assistive Technology (AT): Hardware, software, and stand-alone devices that can be used improve the way a child with disabilities accesses the educational environment.  


  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication Device (AAC): Used to help a student communicate. E.g. a communication book, voice output device, written output device.


  • Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan generated to eliminate negative behaviors and replace them with appropriate ones; can involve positive reinforcement.


  • Cut Score: A score that determines if a student passes/fails or is proficient/non-proficient on a certain assessment.


  • Due Process: Formal conflict resolution between parents/guardians and school district with regards to special education services. Can include mediation and/or a due process hearing.


Special Education Terms

Special Education Terms

  • Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): An IDEA requirement that students with disabilities receive the same rights to an education as their non-disabled peers.


  • Functional Behavior Assessment (FBA): A study of the causes of a child’s behaviors in order to eliminate negative behaviors and replace them with appropriate ones.


  • Inclusion Model: A general education classroom that includes students with disabilities.


  • Individualized Education Program (IEP): The legal document that notes a student’s present levels of functioning, outlines educational goals, accommodations, modifications, and plans for progress monitoring. Click here to learn more about what is in an IEP.


  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The federal law stating that all students with disabilities are entitled to public education in the same environment (as much as possible) with grade-level peers. These students must receive specially designed instruction outlined on an individual education plan (IEP).


  • Informed Consent: Schools must get parental consent before making decisions about a student. Schools inform parents using “prior written notice” and must gain consent for actions with a parent signature.


  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): The place (general education classroom/resource room) where the child will learn best. This includes getting their specially designed instruction. Students should spend as much instructional time as possible with their grade-level, typically-developing peers.


  • Modifications: Modifications are when the curriculum/assessment environment is changed because the student cannot do the same work as her grade level peers. Often confused with accommodations.


  • Transition/Transition Plan: This section of the IEP must be filled out every year after a student turns 16. It is designed to help students transition from high school to post-high school.


  • Triennial Review (Tri): Every three years, students on IEPs need to be reevaluated to determine if they are still eligible for special education services. If the student is still eligible, the evaluation will help guide goals on the new IEP.




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