Common Special Education Terms

Jun 30, 2021 | Blog, IEP/504, Rights/Procedures

These are common Special Education terms and definitions. If you are trying to learn more, we are here to help!

Disability: A condition recognized by the law. To qualify for an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), students must have a disability that falls under one of the 13 categories listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA):  IDEA is a federal law that guarantees all students with disabilities access to a free and appropriate education in the least restrictive environment.

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) – The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ( IDEA ) guarantees the right to a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) for kids with disabilities. That can include kids with learning and thinking differences. FAPE is one of the most important legal rights your child has.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  IDEA says that children who receive special education should learn in the least restrictive environment. This means they should spend as much time as possible with peers who do not receive special education.

Individualized Education Program (IEP): An IEP outlines the needs and goals of a student receiving special education instruction, supports, and services needed to make progress academically and socially to thrive in school.

504 plan: A 504 plan supports a student with a disability by removing barriers. It gives the student equal access to learning in the general education classroom. Students with 504 plans tend not to need specialized instruction, but do need accommodations at school like a student with disabilities.  504’s can be short term or long term and can include supports for students with mental health needs and physical needs.

Accommodation: Accommodations help students learn and show what they’ve learned by removing barriers. For instance, students who take longer to answer questions because of learning differences might be allowed extra time to take a test. Even with accommodations, students are expected to learn the same content as their peers.

Modification: A modification is a change in what a student is expected to learn and demonstrate. For example, a teacher might ask the class to write an essay that analyzes three major battles during a war. A student with a modification may only be asked to write about the basic facts of those battles. Modifications are different from accommodations.  Modifications may also impact whether the student is awarded a ‘credit’ in high school classes.

Related Services: Related services are any support services a student needs to benefit from special education such as Transportation, Speech, Occupational Therapy, etc.

Annual Goals: The Annual Goals in the IEP are a list of the academic and functional (every day) skills the IEP team thinks a student can achieve by the end of a school year. These goals are geared toward helping students take part in the general education curriculum.

Present Level of Performance (PLEP): PLEP is a description of a student’s current abilities, skills, challenges, and strengths at the time the IEP is written. PLEP describes academic skills (like reading level) and functional skills (like making conversation or writing with a pencil). The PLEP should include what assessment is being used to measure current performance and the score of that assessment, as well as, when it was given.

Student Lead IEP: Student Lead IEP’s are meaningful opportunities for students receiving Special Education to take leadership roles in the creation and implementation of their plans.

Response to Intervention (RTI): RTI is a systematic way of identifying struggling students and providing extra help. Teachers assess the skills of everyone in the class to see which students need evidence-based instructional interventions.  A student receiving RTI intervention is still eligible for Special Education supports.

Transition Plan: This part of the IEP lays out what a teen will learn and do in high school in order to gain skills needed for employment as a young adult. The IEP team, including the student, develops the plan together.  The Transition Plan should be in place by a students 14th birthday.

Assistive Technology (AT): Assistive Technology is any device, equipment, or software that helps students learn, communicate, and function better in school. AT ranges from simple tools (like highlighters) to high-tech software (like apps that read text aloud). 

Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS): PBIS is a proactive, schoolwide approach used in some schools  to promote positive behavior and improve school safety. PBIS creates a school culture in which all students learn about behavior and use a common language to talk about it.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP): A plan designed to proactively teach and reinforce positive behavior. Typically, the plan uses strategies to prevent and address behavior that gets in the way of learning. It may also include supports and aids for the student.

Extended School Year Services (ESY): Special education services provided outside of the regular school year, such as during the summer or, less commonly, during extended breaks like winter break.  ESY is determined by the IEP team for students who may need support maintaining skills previously learned.  Supports and services should be part of the ESY plan.

Supplementary Aids and Services:  Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.


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