Glossary of Special
Education Terms

Accommodation - Service, provision, or adaptation to meet a specific need. In special education, accommodation refers to the types of services offered to a child so that he or she can fully participate in school

Accessible - Easy to enter, use, or communicate with. Examples include buildings that are wheelchair accessible or programs with TTY/TDD lines for people who are Deaf or hard of hearing

Activities of Daily Living (ADLs) - Basic everyday tasks, such as bathing, dressing, toileting, eating, and moving around

Adapted Physical Education (APE)  - A diversified program of developmental activities, games, sports, and rhythms suited to the interests, capabilities and needs of students with disabilities who may not successfully engage in a regular physical education program

Advocacy - Speaking up or taking action for a person, a group, or a belief. Also refers to educational advocates who may help a family resolve problems with a school system or a health insurance plan (see What are Advocates?)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) - Alternative opportunities for parties to resolve disputes collaboratively such as mediation

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) - A federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities from discrimination in any public program, service, or building

Assessment - A systematic method of obtaining information from tests and other sources. Used as a term to refer to the initial evaluation (or periodic re-evaluation) to determine whether a child has a disability qualifies for special education services 

Appeal - Also called a special education appeal is a formal request for a hearing to the Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA)

Assistive Technology (AT) Device - Any piece of equipment used to increase, maintain, or improve functional capabilities of individuals with disabilities.

Assistive Technology (AT) Service - Any service that directly assists an eligible individual in selecting, acquiring, or using an assistive technology device.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) - A formal, written plan that teaches and rewards good behavior. The purpose is to prevent or stop misbehavior.

Bureau of Special Education Appeals (BSEA) - The agency responsible for special education appeals in Massachusetts and which offers mediation and facilitation services for parents and schools to resolve disputes

Chapter 766 - The former state Special Education law in Massachusetts. The law is now called the Massachusetts Special Education Law and Regulations.

Curriculum - The subject matter that is to be learned. Often referenced as general curriculum, meaning the curriculum in place for all students for the school 

Curriculum-based Assessment - A methodology in special education in which a child’s progress in the curriculum is measured at frequent intervals.

DESE - Acronym for the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, the principal agency overseeing education in Massachusetts

Developmental Delay - This term refers to when a child does not reach developmental milestones (such as walking or talking) within the same time range as most other children. Developmental delays may be generalized (all milestones), or they may show up in just one or two milestones

DOE - Acronym for the US Department of Education

Due Process - In general, a course of legal proceedings according to rules and principles established for enforcement and protection of special education rights (see Understanding the Dispute Process)

Due Process Hearing - The formal, legal procedure guaranteed by federal law to resolve disputes relating to the education of IDEA-eligible children with disabilities to ensure that each receives a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) tailored to his/her unique needs (see Understanding the Dispute Process)

Early Intervention (EI) - A program of services for children between birth and 3 who currently have, or are at risk of having, a developmental delay

Evaluation - See Assessment 

Exclusion - Refers to the excluding the student from general and special education services, typically in the context of discipline (i.e. suspension or expulsion from a school). See Discipline

Extended School Day - A provision for a special education student to receive instruction for a period longer than the standard school day.

Extended School Year (ESY) - A provision for a special education student to receive instruction during ordinary school vacation periods.

Facilitation/Facilitated IEP - A trained individual from BSEA joins a team meeting to help with communication and to keep the IEP or 504 discussion focused on your student and the education issues (see Your Child's IEP Team and Understanding the Dispute Process)

Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) - A federal law that regulates the management of student records and disclosure of information from those records, with its own administrative enforcement mechanism.

Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN) - The Parent Training and Information Center for Massachusetts responsible for offering workshops and training on special education rights and responsibilities to parents and supporting SEPACs in the state 

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) - Special education and related services are provided to students with disabilities at public expense and under public supervision and direction at no cost to the student’s parents.

Functional Analysis Assessment (FAA) - An evaluation process to understand the purpose, motivation, and correlates of challenging behavior(s) in order to develop a positive and appropriate Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP), instructional supports and services.

Functional Curriculum (Life Skills Curriculum) - A curriculum focused on practical life skills and usually taught in community-based settings with concrete materials that are a regular part of everyday life.

Grievance - A complaint about or dissatisfaction with a service or benefit

Goals and Objectives - A written component of an IEP: skills the student is expected to reasonably achieve in one year maximum (reviewed and re-evaluated by the IEP team at least annually).

Hearing - See Due Process Hearing 

Impairment - An injury, deficit, or disability

Inclusive Education - A belief that every student is entitled to an instructional program that meets his or her individual needs 

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) - An independent evaluation of a student from a qualified person. Parents have the right to ask for and obtain an IEE if they disagree with the results of an assessment conducted by the school district. Any IEE must be considered at the IEP.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) - Federal law that entitles students with disabilities to special education services.

Individualized Education Program (IEP) - The annually written record of an eligible individual’s special education and related services, describing the unique educational needs of the student and the manner in which those educational needs will be met (see Individual Education Plans (IEPs))

IEP Meeting - A gathering required at least annually in which an IEP is developed for a student receiving special education (see What to Expect in an IEP Meeting)

IEP Team - Team that includes parents and educators responsible for creating and maintaining the IEP (see Your Child's IEP Team)

Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP) - A written plan for providing early intervention services to an eligible child with a disability (from birth to 3rd birthday) and to the child’s family.

Insufficient - Not meeting the legal requirement of IDEA by failing to provide the necessary detailed information and evidence to support a Due Process Complaint.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) - A term that means the educational placement that assures that, to the maximum extent appropriate, students with disabilities, including students in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with students who are not disabled, and that special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of students with disabilities from the general education environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the student's disability is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily

Local Education Area (LEA) - A school district.

Mainstreaming - Colloquial term that references programs and polices to include people with disabilities in regular programs and services, such as education such as Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)  

Mediation - A voluntary dispute resolution process that provides a trained mediator to help parents and educators reach agreement offered by BSEA in Massachusetts  (see Understanding the Dispute Process)

Modification - A change in curriculum or instruction that substantially alters the requirements of the class or its content standards or benchmarks

Occupational Therapy (OT)  - Treatment to help a person develop mental or physical skills for daily living, especially fine motor skills. Examples include dressing, bathing, writing, and using a fork or spoon. Occupational therapy often involves identifying and learning to use equipment that helps people with these activities

Office for Civil Rights (OCR) - An agency of the federal government’s executive branch within the Department of Education that is charged with enforcing a number of civil rights statutes.

Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) - An office within OSERS (see below) charged with assuring that the various states comply with IDEA.

Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) - An agency of the federal government’s executive branch within the Department of Education

Out of District - Services needed for a child on an IEP that are not offered by the school district. The school district in this circumstance will assume the financial cost of placement to an outside service provider

Parent Training and Information Center (PTI) - The designated agency that offers workshops and training on special education rights and responsibilities in a parent’s locale. In Massachusetts this is the  Federation for Children with Special Needs (FCSN)

Placement - The unique combination of facilities, personnel, location or equipment necessary to provide instructional services to meet the goals as specified in the student’s IEP

Prior Written Notice (PWN) - A notice supplied to the other party that includes a description of the action proposed or refused by the school district or by the parent.
Psychiatrist - A medical doctor who can counsel you and your child about mental health - mood, behavior, and family issues. If needed, a psychiatrist prescribes medications that help with mood or behavior

Psychologist - A provider, usually with a doctorate in psychology, who can counsel you and your child about mental health - mood, behavior, and family issues. A psychologist also does special testing to understand how your child learns, thinks, and feels

Related Services - Services required to assist an individual with disabilities to benefit from special education, including but not limited to: transportation,  occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language therapy, mental health services, and medical care

Resolution Meeting - A meeting mandated in IDEA 2004 as part of the Due Process Complaint process where parties attempt to resolve a dispute prior to proceeding to a Due Process Hearing.

Section 504 - A federal law that protects the rights of people with disabilities from discrimination in programs or activities that receive federal funds. See 504 Plan

Section 504 Plan - A plan for students with special health care needs that lists accommodations related to a child's disability and required by the child so that he or she may participate in the general classroom setting and educational programs (see 504 Plans)

Speech and Language Therapy - Treatment of conditions affecting the voice, speech, swallowing, and written communication. Speech therapy helps children who have language or speech impairments with their communication skills

Special Education (SPED) - Special education is specially designed instruction and related services that meet the unique needs of an eligible student with a disability or a specific service need that is necessary to allow the student with a disability to access the general curriculum. The purpose of special education is to allow the student to successfully develop his or her individual educational potential. Special education is free through the public school system

Specialist - A doctor or other health care provider with "special" training in a certain area of medical care

Stay Put - Permits a student to remain in their current placement during any dispute concerning special education services.

Sub-Separate Class or Program -  A program or class specific to special education students that is separate from the general education classroom  

Tiered Focused Monitoring - Process by which the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education evaluates school districts compliance with special education and civil rights laws

Transition Plan - A plan to coordinate a set of activities that promote movement from school to post- school education, vocational training, integrated employment (including supported employment), continuing and adult education, adult services, independent living, or community participation (see Transition Planning)

Note: Many of the definitions above are taken as is from the's Glossary for Directions: Resources for Your Child's Care and the Special Education Acronyms and Glossary of the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund

Please note that we at Reading SEPAC cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information presented on any third-party website listed on this site, nor do we endorse any informational content appearing on third-party websites of any of the providers listed. We endeavor only to provide a listing of potentially helpful information available. Its up to you, as a consumer, to do your own diligence and research. Also note that any summarization of the laws, rules, regulations, processes or similar related to special education, or advice proffered is based exclusively on the experience of Reading SEPAC members as parents of children with special needs. Its in no way an official reflection of the position of the FCSA or the Reading School system and we make no claims of expertise in communication, law, education or any other areas. While we have endeavored to provide simple-to-read language for parents, we are not experts, do not claim to be, and make no warranties or claims of accuracy related to the informational content of this website.