The Language of Special Education

The terms used in and about IEP's are the language of special education. Learning these terms early in the IEP process will help you in the long run.

Accommodation: This is a change to or in your child’s learning environment. Accommodations can help her learn and then show what she’s learned without having her challenges get in the way. For instance, if your child takes longer to answer questions, she might be allowed extra time to take a test. Even with accommodations, kids are expected to learn the same content as their peers.​

Annual goals: The IEP document lists the academic and functional (everyday) skills the IEP team thinks your child can achieve by the end of the year. These goals are geared toward helping your child take part in the general education classroom. IEP goals need to be realistic and measurable. 

Assistive technology (AT): Any device, equipment or software that helps your child work around her issues. AT can help your child learn, communicate and function better in school. AT ranges from simple tools (like highlighters) to high-tech software (like apps that read texts aloud).

Behavior intervention plan (BIP): A plan designed to teach and reward positive behavior. Typically, the plan uses strategies to prevent and stop problem behaviors. It may also have supports and aids for the child. A BIP is often included as part of an IEP. To get a BIP, a child must have a functional behavioral assessment.  

Disability: A condition recognized by the law. To qualify for an IEP, your child must have a disability that is one of the 13 categories listed in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Kids’ learning and attention issues usually fit into one of three categories:

(1) specific learning disability

(2) other health impairment (ADHD)

(3) speech or language impairment.

Due process: A formal process for resolving disputes with a school about special education and IEPs. Due process isn’t the only way to resolve a dispute. There are other options, like mediation and filing a state complaint.

Extended school year services (ESY): Some students receive special education services outside of the regular school year, such as during the summer or, less commonly, during extended breaks like winter break.

General education curriculum: This is the knowledge and skills that all students throughout a state are expected to master. The curriculum varies from state to state.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The nation’s special education law. IDEA is a federal law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education. 

Least restrictive environment (LRE): Students with documented disabilities must be taught in the least restrictive environment. This means they must be taught in the same setting as students without documented disabilities as much as possible. The school must offer services and supports to help a child with an IEP succeed in a general education classroom.

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 child with a modification may only be asked to write about the basic facts of those battles. Modifications are different from accommodations. 

Parent report: This is a letter you write. It’s a good way for you to document your child’s strengths, struggles and success at school, at home and in the community. By sharing the report with your child’s IEP team, you give them a more complete view of your child.

Progress reporting: How a school will report to you on your child’s progress on annual goals. This is specified in the IEP.

Present level of performance (PLOP, PLP, PLAFF, PLAAFP): This is a snapshot of how your child is doing right now. PLOP describes your child’s academic skills (such as reading level) and functional skills (such as making conversation or writing with a pencil). The school prepares this report for the IEP meeting. This is the starting point fo setting annual IEP goals.

Standards-based IEP: This alternative to the traditional IEP is only used in some states. A standards-based IEP measures a student’s academic performance against what the state expects of other students in the same grade.

Special education: Specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of your child. It should be designed to give her access to the general education curriculum. The instruction is provided at no cost to you.

Supplementary aids and services: These are supports to help your child learn in the general education classroom. They can include equipment or assistive technology, like audiobooks or highlighted classroom notes. They may also include training for staff to help them work with your child.

Related services: Any support services your child needs to benefit from special education. One possible example is transportation. Another is occupational therapy.

Transition plan: This part of the IEP lays out what your teen must learn and do in high school in order to succeed as a young adult. Your teen and the IEP team develop the plan together before it kicks in at age 16. The transition plan includes goals and activities that are academic and functional. But they extend beyond school to practical life skills and job training.