Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)

A federal law that gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

Asperger’s Syndrome

Also referred to as high-functioning autism characterized by at least normal intelligence and verbal skills. Symptoms include difficulties with social interaction and often, problems with motor skills and obsessive interests.


Assessment is a broad term used to describe the gathering of information about student performance in a particular area. See also formative assessment and summative assessment.

Attention Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Any of a range of behavioral disorders in children characterized by symptoms that include poor concentration, an inability to focus on tasks, difficulty in paying attention, and impulsivity. A person can be predominantly inattentive (often referred to as ADD), predominantly hyperactive-impulsive, or a combination of these two.

Auditory Discrimination

Ability to detect differences in sounds; may be gross ability, such as detecting the differences between the noises made by a cat and dog, or fine ability, such as detecting the differences made by the sounds of letters “m” and “n.”

Auditory Memory

Ability to retain information which has been presented orally; may be short term memory, such as recalling information presented several seconds before; long term memory, such as recalling information presented more than a minute before; or sequential memory, such as recalling a series of information in proper order.

Auditory Processing Disorder (APD)

An inability to accurately process and interpret sound information. Students with APD often do not recognize subtle differences between sounds in words.


A complex developmental disability causing problems with social interaction and communication, often including repetitive behaviors. Symptoms usually occur before the age of three.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

A broader category of this developmental disability including people with mild as well as more severe symptoms of autism, including Asperger syndrome.

Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

A plan that includes positive strategies, program modifications, and supplementary aids and supports that address a student’s disruptive behaviors and allows the child to be educated in the least restrictive environment (LRE).


Identifying with the cultures of two different ethnic, national, or language groups. To be bicultural is not necessarily the same as being bilingual. In fact, you can even identify with two different language groups without being bilingual, as is the case with many Latinos in the U.S.

Bilingual Education

An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Bilingual education programs vary in their length of time, and in the amount each language is used.

Bilingual Education, Transitional

An educational program in which two languages are used to provide content matter instruction. Over time, the use of the native language is decreased and the use of English is increased until only English is used.


Bilingualism is the ability to use two languages. However, defining bilingualism can be problematic since there may be variation in proficiency across the four language dimensions (listening, speaking, reading and writing) and differences in proficiency between the two languages. People may become bilingual either by acquiring two languages at the same time in childhood or by learning a second language sometime after acquiring their first language.


Biliteracy is the ability to effectively communicate or understand written thoughts and ideas through the grammatical systems, vocabularies, and written symbols of two different languages.

Central Auditory Processing Disorder (CAPD)

A disorder that occurs when the ear and the brain do not coordinate fully. A CAPD is a physical hearing impairment, but one which does not show up as a hearing loss on routine screenings or an audiogram. Instead, it affects the hearing system beyond the ear, whose job it is to separate a meaningful message from non-essential background sound and deliver that information with good clarity to the intellectual centers of the brain (the central nervous system).


Words in different languages related to the same root, e.g. education (English) and educación (Spanish).

Collaborative Writing

Collaborative writing is an instructional approach in which students work together to plan, draft, revise, and edit compositions.

Comprehension Strategies

Techniques to teach reading comprehension, including summarization, prediction, and inferring word meanings from context.

Content Area

Content areas are academic subjects like math, science, English/language arts, reading, and social sciences. Language proficiency may affect these areas, but is not included as a content area. Assessments of language proficiency differ from those of language arts.

Context Clues

Sources of information outside of words that readers may use to predict the identities and meanings of unknown words. Context clues may be drawn from the immediate sentence containing the word, from text already read, from pictures accompanying the text, or from definitions, restatements, examples, or descriptions in the text.

Continuous Assessment

An element of responsive instruction in which the teacher regularly monitors student performance to determine how closely it matches the instructional goal.

Curriculum-Based Assessment

A type of informal assessment in which the procedures directly assess student performance in learning-targeted content in order to make decisions about how to better address a student’s instructional needs.


The ability to translate a word from print to speech, usually by employing knowledge of sound-symbol correspondences. It is also the act of deciphering a new word by sounding it out.

Developmental Aphasia

A severe language disorder that is presumed to be due to brain injury rather than because of a developmental delay in the normal acquisition of language.

Developmental Spelling

The use of letter-sound relationship information to attempt to write words (also called invented spelling).

Dominant Language

The dominant language is the language with which a bilingual or multilingual speaker has greatest proficiency and/or uses more often.

Dual Language Program/Dual Immersion

Also known as two-way immersion or two-way bilingual education, these programs are designed to serve both language minority and language majority students concurrently. Two language groups are put together and instruction is delivered through both languages. For example, in the U.S., native English-speakers might learn Spanish as a foreign language while continuing to develop their English literacy skills and Spanish-speaking ELLs learn English while developing literacy in Spanish. The goals of the program are for both groups to become biliterate, succeed academically, and develop cross-cultural understanding.


A severe difficulty in understanding and using symbols or functions needed for success in mathematics.


A severe difficulty in producing handwriting that is legible and written at an age-appropriate speed.


A language-based disability that affects both oral and written language. It may also be referred to as reading disability, reading difference, or reading disorder.


A marked difficulty in remembering names or recalling words needed for oral or written language.


A severe difficulty in performing drawing, writing, buttoning, and other tasks requiring fine motor skill, or in sequencing the necessary movements.

English As A Second Language

English as a Second Language (ESL) is an educational approach in which English language learners are instructed in the use of the English language. Their instruction is based on a special curriculum that typically involves little or no use of the native language, focuses on language (as opposed to content) and is usually taught during specific school periods. For the rest of the school day, students may be placed in mainstream classrooms, an immersion program, or a bilingual education program. Every bilingual education program has an ESL component (U.S. General Accounting Office, 1994).

English Language Learner (ELL)

Students whose first language is not English and who are in the process of learning English.

Executive Function

The ability to organize cognitive processes. This includes the ability to plan ahead, prioritize, stop and start activities, shift from one activity to another activity, and to monitor one’s own behavior.

Exit Criteria

Exit criteria are a set of guidelines for ending special services for English language learners and placing them in mainstream, English-only classes as fluent English speakers. This is usually based on a combination of performance on an English language proficiency test, grades, standardized test scores, and teacher recommendations. In some cases, this redesignation of students may be based on the amount of time they have been in special programs.

Family Educational Right To Privacy Act (FERPA)

A federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.


The ability to read a text accurately, quickly, and with proper expression and comprehension. Because fluent readers do not have to concentrate on decoding words, they can focus their attention on what the text means.

Formal Assessment

The process of gathering information using standardized, published tests or instruments in conjunction with specific administration and interpretation procedures, and used to make general instructional decisions.

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

A requirement of IDEA; all disabled children must receive special education services and related services at no cost.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

A problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior that uses techniques to identify what triggers a given behavior(s) and to select interventions that directly address them.


A letter or letter combination that spells a single phoneme. In English, a grapheme may be one, two, three, or four letters, such as e, ei, igh, or eigh.

Independent Educational Evaluation (LEE)

An evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner, who is not employed by the school district at the public’s expense.

Independent School District (ISD)

ISD is a commonly-used acronym in education plans to refer to the school system the child attends.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A plan outlining special education and related services specifically designed to meet the unique educational needs of a student with a disability.

Individualized Transition Plan (ITP)

A plan developed by the IEP team to help accomplish the student’s goals for the transition from high school into adulthood.

Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act is the law that guarantees all children with disabilities access to a free and appropriate public education.

Informal Assessment

The process of collecting information to make specific instructional decisions, using procedures largely designed by teachers and based on the current instructional situation.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ)

A measure of someone’s intelligence as indicated by an intelligence test, where an average score is 100. An IQ score is the ratio of a person’s mental age to his chronological age multiplied by 100.

Language Learning Disability (LLD)

A language learning disability is a disorder that may affect the comprehension and use of spoken or written language as well as nonverbal language, such as eye contact and tone of speech, in both adults and children.

Language Proficiency

To be proficient in a second language means to effectively communicate or understand thoughts or ideas through the language’s grammatical system and its vocabulary, using its sounds or written symbols. Language proficiency is composed of oral (listening and speaking) and written (reading and writing) components as well as academic and non-academic language (Hargett, 1998).

Learning Disability (LD)

A disorder that affects people’s ability to either interpret what they see and hear or to link information from different parts of the brain. It may also be referred to as a learning disorder or a learning difference.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

A learning plan that provides the most possible time in the regular classroom setting.

Limited English Proficient (LEP)

Limited English proficient is the term used by the federal government, most states, and local school districts to identify those students who have insufficient English to succeed in English-only classrooms. Increasingly, English language learner (ELL) or English learner (EL) are used in place of LEP.

Linguistically And Culturally Diverse (LCD)

The term ‘linguistically and culturally diverse’ is commonly used to identify communities where English is not the primary language of communication, although some individuals within the community may be bilingual or monolingual English speakers.


Reading, writing, and the creative and analytical acts involved in producing and comprehending texts.

Literacy Coach

A reading coach or a literacy coach is a reading specialist who focuses on providing professional development for teachers by providing them with the additional support needed to implement various instructional programs and practices. They provide essential leadership for the schools entire literacy program by helping create and supervise a long-term staff development process that supports both the development and implementation of the literacy program over months and years.

Local Education Agency (LEA)

A public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district or other political subdivision of a state.


“Mainstream” is a term that refers to the ordinary classroom that almost all children attend. Accommodations may be made for children with disabilities or who are English language learners, as part of the general educational program.


Metacognition is the process of “thinking about thinking.” For example, good readers use metacognition before reading when they clarify their purpose for reading and preview the text.


The smallest meaningful unit of language. A morpheme can be one syllable (book) or more than one syllable (seventeen). It can be a whole word or a part of a word such as a prefix or suffix. For example, the word ungrateful contains three morphemes: un, grate, and ful.

Morphemic Relationship

The morphemic relationship is the relationship between one morpheme and another. In the word books, book is a free morpheme (it has meaning by itself) and -s is a bound morpheme (it has meaning only when attached to a free morpheme).


The study of how the aspects of language structure are related to the ways words are formed from prefixes, roots, and suffixes (e.g., mis-spell-ing), and how words are related to each other.


Using a word’s letter patterns to help determine, in part, the meaning and pronunciation of a word. For example, the morpheme vis in words such as vision and visible is from the Latin root word that means to see; and the ay in stay is pronounced the same in the words gray and play.

Mother Tongue

This term variably means (a) the language learned from the mother, (b) the first language learned, (c) the native language of an area or country, (d) the stronger (or dominant) language at any time of life, (e) the language used most by a person, (f) the language toward which the person has the more positive attitude and affection (Baker, 2000). See also native language.

Multiple Intelligences

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults.

Multiple Literacies

Multiple literacies reach beyond a traditional ‘reading and writing’ definition of literacy to include the ability to process and interpret information presented through various media.

Multisensory Structured Language Education

An educational approach that uses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic-tactile cues simultaneously to enhance memory and learning. Links are consistently made between the visual (what we see), auditory (what we hear), and kinesthetic-tactile (what we feel) pathways in learning to read and spell.

Native Language

The first language a person acquires in life, or identifies with as a member of an ethnic group (Baker, 2000).

Natural Approach

The Natural Approach is a methodology for second language learning which focuses on communicative skills, both oral and written. It is based on linguist Stephen Krashen’s theory of language acquisition, which assumes that speech emerges in four stages: (1) preproduction (listening and gestures), (2) early production (short phrases), (3) speech emergence (long phrases and sentences), and (4) intermediate fluency (conversation). This approach was developed by Krashen and teacher Tracy Terrell (1983) (Lessow-Hurley, 1991).

No Child Left Behind (NCLB)

The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 is the most recent reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education act of 1965. The act contains President George W. Bush’s four basic education reform principles: stronger accountability for results, increased flexibility and local control, expanded options for parents, and an emphasis on teaching methods based on scientifically-based research.

Nonverbal Learning Disability

A neurological disorder which originates in the right hemisphere of the brain. Reception of nonverbal or performance-based information governed by this hemisphere is impaired in varying degrees, causing problems with visual-spatial, intuitive, organizational, evaluative, and holistic processing functions.

Occupational Therapy (OT)

A rehabilitative service to people with mental, physical, emotional, or developmental impairments. Services can include helping a student with pencil grip, physical exercises that may be used to increase strength and dexterity, or exercises to improve hand-eye coordination.

Office For Civil Rights (OCR)

A branch of the U.S. Department of Education that investigates allegations of civil rights violations in schools. It also initiates investigations of compliance with federal civil rights laws in schools that serve special student populations, including language-minority students. The office has developed several policies with regard to measuring compliance with the Lau v. Nichols decision. OCR is also responsible for enforcing Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Office Of Special Education Programs (OSEP)

An office of the U.S. Department of Education whose goal is to improve results for children with disabilities (ages birth through 21) by providing leadership and financial support to assist states and local districts.


The initial consonant sound(s) in a monosyllabic word. This unit is smaller than a syllable but may be larger than a phoneme (the onset of bag is b-; of swim is sw-).

Oral Language Difficulties

A person with oral language difficulties may exhibit poor vocabulary, listening comprehension, or grammatical abilities for his or her age.

Orthographic Knowledge

The understanding that the sounds in a language are represented by written or printed symbols.


The smallest unit of speech that serves to distinguish one utterance from another in a language.

Phonemic Awareness

The ability to notice, think about, and work with the individual sounds in spoken words. An example of how beginning readers show us they have phonemic awareness is combining or blending the separate sounds of a word to say the word (/c/ /a/ /t/ – cat.)


Phonics is a form of instruction to cultivate the understanding and use of the alphabetic principle. It emphasizes the predictable relationship between phonemes (the sounds in spoken language) and graphemes (the letters that represent those sounds in written language) and shows how this information can be used to read or decode words.

Phonological Awareness

A range of understandings related to the sounds of words and word parts, including identifying and manipulating larger parts of spoken language such as words, syllables, and onset and rime. It also includes phonemic awareness as well as other aspects of spoken language such as rhyming and syllabication.

Physical Therapy (PT)

Instructional support and treatment of physical disabilities, under a doctor’s prescription, that helps a person improve the use of bones, muscles, joints and nerves.

Point Of View*

Chiefly in literary texts, the narrative point of view (as in first- or third-person narration); more broadly, the position or perspective conveyed or represented by an author, narrator, speaker, or character.

Portfolio Assessment

A portfolio assessment is a systematic collection of student work that is analyzed to show progress over time with regard to instructional objectives (Valencia 1991, cited in O’ Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996). Student portfolios may include responses to readings, samples of writing, drawings, or other work.


Prereading activities are activities used with students before they interact with reading material. They’re designed to provide students with needed background knowledge about a topic, or to help students identify their purpose for reading.


A prefix is a word part added to the beginning of a root or base word to create a new meaning. The most common prefixes include dis- (as in disagree), in- (as invaluable), re- (as in repeat), and -un (as in unfriendly).


Prewriting is any activity designed to help students generate or organize their ideas before writing.

Primary Language

The primary language is the language in which bilingual/multilingual speakers are most fluent, or which they prefer to use. This is not necessarily the language first learned in life.

Print Awareness

Basic knowledge about print and how it is typically organized on a page. For example, print conveys meaning, print is read left to right, and words are separated by spaces.

Proficient (LY)*

A student performance that meets the criterion established in the Standards as measured by a teacher or assessment; in the Standards, often paired with independent(ly) to suggest a successful student performance done without scaffolding; in the Reading standards, the act of reading a text with comprehension; see also independent(ly), scaffolding.

Reading Disability

Another term for dyslexia, sometimes referred to as reading disorder or reading difference.

Reading First

Reading First is a federal program that focuses on putting proven methods of early reading instruction in classrooms. Through Reading First, states and districts receive support to apply scientifically based reading research and the proven instructional and assessment tools consistent with this research to ensure that all children learn to read well by the end of third grade.

Receptive Language

The aspect of spoken language that includes listening, and the aspect of written language that includes reading.

Reciprocal Teaching

Reciprocal teaching is a multiple-strategy instructional approach for teaching comprehension skills to students. Teachers teach students four strategies: asking questions about the text they are reading; summarizing parts of the text; clarifying words and sentences they don’t understand; and predicting what might occur next in the text.

Response To Intervention (RTI)

Response to Intervention is a process whereby local education agencies (LEAs) document a child’s response to scientific, research-based intervention using a tiered approach. In contrast to the discrepancy criterion model, RTI provides early intervention for students experiencing difficulty learning to read. RTI was authorized for use in December 2004 as part of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).


A way of teaching in which the teacher provides support in the form of modeling, prompts, direct explanations, and targeted questions — offering a teacher-guided approach at first. As students begin to acquire mastery of targeted objectives, direct supports are reduced and the learning becomes more student-guided. The teacher provides contextual supports for meaning during instruction or assessment, such as visual displays, classified lists, or tables or graphs (O’ Malley & Valdez-Pierce, 1996, p.240).


The development of specific skills and understandings that enable children and adults to explain their specific learning disabilities to others and cope positively with the attitudes of peers, parents, teachers, and employers.


The ability to observe yourself and know when you are doing an activity act according to a standard. For example, knowing if you do or do not understand what you are reading. Or whether your voice tone is appropriate for the circumstances or too loud or too soft.

Semantic Maps

A semantic map is a strategy for graphically representing concepts. As a strategy, semantic maps involve expanding a student’s vocabulary by encouraging new links to familiar concepts. Instructionally, semantic maps can be used as a prereading activity for charting what is known about a concept, theme, or individual word. They can also be used during reading as a way to assimilate new information learned from the text.

Semantic Organizers

Graphic organizers that look somewhat like a spider web where lines connect a central concept to a variety of related ideas and events.

Sentence Combining

Sentence combining is an instructional approach that involves teaching students to combine two or more simple sentences to form a more complex or sophisticated sentence.

Sight Words

Words that a reader recognizes without having to sound them out. Some sight words are “irregular,” or have letter-sound relationships that are uncommon. Some examples of sight words are you, are, have and said.

Special Education (SPED)

Services offered to children who possess one or more of the following disabilities: specific learning disabilities, speech or language impairments, mental retardation, emotional disturbance, multiple disabilities, hearing impairments, orthopedic impairments, visual impairments, autism, combined deafness and blindness, traumatic brain injury, and other health impairments.

Specific Learning Disability (SLD)

The official term used in federal legislation to refer to difficulty in certain areas of learning, rather than in all areas of learning. Synonymous with learning disabilities.

Speech Impaired (SI)

A category of special education services for students who have difficulty with speech sounds in their native language.

Speech Language Pathologist (SLP)

An expert who can help children and adolescents who have language disorders to understand and give directions, ask and answer questions, convey ideas, and improve the language skills that lead to better academic performance. An SLP can also counsel individuals and families to understand and deal with speech and language disorders.


A part of a word that contains a vowel or, in spoken language, a vowel sound (e-vent, news-pa-per).

Unified School District (USD)

USD is a common acronym used in education plans to refer to the elementary, middle, and high schools within the school district.


Vocabulary refers to the words a reader knows. Listening vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when hearing them in oral speech. Speaking vocabulary refers to the words we use when we speak. Reading vocabulary refers to the words a person knows when seeing them in print. Writing vocabulary refers to the words we use in writing.

Working Memory

The ability to store and manage information in one’s mind for a short period of time. In one test of working memory a person listens to random numbers and then repeats them. The average adult can hold 7 numbers in their working memory. Working memory is sometimes called Short-term memory

504 Plan

A plan that specifies the accommodations and modifications necessary for a student with a disability to attend school with her or his peers; named for Section 504 of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities, ensuring that children with disabilities have equal access to public education; students with 504 plans do not meet the eligibility requirements for special education under IDEA.