Education Terms


When a student needs specialized education services, schools are required to accommodate those needs. For example, Maria has a difficult time understanding word problems in math because she is an English language learner. To accommodate Maria, her teacher reads the math problems aloud to her on assignments and tests so that Maria can better understand what she is being asked to do.


California Department of Education (CDE)

This one is just what it sounds like! Whew!


Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

Formerly known as the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), this is the new name of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which was reauthorized in 2015. It continues federal programs for disadvantaged students, professional development of teachers, and instruction for English learners.


Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Federal law states that all students, regardless of their abilities, must be afforded a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible. When parents are "offered FAPE," they are being offered an IEP through their local public school.



In education settings, the word inclusion refers to the practice of including children with special learning needs in general education classrooms. All schools across the country are required by federal law to be inclusive, which means students with special needs are only to be taught in separate “special ed” classrooms when it's absolutely necessary. This does not mean students with special learning needs are required to do exactly the same thing in exactly the same way as their general education peers. Rather, it means teachers and administrators work together to accommodate student needs, modifying curriculum and adapting classroom practices to support student success in the general education environment.


Individual Service Plan (ISP)

When a child qualifies for specialized education services but will remain in private school, they are given an ISP. These documents are different from IEPs, which are for students enrolled in public schools. An ISP lists consultation services -- usually two to four sessions per school year -- that will be provided by public school district professionals to private school staff and parents. ISPs are updated annually, and students are reassessed every three years.


Individualized Education Plan (IEP)

Students who qualify for special education services in public schools are given IEPs. Each plan details what the student can do now, identifies specific learning goals, and describes how those learning goals will be met. IEPs, unlike ISPs, are legal documents and are actionable under the law. They are updated annually, and students are reassessed every three years.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

This federal law mandates that all students, regardless of their abilities, must be afforded a free and appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment possible. It is also the law that requires education agencies to provide IEPs for students who require specialized education services.


Local Education Agency (LEA)

Public school districts are referenced as LEAs in government documents and regulations. In the vast majority of cases, your LEA is your local school district and is responsible for carrying out education directives made by the state government.


Least restrictive environment (LRE)

Mandated by federal and state law, LRE means that a student who has a special learning need should have the opportunity to be educated with their general-education peers to the greatest extent appropriate. In other words, if a student has special-learning needs, those needs should be met whenever possible in the general education classroom.



Sometimes a student’s learning needs require that the curriculum or assessments be modified, or changed in some way. For example, John is a sixth-grade student who currently is able to read and write up to a third-grade level due to cognitive delays. The curriculum used in his sixth-grade language arts class leads him only to frustration and failure. Therefore, John’s language arts curriculum has been modified, or changed, so that he is working on third-grade language arts standards.



This term refers to specialized education services, or resources, provided to students who need additional assistance to be successful in school. Resource services are provided by a resource teacher, who can deliver those services in several different ways – by working with students one-on-one inside or outside the general classroom, by working with small groups of students with similar needs, or by co-teaching a class with the general education teacher. In the current education climate, the co-teaching model is the most progressive method of providing services, as it allows students with special learning needs to remain in the least restrictive environment – the general education classroom.


Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)

School districts join together in geographical regions in order to develop a regional special education service delivery system. A region might be a group of many small districts or a large single district, but each region must be of sufficient size and scope to provide the full continuum of services for children and youth residing within the region boundaries.


Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI)

Commonly refered to as "special ed," SAI is delivered by trained teachers who are certified in special education. SAI teachers have undergone many name changes over the years, including resource, SpEd, learning specialist, and more.


State Board of Education (SBE)

The governor-appointed 11-member State Board of Education is California’s K-12 policy-making body for academic standards, curriculum, instructional materials, assessments and accountability. One of the 11 members is a student.