The world of education has its own language. Hallmarks of this language include acronyms, jargon-filled phrases, and nonsensical gibberish—or at least that’s how it might sound to parents whose kids have just entered school.
Teachers start learning the language, sometimes known as eduspeak, in college and become more proficient the longer they remain in the profession. Longtime educators may find themselves using eduspeak with parents without even realizing it.
Parents should always feel comfortable asking their child’s teacher or principal to explain or define any unfamiliar terms. Still, knowing some basic terms can help you help your child succeed in school. We’ve listed these terms below, grouped into six broad areas: teaching and learning, special education, curriculum, assessment, accountability, and parent involvement. You can also find all of these words and their definitions in the A-Z Glossary of Education Terms.
It’s the reason you send your child off to school every day. When learning happens, everybody is happy.
- average class size
- bilingual education
- block scheduling
- community-based learning
- cooperative learning
- data-driven instruction
- differentiated instruction
- English-language learners (ELL)
- English as a Second Language (ESL)
- multi-age grouping
- student-teacher ratio
- vertical teaming
- whole language
Special education refers to the broad category of services provided to students with disabilities, disorders, or medical conditions that affect their ability to learn in school. Special education is a sensitive area, and terminology should be handled with care. For example, people once described as “mentally retarded” may now be described as “developmentally delayed.” Some schools and teachers are more sensitive than others, and in some geographic regions the language has evolved more than in other areas. Pay close attention, and follow your child’s teacher’s lead.
- individualized education program (IEP)
- Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)
- learning difference
- learning disability
- pull-out program
- Section 504
- self-contained classroom
- special needs
The curriculum is an outline of what your child is expected to learn in each grade, and what teachers are expected to teach. Every state has its own curriculum. School districts might enhance that curriculum with additional topics they want each child to study. Your principal should be able to share your school’s curriculum and point you to your state’s curriculum online.
Assessment is the process of measuring how much a child has learned. In today’s schools, typical assessments may include classroom tests, standardized tests, quizzes, papers, projects, and portfolios. For parents, it can be hard to figure out what the assessment results mean. If you don’t get a letter grade, for example, has your child passed or failed? If your child has “met expectations,” is that enough? If your child will be graded based on a portfolio, what does that mean? Your child’s teacher can help you understand the tools she is using to assess your child’s learning.
- criterion-referenced standardized test
- high-stakes testing
- norm-referenced standardized test
- standardized test
- standards-based testing
In education, accountability is the policy of making public schools, teachers, and sometimes students responsible for academic progress. This is done by administering standardized tests and publishing the overall results. The results may be tied to funding and school status, or schools with poor performance may face sanctions.
- adequate yearly progress (AYP)
- Blue Ribbon School
- disaggregated data
- Distinguished School
- free and reduced-priced lunch
- No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB)
- school improvement status
- Title I school
Engagement with your child’s education at home and at school is called parent involvement. (Yes, even parent involvement has its own lingo!) Parent involvement ranges from helping with homework to chaperoning field trips to volunteering with the school parent organization.