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Special Education Terms for Parents

Compiled by Nicole Husband


Assessment Terms

Chronological Age: The age of the child based on when he was born.

Grade Equivalent Score: A score that is shown as a grade level year and month (i.e. if a child is in 4th grade and reading at a 4.3 level, he is reading at a 4th grade, 3 month level, which is about beginning 4th grade).  

Age Equivalent Score: A score that is shown in years and months, it shows how a student does in comparison to other students his chronological age (i.e. if a child is in 4th grade and gets a score of 4.9, he got a score the same as students who are 4 years 9 months old).  

Standard Score: A number determined by the raw score and put on the bell curve; this number usually determines a classification of the student. 

Raw Score: The number of questions correctly answered on the test. 

Percentile Score: This shows what percentage of the norm group the student did better than and equal to.


Legal Terms

Committee on Special Education (CSE): The team that consists of: parents, general education teacher, special education teacher, sometimes the psychologist, occupational therapist, physical therapist, principal. This team meets to determine the child’s needs and goals. 

Individual Education Plan (IEP): This is a legal document describing the strengths and needs of the student and lists the specific services the student will receive.  

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): This act gives all students age birth-21 the right to special education services under 13 categories.   

Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): This allows all students to attend school and receive the education they need at no expense to the parents.   

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: This is a civil rights law that protects people with disabilities against any public organization from discriminating against them.   

504 Plan: A plan for students receiving special services not covered under IDEA.


The 13 Categories of Disability

Autism: This is considered a developmental disability that is noticed before the age of 3. It affects the child’s verbal and nonverbal communication and social interaction.  There are other characteristics such as doing things repeatedly, specific movements, having trouble with change and change in routines. Some children have different reactions to sensory experiences.  

Deaf-Blindness: A hearing impairment accompanying a visual impairment.  This combination can cause communication and developmental delays which require further assistance than a class for children with either deafness or blindness. 

Deafness: A child’s education is affected by a loss of hearing so great because they have a difficult time processing language with or without amplification.   

Hearing Impairment: This could be permanent or fluctuating hearing loss that affects the child’s education. This is not included under the definition of deafness. 

Visual Impairment: A child’s educational performance is affected by problems with vision, even with correction. This includes partial and sight blindness.  

Speech or Language Impairment: This is a communication disorder that affects the child’s education such as stuttering, impaired articulation, a language impairment, or a voice impairment.  

Multiple Disabilities: This term refers to students who have more than one disability and need further accommodations than what a class designed for one specific disability could offer.  

Emotional Disturbance: A child must exhibit one or more of the following characteristics over a long period of time and it must affect their educational performance: 1. The child is unable to learn, but it is not because of intellectual, sensory or health factors. 2. The child is not able to build and maintain relationships with students or teachers. 3. Under normal circumstances, the child reacts or feels inappropriately. 4. The child consistently has an unhappy or depressed mood. 5. The child develops physical symptoms or fears associated with personal or school problems.    

Orthopedic Impairment: This is a severe impairment that affects the child’s education and could include: congenital anomoly (club foot, absence of a body part), impairments caused by disease (poliomyelitis, bone tuberculosis), and other causes (cerebral palsy, amputations, and fractures or burns that cause contractures).  

Traumatic Brain Injury: An acquired injury to the brain caused by an outside physical force. The result is a child’s education affected by a total or partial functional disability or psychosocial impairment. The child may have difficulty with one or more of the following: cognition; language; memory; attention; reasoning; abstract thinking; judgment; problem solving; sensory, perceptual and motor abilities; psychosocial behavior; physical functions; information processing; and speech. This does not include injuries at birth, congenital or degenerative injuries. 

Specific Learning Disability: A disability that affects the child’s understanding or in using written or spoken language, which may cause the student to have problems listening, thinking, speaking, reading, writing, spelling, or do mathematical calculations.  Some terms associated with LD are: perceptual disability, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. This does not include disabilities that result from visual, hearing, or motor disabilities, MR, ED, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage.

Other Health Impairment: A child’s education is affected by a health problem such as: heart condition, tuberculosis, rheumatic fever, nephritis, asthma, sickle cell anemia hemophilia, epilepsy, lead poisoning, leukemia, or diabetes. The child may exhibit limited strength, vitality, or alertness due to these conditions.  

Mental Retardation: A child’s education and functioning are affected by a lower than average intellect and adaptive behavior.


Source: Pierangelo R. & Giuliani G. A. Assessment in Special Education A Practical Approach. 2nd ed. (2006). Pearson Education, Inc.: New York.