Select Page

Special Education Terms to Know: Part 3

Woohoo! We have hit the final installment of the special education terms you need to know (according to my FB group)! This final installment will wrap up this series of posts. If you have not read Part 1 and Part 2 you may want to check those posts out too!  I truly hope you all have found these posts helpful and something beyond just the standard definitions that can be found most places online.

PBIS:  PBIS is a term you will hear when you have a child with behavior issues that impact their learning. Positive Behavior Interventions & Supports (PBIS) hasPBIS Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports


been around as a concept for a while, but OSEP provided some clear guidance on the topic in 2016 with a Dear College Letter. This letter provides guidance to schools when a child’s behavior is impeding their learning or that of others in the classroom to use positive behavior interventions and supports [34 CFR §§300.324(a)(2)(i) and (b)(2); and 300.320(a)(4)]. Here is part of the letter…


Recent data on short-term disciplinary removals from the current placement strongly suggest that many children with disabilities may not be receiving appropriate behavioral interventions and supports, and other strategies, in their IEPs. During the 2013-2014 school year, 10 percent of all children with disabilities, ages 3 through 21, were subject to a disciplinary removal of 10 school days or less, with children of color with disabilities facing higher rates of removal. For instance, nineteen percent of black children with disabilities, ages 3 through 21, were subject to a removal of 10 school days or less within a single school year. In light of research about the detrimental impacts of disciplinary removals, including short-term disciplinary removals, the Department is issuing this guidance to clarify that schools, charter schools, and educational programs in juvenile correctional facilities must provide appropriate behavioral supports to children with disabilities who require such supports in order to receive FAPE and placement in the least restrictive environment (LRE). As a practical matter, providing appropriate behavioral supports helps to ensure that children with disabilities are best able to access and benefit from instruction.


The IDEA authorizes school personnel to implement a short-term disciplinary removal from the current placement, such as an out-of-school suspension, for a child with a disability who violates a code of student conduct. 34 CFR §300.530(b)(1). The Department strongly supports child and school safety, and this letter is not intended to limit the appropriate use of disciplinary removals that are necessary to protect children. Rather, the letter is a part of the Department’s broader work to encourage school environments that are safe, supportive, and conducive to teaching and learning, where educators actively prevent the need for short-term disciplinary removals by effectively supporting and responding to behavior. In keeping with this goal, this letter serves to remind school personnel that the authority to implement disciplinary removals does not negate their obligation to consider the implications of the child’s behavioral needs, and the effects of the use of suspensions (and other short-term removals) when ensuring the provision of FAPE. Additionally, this letter provides alternatives to disciplinary removal which schools can apply instead of exclusionary disciplinary measures.


We are issuing this guidance to clarify that the failure to consider and provide for needed behavioral supports through the IEP process is likely to result in a child not receiving a meaningful educational benefit or FAPE. In addition, a failure to make behavioral supports available throughout a continuum of placements, including in a regular education setting, could result in an inappropriately restrictive placement and constitute a denial of placement in the LRE. While such determinations are necessarily individualized, this guidance is intended to focus attention on the need to consider and include evidence-based behavioral supports in IEPs that, when done with fidelity, often serve as effective alternatives to unnecessary disciplinary removals, increase participation in instruction, and may prevent the need for more restrictive placements. This letter is organized into five areas:


  • IDEA’s procedural requirements regarding evaluations, eligibility determinations, IEPs, and behavioral supports;
  • IDEA’s IEP content requirements related to behavioral supports;
  • Circumstances that may indicate potential denials of FAPE or of placement in the LRE;
  • Implications for short-term disciplinary removals and other exclusionary disciplinary measures;
  • Conclusion, including additional information for parents and stakeholders.


All guidance from OSEP says it is not legal guidance, but it does provide insight on how the law should be interpreted. Basically ‘best practices’ in education should be to provide positive behavior interventions and supports. OSEP provided a grant to allow the site to be created giving parents and schools insight on the RTI process for positive behavior interventions and supports.


A new site, also created by a grant from OSEP, is the IRIS Center.


IRIS Center
The IRIS Center is
supported by the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) and located at Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College, the IRIS Center develops and disseminates free, engaging online resources about evidence-based instructional and behavioral practices to support the education of all students, particularly struggling learners and those with disabilities. These resources, designed to bridge the research-to-practice gap, are intended for use in college teacher preparation programs, in professional development (PD) activities for practicing professionals, and by independent learners. The array of IRIS resources includes modules, case studies, information briefs, course/PD activities, a high-leverage practices alignment tool, and an online glossary of disability-related terms as well as supporting products to enhance their use in coursework and PD activities.


Developed in collaboration with nationally recognized researchers and education experts, our free online resources address instructional and classroom issues of critical importance to today’s educators: classroom behavior management, secondary transition, early childhood, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), and many others.


I really do like the IRIS Center. It has a LOT of great information on the site including the high-leverage practices. High-leverage practices (HLPs) are intended to provide those who work in school districts in beginning teacher induction and residency programs, or who provide professional development for teachers of students with disabilities, with a clear vision of effective teaching for these students. Administrators and principals who provide professional development for special education teachers—and, arguably, for all teachers who teach students with disabilities—can use these HLPs to select experiences where evidence shows that skillfulness in using practices makes a difference for student success. The HLPs provide families with clarity about effective practices that can improve educational outcomes for their children. Policy makers may use this guidance to focus their efforts on the most important practices as they consider teacher licensure requirements, micro-credentialing opportunities, or guidelines for approving teacher preparation programs. And, ultimately—from a prospective teacher’s perspective—this is a playbook that describes the foundational practices needed for an effective and successful career creating success stories for our nation’s students with the most complex learning and behavioral needs.


As you can read the high-leverage practices sound a lot like researched-based practices along with “best practices” in education. The Social/Emotional/Behavioral tab, which includes 26 models, of the HLPs for IRIS are super informative and helpful.


OSEP help a live recording of the Effective Strategies to Enhance High-Quality Implementation of Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) from October 15, 2018. This is a great presentation! It covers inclusion in classrooms, using evidence-based and high-leverage practices in the implementation of IEPs along with here you can find online resources to help make that happen, and one of the great parts of this presentation is a daily report card for behavior for children who have ADHD. There is a lot of information in this presentation. I hope you time the time to review this resource.


Present Levels: Present levels are known by MANY names and often vary by state. One is PLOP. Present Levels of Performance. Another is PLAAFP and this stands for present level of academic achievement and functional performance. I have also heard of PLP and PLAFF. All of these basically boil down to the same thing…how is the child doing RIGHT NOW functionally and academically. This information is used to help determine and drive the goals in the IEP.

Present Level of Performance (PLOP) Annual goals. Facilitator Notes: These three elements constitute the major underpinnings of IEP development. Present levels of performance state how the student is currently performing in school relative to grade-level standards and are based on relevant functional and developmental evaluation information, including information provided by the parent. Annual goals are statements which emanate from the present levels of performance in measurable terms. Plan and deliver instruction. Measure progress (on-going assessment)

Progress Monitoring: Progress monitoring is what happens during the academic year of an IEP. In the re-authorization of IDEA in 2004, benchmark goals were removed except for children on an alternate aligned achievement program. I am not sure why they were removed, but I was saddened to hear this news. This does not mean there shouldn’t be progress monitoring!

Progress monitoring is a scientifically-based practice used to assess your child’s academic progress and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring tells the teacher what your child has learned and what still needs to be taught.

Progress monitoring can be implemented with individual students or an entire class. In progress monitoring, the teacher uses short tests to evaluate your child’s progress in specific areas. The teacher may test your child often – every week or two.
The teacher creates progress graphs that show the child’s progress toward the IEP goals. You may receive copies of these progress graphs every few weeks. Typically I see progress monitoring reports go out at the same time as report cards or the end of a grading period. It is good to make sure the understanding of WHEN you will be receiving progress reports is included in the IEP.

These progress reports are IMPORTANT! You will want to
chart and monitor the data. If you do not see your child making progress, or falling behind, then you will want to call an IEP meeting and bring this up to the team and ask them what they are going to do to help solve the problem.
PT: Physical therapy. It is HARD to qualify most of the time for physical therapy in the educational environment. Many children with Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD) could greatly benefit from physical therapy but they rarely qualify, even when they are tripping over sidewalks and other areas where there is a change in surface type. That is because there is a difference between medical and educational therapy. Where medical therapy looks to make you “whole” across all areas of life in educational therapy the school is looking to make a child “functional” in the educational environment.

PWN: I think, universally, I hear people say to me… they have NO IDEA how important Prior Written Notice was in the special education process! It is so important in fact that I previously wrote an entire blog post on PWN. Click on the hyperlink to take you there.

PWN Why It Is So Important_Redesign

RTI: Response To Intervention is how a school locates children who are falling behind and provides more and more support to the student (Tier 1, 2, and 3) where the child can then learn the missing information and be on the level with their peers. describes RTI best…

Response To Intervention (RTI)


Response to Intervention (RTI) is a multi-tier approach to the early identification and support of students with learning and behavior needs. The RTI process begins with high-quality instruction and universal screening of all children in the general education classroom. Struggling learners are provided with interventions at increasing levels of intensity to accelerate their rate of learning. These services may be provided by a variety of personnel, including general education teachers, special educators, and specialists. Progress is closely monitored to assess both the learning rate and level of performance of individual students. Educational decisions about the intensity and duration of interventions are based on individual student response to instruction. RTI is designed for use when making decisions in both general education and special education, creating a well-integrated system of instruction and intervention guided by child outcome data.
For RTI implementation to work well, the following essential components must be implemented with fidelity and in a rigorous manner:
  • High-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction. All students receive high-quality, research-based instruction in the general education classroom.
  • Ongoing student assessment. Universal screening and progress monitoring provide information about a student’s learning rate and level of achievement, both individually and in comparison with the peer group. These data are then used when determining which students need closer monitoring or intervention. Throughout the RTI process, student progress is monitored frequently to examine student achievement and gauge the effectiveness of the curriculum. Decisions made regarding students’ instructional needs are based on multiple data points taken in context over time.
  • Tiered instruction. A multi-tier approach is used to efficiently differentiate instruction for all students. The model incorporates increasing intensities of instruction offering specific, research-based interventions matched to student needs.
  • Parent involvement. Schools implementing RTI provide parents information about their child’s progress, the instruction and interventions used, the staff who are delivering the instruction, and the academic or behavioral goals for their child.
My main issue with RTI is that children are often stuck in RTI for YEARS at a time and fall further behind. That was never the intent of RTI. When parents request comprehensive evaluations to test for learning disabilities, particularly for SLDs, I often hear parents say the school will try to deny them testing. In a memorandum, from OSEP to State Directors of Special Education , remind schools that they cannot use RTI to delay or deny timely evaluations of students suspected with a learning disability. This is important to know as a rebuttal if the school ever tried to deny you an evaluation due to the RTI process.
Section 504 vs IEP: This could EASILY be a blog post all on its own! Section 504 is a part of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. It was the first disability civil rights law to be enacted in the United States. It prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in programs that receive federal financial assistance and set the stage for enactment of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Section 504 works together with the ADA and IDEA to protect children and adults with disabilities from exclusion, and unequal treatment in schools, jobs, and the community.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that makes available a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities throughout the nation and ensures special education and related services to those children. The IDEA governs how states and public agencies provide early intervention, special education, and related services to more than 6.5 million eligible infants, toddlers, children, and youth with disabilities.

Infants and toddlers, birth through age 2, with disabilities and their families receive early intervention services under IDEA Part C. Children and youth ages 3 through 21 receive special education and related services under IDEA Part B.

Congress reauthorized the IDEA in 2004 and most recently amended the IDEA through Public Law 114-95, the Every Student Succeeds Act, in December 2015.
In the law, Congress states:
Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Here I should mention I am a legal scholar, I study law, but I am not a lawyer. Though I do think I understand these laws about as well as a layperson can I am not going to try and reinvent the wheel since the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF) has an amazing handout comparing
ADA, IDEA, and Section 504.
SLD: Specific Learning Disability. SLDs are often written in school documents as

a specific learning disability in reading

Dysgraphia is a SLD in written expression
(dyslexia), written expression (dysgraphia), and/or math (dyscalculia). SLDs are one of the 13 recognized disability categories under IDEA for eligibility for an IEP. SLDs can also be addressed with a 504 in many instances.

Many people are rather familiar with
dyslexia. There is so much information out there that I have not written anything on the topic. I have written blog posts on dysgraphia and dyscalculia and they have been hyperlinked in this section. Often I will hear parents complain school districts will delay testing for SLDs so the child can complete the RTI process. Remember, as I stated earlier, the school cannot delay a timely evaluation of your child if you make the request, in writing, to evaluate your child. This is a memorandum from OSEP concerning this issue. There is also guidance that schools cannot solely use the discrepancy model to determine if a child has a SLD. One last bit of information…if your child misses services by a point or two you will want to make an argument concerning the Confidence Interval (CI) of the evaluation. CI, along with the general preponderance of data, can sometimes be used to get services for your child. CI is a range in which the “true” score is expected to fall:
  • Because no test is 100% reliable, the “true” score is expected to be within a range
  • Standard error of measurement (SEM): Amount of error (in standard score units) to be considered in interpreting scores
  • Used for classification or placement decisions
  • May be useful in “borderline” cases
  • Can allow room for clinical judgment
So just another tidbit of information to consider when you have your child evaluated.

Dyscalculia Don't count on it
SLP: A Speech Language Pathologist (SLP) is a person who is trained to work to prevent, assess, diagnose, and treat speech, language, social communication,
cognitive-communication, and swallowing disorders in children and adults.
American Speech Language Hearing Association
SLPs can address speech issues including social and pragmatic language deficits often seen in children with autism. SLPs can assist in issues where a child has had a
hearing loss that has been medically corrected but the child is still having issues with speech. SLPAs are to be used only to supplement—not supplant—the services provided by ASHA-certified speech-language pathologists. SLPAs are not trained for independent practice. So if your child is working with an SLPA at your local school make sure they are meeting with the school district’s SLP and developing a plan as allowed under their professional standards.

SMART Goals: SMART goals are an amazing tool! SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-bound.  SMART goals are good goals to set in pretty much any situation. So how do you set a SMART goal? Several years ago I found a template for SMART goals and made a few small modifications. I often post this in my IEP/504 Assistance group as a guide to help parents.

Given_______(condition/materials/setting/accommodation), _______(student name) will _______ (do what measurable/ observable skill/behavior in functional terms), _____(to what extent/how well to determine mastery), ________(# of times/frequency/how consistently), by ________(how often ) evaluated/determined by _____(measure) observed across a variety of settings.

Examples: Given money manipulatives, Student will expressively identify the name and value of nickels, dimes, and quarters with 75% accuracy, on 4 out of 5 opportunities in a variety of 3 different sessions in various settings over a month’s time frame as measured by data collection and teacher observation across a variety of settings.

Given a variety of written prompts, Student will write a 3 to 4 sentence legible paragraph that includes a topic sentence, details, and a closing sentence with 75% accuracy in 4 out of 5 opportunities in a variety of settings as measured by work samples, data collection, and teacher observations across a variety of settings.

While reading instructional level chapter books, Student will answer comprehension questions pertaining to the story he/she is reading with 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 opportunities in a variety of settings as measured by teacher observation and data collection across a variety of settings.

I mention the part about “across a variety of settings” because you do not always want a teacher collecting all the data in a quiet setting, away from other students, as that is not the setting you typically have in a general education classroom. If your child is in a general education classroom you will want data collected from that setting too as a child with ADHD can get distracted or confused with the noise and commotion present in that setting. The same goes for children who may have sensory issues, anxiety, depression/(withdrawal, autism, and other learning disabilities. This, again, is something to consider based on your child and their learning disabilities when you are developing SMART goals.

Remember too that PLOPs drive your goals. You CAN have
goals based on grade-level standards. You can also have IEP goals for children who are performing well in school. A child can have good grades in school and still need an IEP. This is an important point to make as I often see a school remove a child’s IEP because they start making good grades and move the child to a 504. Sometimes a 504 does not provide enough support for the child and the parent runs into issues trying to get the child’s IEP back. Remember FAPE makes it clear that a child can be moving from grade to grade and still need services.

34 CFR § 300.101 – Free appropriate public education (FAPE)
(c)Children advancing from grade to grade.
(1) Each State must ensure that FAPE is available to any individual child with a disability who needs special education and related services, even though the child has not failed or been retained in a course or grade, and is advancing from grade to grade.
I hope this post has been helpful. I know I have covered a lot and thrown in a few other topics not initially discussed but I think is important to that section.

Please take the time to click on the links in the post as it contains the reference material used to write this post. As always, you are welcome to join us for more discussion on the jargon of special education at our FB group,
IEP/504 Assistance for parents of public school students from all over the United States. 

AESA also runs a special needs homeschool group,
Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids, and we also have a group for all parents and caregivers of special needs children called Special Needs Parenting Advice and Support where we discuss ALL things related to special needs care and Educating Gifted Children is where we discuss topics concerning gifted children and those that are twice exceptional (2e).  I hope to see you there!
Michelle Reed-Harris

Michelle Reed-Harris


Michelle Harris, founder, and CEO of Arizona Exceptional Students Association (AESA) has been an educational advocate for over 10 years. She is the mother to six including surviving quadruplets. Her frustration with doctors and educators led her on a quest to learn more about all the facets that touch their lives as children with disabilities. In the process, she realized she had gained a lot of useful information she could share with others so she started a Facebook group focusing on special education advocacy. That group quickly grew to over 6,000+ members. Recognizing the overwhelming need for assistance, she founded a nonprofit, AESA, allowing her to provide support, advice, and advocacy to parents with children who are outside the (Bell) curve.

Parent Alliance for Students with Exceptional Students (PASEN) is meant purely for educational or medical discussion. It contains information about legal or medical matters; however, it is not professional legal or medical advice and should not be treated as such.

Limitation of warranties: The legal and medical information on this website is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. PASEN makes no representations or warranties in relation to the legal or medical information on the website.

Professional assistance: You must not rely on the information on this website as an alternative to legal or medical advice from your attorney or medical provider. If you have any specific questions about any legal or medical matter, you should consult your attorney or medical service provider.