Accommodations (educational): Support services students receive to do grade-level work, such as listening to stories read on the computer. Accommodations do not substantially change the instructional level, the content of instruction, or the performance criteria.
Age-equivalent scores: Standardized scores that are equivalent to the average score for students at that age level.
Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): A persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development. Several symptoms need to be present in more than one setting to qualify for a diagnosis. ADHD is not a learning disability, although some children may have ADHD as well as a reading disability.
Auditory processing disorder: A neurological disorder that results in difficulty perceiving and understanding oral language despite having good hearing acuity. There are several types of auditory processing disorders that affect how auditory information is interpreted or processed by the brain. The diagnosis must be made by an audiologist in a sound-treated room.
Cognitive functioning: The ability to process thoughts and attain information. Cognitive functions include language, memory, attention, and all aspects of perception, thinking, and reasoning.
Common Core State Standards: Academic standards in math and English language arts/literacy (ELA) that outline what every student should know and be able to do from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Composite or cluster score: A score that results from combining individual test scores. Composite scores can be misleading when the scores on individual tests within the cluster are not similar.
Consonant blends: Two or more consonants grouped together, in which each consonant makes a separate sound, thus producing two or more distinct sounds. For example, the letters st in the word stop are a consonant blend.
Consonant digraphs: Two consonants that are grouped together to make one sound. For example, the letters ch in the word chop are a consonant digraph.
Criterion-referenced tests: Informal measures of what a child can do based on the acquisition of specific information and skills. For example, a student may be tested on his knowledge of multiplication facts or letter names.
Decoding: The ability to translate print into speech by rapidly recognizing and analyzing printed words. This involves matching letters or letter combinations to their sounds and recognizing the patterns that make syllables and words.
Diagnostic evaluation: A comprehensive assessment of a child given by a professional certified in the field of education or psychology.
Dyscalculia: A math disability in which a student has difficulty with numbers and number concepts, learning math facts, and solving math problems.
Dysgraphia: Difficulty with writing that requires a complex set of motor and information processing skills.
Dyslexia: A language-based learning disability that interferes with reading and other language-based skills, such as spelling and writing. This is the most common type of learning disability and may also be referred to as a reading disability. Dyslexia is neurologically based and is not due to an impoverished environment or to poor instruction.
Encoding: The ability to spell or convert spoken words into written form, translating individual sounds into letters. When we spell, or encode, we put something into a code. When we read, or decode, we take words out of a code. Thus, spelling and reading are opposites.
Executive functioning: Mental processes that are coordinated in the brain’s frontal lobe and enable an individual to plan, organize, carry out, and monitor purposeful cognitive activity. This involves attention, working memory, reasoning, and cognitive flexibility.
FAPE: An acronym that refers to a “free appropriate public education” guaranteed by the federal special education law, IDEA 2004, to all children with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21.
Grade-equivalent score: A standardized score that is equivalent to the average score for students at that grade level.
IDEA 2004: A federal special education law that applies to all states and to all public schools that guarantees to every child a free appropriate public education in the least restrictive environment. The federal regulations that accompany the law add to and explain the law. Individual states have also each enacted their own state laws and regulations. Although individual states may exceed the standards set forth in the federal law, all states must at least meet the requirements of IDEA 2004.
Individual education program (IEP): A document that outlines the amount of help and the type of services a child will receive in special education under the federal special education law IDEA 2004.
Intellectual ability: An individual’s ability to think, problem-solve, and understand ideas and information.
Learning disability: A neurological disorder caused by differences in brain structure or functioning that interferes with the ability to process, store, or produce information and that can affect the ability to read, write, speak, or do math.
Mean score: The average score obtained by students of similar ages and grades taking the same standardized test.
Modifications (educational): Changes that alter the content, instructional level, or performance criteria of the curriculum, such as providing third-grade spelling words for a fifth-grade student.
No Child Left Behind (The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) (NCLB): A law that sets clear regulations for students who receive reading help under special education, requiring schools to provide instruction in evidence-based methods of reading.
Nonverbal learning disability (NVLD): A learning disability characterized by strong verbal skills contrasted by lower nonverbal skills. Individuals may be very verbal and decode well, but have trouble interpreting what they read, interacting socially, making sense of information, putting together the parts to see the whole, and perceiving how things interact in physical space. The disability tends to progress with age, and many individuals with NVLD develop problems with anxiety and depression.
Nonverbal reasoning: Reasoning and problem-solving that does not involve verbal language ability. Tests of nonverbal reasoning are generally based on shapes, pictures, and diagrams and evaluate logical thinking.
Normal distribution: A description of the bell-shaped curve that scores form on a graph indicating that most scores cluster in the middle, average area. Remaining scores taper off evenly on either side (high and low).
Orthographic processing: The ability to form, store, and access the visual look of a word or string of letters.
Parent advisory committee (PAC): A school-based parent group that provides support and information to parents whose children are going through the special education process.
Percentile rank: A standardized test ranking that indicates the percentage of test takers scoring at or below the student’s standard score.
Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound in a language that has meaning. For example, the sound of a single letter (t) is a phoneme.
Phonemic awareness: The ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in a word.
Phonics: The association of sounds with letters.
Phonological awareness: A broad skill that includes the ability to identify and manipulate units of oral language, such as parts of words, syllables, and onset rimes.
Processing speed: The ability to process overlearned and relatively easy cognitive information automatically and swiftly without intentional thinking; a measure of cognitive efficiency.
Progress monitoring: A method used to assess a student’s academic performance and to evaluate the effectiveness of instruction.
Raw score: Total number of correct answers on a test.
Reading comprehension: The ability to understand what is read, including explicit and inferential information in a passage.
Reading disability: A broad term used by many professionals that refers to all students who struggle with reading. This includes all children on the continuum of severity of reading problems, ranging from those with mild reading problems to those with the most severe reading problems. It includes those with dyslexia.
Reading fluency: The ability to read words accurately and automatically.
Remediate: To correct or improve a deficiency or problem. Reading remediation refers to the act of remedying or reversing a reading problem.
Response to intervention (RTI): A tiered educational program designed to identify struggling students early and provide appropriate instruction, thus preventing the need to refer a child for special education.
Special education advocate: A specialist trained in special education law with considerable experience working with school systems. While advocates are not usually lawyers, they have expertise in the area.
Special education attorney: An attorney who specializes in special education law.
Specific learning disability: A disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language that may manifest itself in the imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or do math calculations. It includes dyslexia.
Standard deviation: A standardized measure that describes how much higher or lower a standardized test score lies compared to the mean (average score). In education and psychology, if the mean standard score of a test is 10, then the standard deviation is 3. If the mean standard score of a test is 100, then the standard deviation is 15.
Standardized tests: Tests that compare the test taker’s performance with the scores of other students across the country who are at the same age or grade level. Sometimes called “norm-referenced tests,” these test results are often expressed in standard scores and percentile ranking.
Structured literacy: Explicit and systematic reading instruction that includes the following elements: phonology, sound-symbol association, syllable instruction, morphology, syntax, and semantics.
Title I educational programs: Federally funded programs provided to schools in economically designated areas for students in need of help in reading and math.
Visual processing disorder: A hindered ability to make sense of information taken in through the eyes despite good visual acuity, affecting the manner in which visual information is interpreted or processed by the brain.
Vowel digraphs: Two vowels that, when grouped together, make a single sound. For example, the letters ea in the word each are a vowel digraph.
Whole language: A method of teaching reading and writing that emphasizes learning whole words and phrases by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by phonics exercises.