IEP Vocabulary Basics

Special Education  vocabulary will help understand the process.
Special Education vocabulary will help understand the process.

The world of special education can by scary for parents navigating the process for the first time.  The following list contains special education terms, definitions and acronyms that are commonly used by schools during the IEP process .

  • Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE): Special education and related series are provided free of charge so that every child has the appropriate education for his or her unique needs.  It’s entitled under IDEA.
  • Due Process: Refers to the process where parents may disagree with the program recommendations.  Notice must be given in writing within 30 days.
  • Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA): The law (2004) guarantees that all students with disabilities received a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).  It makes it illegal for school district to refuse to educate a student based on his or her disability.
  • Parent Consent: Term used by IDEA that describes that a parent has been fully informed (in native language) of changes to their child’s IEP. This informed consent must be obtained before a district assesses, makes a major revision to a child’s program, continues or stops services for a child’s disability.  You will be asked to confirm that you understand and agree to the change in writing.
  • Early Intervention (EI): Services for developmentally delayed children from birth to their third birthdays. The programs are designed to help prevent problems as the child matures. It’s mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).
  • Least Restrictive Environment (LRE): Students must be educated in a classroom setting that is close to the general education setting as possible (IDEA mandated).

The IEP Process

  • Assessment or Evaluation: Term used to describe the testing and diagnostic processes that identifies strengths, weaknesses and progress.  An assessment plan is written to describe the results along with the determination and types of special education services recommended for student success.  IDEA gives only 60 days to complete the evaluation from the time a parent gives permission.
  • Annual Review: A yearly meeting is held of all IEP team members to review progress towards goals and update services if needed.
  • Individualized Education Team:  A committee of parents, teachers, administrators and school personnel that provide services to the students.  The team will review assessment results and determine goals, objectives and program placement.

The IEP Document

  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): The written document that states the child’s goals, objectives and services of special education services.
  • Developmental and Social History: A developmental and social history is a common element of an assessment plan. The history is created by input from parents, teachers, pediatricians and service providers.  
  • Observational Records: Information about a child’s academic performance provided by anyone who works with a child. The records are part of the assessment plan.
  • Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP): A written plan of the early intervention services a child (age 0-3 receives). The plan is developed based on family-based needs and reviewed periodically.
  • Triennial Review:  An IEP meeting that takes place every three years. Testing is updated and a discussion on the continuation of special education services.  The meeting is often combined with the annual review.
  • Observational Records: Information about a child’s academic performance provided by anyone who works with a child. The records are part of the assessment plan.
  • Assessments or Evaluations:  Tests designed to provide an overview of a child’s academic performance, basic cognitive functioning, and current strengths and weaknesses. May also contain hearing and vision test results.
  • Present Levels: Part of the IEP that defines a student’s strengths and weaknesses, current levels of academic achievement and current levels of academic functional performance.
  • Student Baseline: A starting point of student’s ability level that is used throughout the year to measure a student’s skills. 
  • Performance-Based Tests: An evaluation test that is used to determine eligibility for special education services.  Common evaluations can include Woodcock Johnson or the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT).


  • Occupational Therapists: A professional that provides consultation and support to staff to improve a student’s educational performance in the areas of fine motor, gross motor and sensory integration development.
  • Speech-Language Pathologist (specialist): A professional who assesses possible delayed speech and language skills and provides direct services.
  • Physical Therapist: A professional who provides consultation and support staff on a student’s education performance related to gross motor development.  May provide direct services. 
  • School Psychologist: Provides consultation and support to families and staff.  Often involved in the student assessments.  May also be the chairperson of the IEP committee.

Great Special Ed Links

Isn’t education ALL about reaching the kids?

Other posts related to this topic:

  • IEP Questions and Answers