15 Education Terms that Trip You Up

15 Education Terms that Trip You Up

“After the formative assessment, I differentiated the assignment, but he still struggled. Based on his performance in the classroom and his PARCC scores, I would recommend an RTI level 2 intervention.”


If you understood the previous paragraph, you probably work in education. If you didn’t understand it, I hear ya. My husband works from home and I listen to him rattle off acronyms and phrases unique to his field and I think, “Is he speaking English? What does any of that mean?”


For those of us in education, we often forget to drop the jargon when we speak with parents. And we speak with parents all the time! It can be confusing to understand what the teacher is trying to tell you. I am here to help!


Below are terms I collected from parents and teachers that they struggle with. I also added other terms with which they are associated. For example, if you’re talking about differentiation, formative and summative assessment will probably come up as well. Hopefully, this will make your next parent conference easier to understand 🙂


Education Terms That Trip You Up


504 Plan

Associated with: Accommodations, IEP
A document that outlines the individual needs of students. Eligible students have a disability that affects their learning, but do NOT receive special education services. The name comes from Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Usually includes a list of classroom and school accommodations (counseling, preferential seating away from distractions, extended time on tests, etc) and is reviewed yearly.



Associated with 504 plan, IEP
A change to a child’s learning environment, specifically for students with an IEP or 504 plan. At the middle and high school level, common accommodations might include preferential seating (away from distractions), extended time on tests, shorter assignments, use of a calculator, etc. These are listed in the IEP or 504 plan; schools must provide these accommodations to students.


Common Core

Associated with PARCC
English and math standards for K-12th grade written by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Forty-two states and Washington, DC adopted the Common Core. The standards are meant to create consistency across states and ensure that students are ready for college or career when they graduate from high school.



Associated with: formative assessment, learning style, summative assessment
Teachers adjust instruction based on an individual student’s ability, interest, or learning style. Teachers use formative assessment to group students. For example, if we are studying the American Revolution, I place students in small groups according to their reading ability and give them a reading at the appropriate level. Students learn the same information, but the form or activity may differ. Kids are often unaware this is even happening. (This is not like the reading groups of our elementary school days – students are grouped for different reasons and the groupings change often.)


Formative assessment

Associated with: Differentiation, summative assessment
An assessment of some kind, typically ungraded, given at the beginning of a unit or during the unit to monitor student mastery of a topic or a skill. The assessment can be informal, written or verbal. Teachers use this information to plan instruction and for differentiation purposes.



Associated with: proficiency
Focus on an individual student’s academic progress over time. A student is tested at two different times (often at the beginning and end of the school year) and scores are compared to see how much the student has learned.


IDEA – Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

Associated with: IEP
A federal law that protects the rights of students with disabilities and governs special education policy. 


IEP – Individualized Education Plan

Associated with: accommodations, IDEA
A document that describes a child’s current level of performance, educational goals for the next school year, and any modifications or accommodations needed. Each student who receives special education services has his or her own IEP. The IEP is a legally binding document, meaning that the school has to provide the required services and work to achieve the child’s goals.


Learning style

Associated with: differentiation
The idea that we each learn in different ways. Some learn best from hearing information, others from physically interacting with information (ex – using manipulatives), and others through visuals. Teachers will often give a learning styles inventory and provide opportunities for students to learn in their preferred style.



Associated with: differentiation, growth
Measurement of reading ability. Lexile scores range from 0 to 2000. Teachers often test children at the beginning and end of the school year to find appropriate books for students to read and assess student growth. For more information, see Lexiles at Home.



Associated with: Common Core
Organization of 8 states and Washington, DC that adopted the Common Core standards and created standardized tests for the new standards. The tests are also referred to as “PARCC”.



Associated with: Growth
Meant to show that students have or have not met academic standards. Students’ standardized test scores are compared to a benchmark, or cut-off score, OR they are compared to students of the same age.



Associated with: Common Core
Instruction and activities that challenge students and prepare them for college or career. Rigorous assignments push students to think creatively and critically.


RTI – Response to Intervention

Associated with: differentiation
A system used to identify and support struggling students. Based on the child’s behavior or academic performance, the school will try various actions or interventions.  RTI is tiered; Tier 1 interventions use small groups within the classroom (think differentiation); by Tier 3, interventions are targeted to a particular student and often outside of the classroom. If students are still not improving after Tier 3 interventions, the school might consider special education evaluation. RTI is used in many elementary schools, but is working its way into middle and high schools.



Associated with: differentiation
Teachers provide temporary supports for students to help them learn a new skill or topic.  As students progress, teachers slowly remove the supports. Scaffolds might include providing sentence starters for a class discussion, teaching a mini-vocabulary lesson before reading a story that uses those words, or creating a simplified form of a reading.


Summative assessment

Associated with: differentiation, formative assessment
Usually a graded assignment (test, project, essay, etc) given the at the end of a unit to judge how much students know a topic or have mastered a skill.


Are there other terms you need explained? Add them in the comments below!


Related Post: Quick Guide to Types of K-12 SchoolsHow to Make the Most of Short Parent-Teacher Conferences, How to Help Your Teen Pick Next Year’s Classes

Education terms | Education jargon | Parent Teacher Conferences
Education terms | Education jargon | Parent Teacher Conferences

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