In every profession there are terms, phrases, and abbreviations that are common knowledge only to insiders. For those on the outside, the lingo can be very confusing. This brief glossary is intended to offer simple explanations of what are sometimes complex issues in education.  It is far from complete, but may help you better understand important trends and topics.  We encourage you to submit any terms to the school that come up at parent conference time that you would like added to this list.

Alternative Assessment - Alternative assessment differs from traditional assessment that it often requires the child to perform a task rather than just bubble in an answer on a multiple-choice test or "fill in the blank" of a question. Alternative assessment might require the child to respond by writing a paragraph to explain reasoning on a math problem; create a graph using appropriate data; write an essay to persuade, explain or tell a story; present an oral report; or actually perform an experiment such as creating a simple electrical circuit.

Anecdotal records – They are simple notes that the teacher might take while observing a child as he performs a task. Anecdotal records might record the kinds of reading or math errors a child consistently makes or the kind of misconceptions she has about a subject. These reports are intended to help the teacher shape future instruction for the child.

Assessment - Assessment is a way of studying or judging what the child knows and does not know. Its purpose is to shape future instruction to meet goals for the child's academic growth. Assessment may come in many forms.


Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) - Attention Deficit Disorder refers to an individual's inability to concentrate on any one subject or activity for any length of time. In the school setting, this often results in students that miss directions or information because they are not paying attention. While many students suffer from this to a certain degree, it becomes a major problem if the child fails to make academic progress because of this condition. In severe cases, ADD is treated with medication, such as Ritalin.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the same as ADD except that it is compounded by the child's inability to control body motion. In essence, this is the child who cannot sit still to hear a story, play a game or eat a meal. In severe cases ADHD is treated with medication, such as Ritalin.

Auditory Discrimination - Auditory discrimination is the ability to differentiate between sounds. For example, the brain should be able to recognize that "cat" is different from "pat" or "sat." Children who find it hard to hear these differences often have difficulty learning to speak, read, write, and spell.

Auditory Processing - Auditory processing is often paired with the term auditory discrimination. While auditory discrimination refers to the ear's ability to hear differences, auditory processing refers to the brain's ability to process, and make sense of, the sounds of words and their meanings.

Authentic Assessment - Authentic assessment is that in which the child must perform a task to demonstrate knowledge or competence in a skill. The child might have to conduct an experiment, present a speech, or play an instrument or game to prove that he knows and understands the material that has been presented. This is popular because it gives the instructor much more information about the student's knowledge and skills than a paper and pencil test.

Benchmark – The skills the student needs for each grade level in each of the nine subject areas: career and technical education, fine arts, health, language arts, math, physical education, science, social studies and world languages

Constructed Response - An answer on a test or homework assignment that could include writing, illustrations, charts, graphs and other forms of description to show how the answer was achieved

Cooperative Learning – Cooperative Learning is a method in which the teacher expects students to cooperate on a group project for a common grade. In a group of four students working on an oral report, for example, one child may take on the responsibility of researching facts, another child of conducting experiments, another of creating posters or charts, and the fourth of actually presenting the findings. All of the children would be working on a common topic and would receive a common grade for their project. In simpler settings, cooperative learning might mean simply pooling ideas, brainstorming, or helping each other to complete an activity.

Curriculum - The curriculum is the map of everything the teacher is supposed to teach for the year. Curriculums are established by the school district under the guidelines of the state education department and in cooperation with national organizations that develop standards for particular subjects, such as the National Science Teachers Association and the National Council of Teachers of English.

Decoding Skills - When children encounter a new word or phrase, they should immediately try to "decode" the word using what they know about letter sounds and the rules of grammar. Thus, a word starting with "sh" should prompt a child to make the "sh" sound as in "shut." If that fails to produce a word that is familiar, the child might skip the word and read past it for some clues to its meaning or may reread the sentence for syntactical clues as to what would logically come next in the sentence. All of these methods of deciphering a new word are "decoding skills."

Dyslexia - Individuals with dyslexia commonly confuse the appearance and order of letters, words, and events. Simple examples of this would include the child who sees the word "how" but reads it as "who" or wants to write the word "saw" but instead writes the word "was." Dyslexia is most obvious when dealing with the printed word, but in severe cases the individuals have trouble speaking sentences in the correct order or retelling stories or events.  At this time there is no known cause or cure for dyslexia. Most dyslexic individuals are of above-average intelligence and, with the help of special teachers, they learn to compensate for their disability.

Exemplar – The student's example of an answer that shows what has been done to achieve a grade of MP (meets proficiency) or ME (meets with excellence)

Fine Motor Skills - Fine motor skills are those that require us to use our smallest muscles for very slight controlled movements. Fine motor skills are usually associated with a child's ability to fit small Legos together, control a crayon or pencil, or work a puzzle. These usually develop long after the child has control of large muscles.

Grade Level - The term "grade level" usually refers to a mix of the child's chronological age and academic material. Educators and researchers have teamed up to determine what is expected of a child of a certain age in a certain grade in school. Thus, we expect a child on "grade level" at kindergarten to be learning letters and letter sounds that go with them; we expect a child on "grade level" at fourth grade to be able to write a five-paragraph report.

Gross Motor Skills - Gross motor skills are those skills that require us to use our largest muscles for grand motions such as walking, running, or throwing a ball. These usually develop long before the child has fine motor skills.

Guided Reading – An instructional approach that involves a teacher working with small groups of students who demonstrate similar reading behaviors and can all read similar levels of text.  The texts they read offer challenges and opportunities for problem solving.

Hands-on Activities - Hands-on activities are those in which the child actually manipulates objects, creates a model or performs an experiment. A child using paper and pencil learning might just memorize multiplication facts; a child in a hands-on environment would create rows of tiles or cubes showing three items four times and counting that there were 12 cubes. A child in a hands-on environment would actually create an electrical circuit instead of reading about it in a textbook.

Inference - This is the one area of all testing where children consistently get the lowest scores. To infer means to draw a conclusion from the information presented. Because children have such difficulty in doing this, teachers often hear the refrain, "But it doesn't say that in here!" An example of an inference: The story of Cinderella does not say her age or size, but you can infer that Cinderella was young and petite because hers was the only foot that would fit in the tiny glass slipper.

Invented Spelling – This is the way children first attempt to write words based on their sounds. For example, a first-grader might invent these spellings: "Ritng is eze if yoo no how to spel all the wrds."
With invented spelling, young children think first about what they'd like to say. Spelling comes later, as children develop. Teachers find that children using invented spelling write more richly. Young children find that writing about their interests -- instead of laboring over spelling -- is much more fun.

Learning Styles - Not all children learn the same way. For example, some people must write their grocery list down, while others can memorize it by repeating it over and over again; still others can visualize the pantry or refrigerator while they're at the store and recall what they need to buy. These learning styles are tactile, auditory, and visual. Good teachers provide a variety of learning methods. For example, to teach the multiplication tables, she might provide flash cards for visual learners, sing the tables out loud for auditory learners, and write them over and over again or use manipulatives for tactile learners.


PBIS - PBIS is a framework for organizing the staff and students to create a social culture in school that will encourage positive behavior and interactions, while discouraging problem behaviors among students.

Phonics – The used term for the sounds that letters and letter-groups make. The teaching of phonics involves learning which sounds go with which letters. In other words, it's decoding this thing we call "writing." For example, the letter C makes both a hard "k" sound and a soft "s" sound.

Remediation - Remediation is the re-teaching of skills that the child did not master when they were presented in the regular classroom instruction. Students might be remediated in only one or two concepts, such as place value or multiplication in math, or they may need more extensive remediations such as Academic Intervention Services. (AIS)

Rubric  - A rubric is the term for the instrument used to grade alternative or performance assessments. This is usually a list or chart stating requirements for various levels of performance on a project or in an activity. For example, if the child is studying electricity and the teacher requires a performance assessment, the rubric might state that the child must complete a circuit using two batteries, two bulbs and wires to create a parallel circuit with two switches. Another example might be a rubric for a child's book report, stating that the child will create a poster about the book, dress in a costume of the main character, present an oral report intended to persuade others to read the book, and compose a three-paragraph summary of the book. The rubric clearly states to what degree the child must perform each step in order to reach a specific grade or level. A rubric can show specific criteria for reaching various levels of achievement on a specific task or skill, from "unsatisfactory" to "excellent."

Sequencing - Sequencing refers to the order of events. On many standardized tests, children are asked to retell a story in the correct order that the events happened. Or, they may be asked to read a passage and interpret instructions to perform them in the right sequence. Children often score poorly on these parts of the tests.

Sight Words - In traditional Sight Word reading instruction, children were not taught phonics, the sounds of letters, at all. Instead, they were taught to memorize the way words looked and to say the correct word when they came to it. Thus, a child seeing the word "good" would just have to remember it, rather than make the phonetic sounds to figure it out.  In modern reading instruction, most teachers use a combination of sight words and phonics to teach the skill of decoding unfamiliar words. Now "sight words" are those which the child must memorize because they do not fit the traditional rules for sounding them out using phonetic rules.

Standardized tests – These are those that are given across a district, state or nation. They have been prepared by professionals, field-tested and piloted in many classrooms. They differ greatly from teacher-created tests in that they are purchased by the district for comparison purposes, given only once a year, sent away for scoring and reporting purposes, used to measure student readiness for the next grade, usually quite lengthy, and given in a very formal setting. Usually standardized tests are timed.

Standards - Almost every group associated with education has a concept of what children should know and be able to do at a particular grade level. Several groups have made guidelines for writers of textbooks and standardized assessments, curriculum planners, administrators, teacher evaluators, and many others. Generally speaking, the "standards" are the list around which any school district or teacher has chosen to build their curriculum. National associations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTE) and the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) have listed what they think children should be taught. Most local and state departments of education have also created a list of standards. These are the guidelines for most state-sponsored tests.

Visual Discrimination - Visual discrimination is the ability of the brain to quickly tell the difference among visually similar letters, like "p," "b," and "q" or between words such as "was" and "saw." Students with difficulty making these distinctions often struggle with learning to read, write, and spell.

Writing Process - Writing as a process is a method of teaching children written expression by constantly exposing them to the printed word. It is analogous to the whole language strategy for reading. Children using this method of learning to write may use unlined paper, invented spelling, and lots of journal writing. Writing Process advocates accept children's written expression errors, reasoning that these errors will disappear as children learn more and more about writing, reading, and speaking.

Writing Traits – These are the common characteristics of good writing.  Organized into six categories that include: ideas, organization, voice, word choice, sentence fluency, and conventions.

The definitions on this page come from district plans and materials as well as a variety of educational sources, most notably scholastic.com under a page entitled teacher translator.