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Common Terms in Special Education

It’s important for parents of students with special needs to understand special education, as well as their child’s progress, so they can be the best possible advocates for their child.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

The term ‘individualized education program’ or ‘IEP’ refers to a written statement for each child with a disability that is developed, reviewed, and revised in accordance with federal law. The IEP guides a special education student’s learning. It is created for children between the ages of 3 and 22. It describes the amount of time that the child will spend receiving special education services, any related services the child will receive, and academic/behavioral expectations.

The IEP team meets at least once a year to talk about the child’s progress and make any needed changes to the plan.

IEP Team

The IEP Team, or Individualized Education Program Team, is a group of individuals including:

  • The parent(s) of the child;
  • At least one general education teacher of the child;
  • At least one special education teacher;
  • A representative of the Local Education Authority (LEA) who is qualified to provide, or supervises the provision of, specially designed instruction to meet the unique needs of children with disabilities, and is knowledgeable about the general curriculum and the availability of resources of the LEA;
  • An individual who can interpret assessment results and the related instructional implications;
  • Other individuals, at the discretion of the parent or the LEA, who have knowledge or special expertise regarding the child, including related services personnel, if appropriate; and
  • The child, if appropriate.

The IEP team is responsible for identifying and evaluating children with disabilities, developing, reviewing, or revising an IEP for a child with a disability, and determining the placement of a child with a disability in the least restrictive environment (LRE).

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Special education and related services that:

  • Are provided at public expense, under public supervision and direction, and without charge;
  • Meet the standards of the State Educational Agency, including the requirements of this party
  • Include an appropriate preschool, elementary school, or secondary school education; and
  • Are provided in conformity with an Individualized Education Program

IDEA: The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

This is the federal law that addresses most special education issues.


Inclusion is a mindset that encourages providing all children, including those with significant disabilities, with an equal opportunity to learn alongside their non-disabled peers in the general education classroom to the maximum extent possible with the necessary supports and services students need to make the most of their education.

Student Support Team (SST)

Each school has a core group of professionals that leads the work around all areas of student support in the building. This group of core professionals is known as the Student Support Team. The group includes, but is not limited to, administrators, guidance counselors, mental health professionals, nurses, math and literacy coaches, and attendance counselors.

As individuals, these professionals serve as resources for teachers and suggest targeted strategies and interventions in their area of expertise. As a group, they meet regularly to collaborate and address more complex cases of individual children who require targeted support.

Non-public school

A non-public school is an educational program that is run by a private person or group instead of by a government body. In terms of special education, a non-public school may be considered as the appropriate location to serve a student when a public school is unable to serve that student’s needs.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA) and Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

An FBA is a process used for students who have behavioral or emotional problems that are believed to be interfering with their educational progress or the progress of other students. During this process, the child’s IEP team identifies specific challenging behavior, the purpose of that behavior, and whether the behavior is interfering with the child’s educational progress.

The FBA leads to the development of a Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP) plan to teach acceptable alternative behavior. The BIP focuses on teaching new behaviors and skills, but also can require:

  • Modification of the school or classroom environment and activities;
  • Adaptation of curriculum and instructional delivery; and
  • Changes to the teacher-student relationship that has been promoting undesirable behavior.

Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE)

An independent educational evaluation is an evaluation of a child that is done by a qualified examiner who does not work for DCPS. According to IDEA, parents have the right to an IEE administered at public expense when a parent disputes the results of the school’s evaluation.

Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

Children with disabilities must be educated in the least restrictive environment that can meet their needs. This means that children with disabilities must be educated with their non-disabled peers to the maximum extent that is appropriate for their needs and abilities.

Office of State Superintendent of Education (OSSE)

The Office of the State Superintendent of Education is the state education agency for the District. As a result, OSSE sets statewide policies, provides resources and support, and ensures accountability for all public education in the District.

Prior Written Notice (PWN)

According to IDEA, parents must be notified in their native language before a school district makes or denies any changes to a child’s IEP. This includes before a child is evaluated, moved to or out of non-public placement and before changes in services are made. The purpose of this notice is to give parents an opportunity to respond to the proposed changes before they occur.

Department on Disability Services (DDS)

The DC Department on Disability Services, provides services to adults whose disabilities are a barrier to finding and maintaining competitive employment. In partnership with DCPS, DDS can begin working with DCPS students as early as age 14 to begin the process of determining whether their disability will be a barrier to finding and maintaining competitive employment.

Learn more about DDS.

Related Service Provider (RSP)

To learn more about the related services team and the services they provide, please visit the related services web section.

Special Education Coordinator (SEC), IEP Case Manager or Local Education Agency (LEA) Representative

The point of contact for all special education matters at a DCPS school. SECs, LEA Reps and IEP case managers are responsible for identifying children who may have a disability and for organizing all meetings related to special education. At some DCPS schools, a child’s teacher serves as his or her IEP case manager.

Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)

Students in grades 3–8 and students enrolled in Algebra I, Geometry, and English I & II will take the PARCC test. The PARCC test assesses what your child is learning in school and helps teachers and parents know if students are on track for success in college and careers.

Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA)

The Multi-State Alternate Assessment (MSAA) is a comprehensive assessment system designed to promote increasing higher academic outcomes for students with significant cognitive disabilities in preparation for a broader array of post-secondary outcomes.

MSAA in ELA/Literacy and Mathematics is required for students in grades 3-8 and 11, who qualify for the alternate assessment. MSAA is primarily administered online, with built-in supports to help students respond independently. Depending on students’ individual needs, some students will interact directly with the computer while others will interact with printed materials prepared by the test administrator.

MSAA includes:

  • Two Mathematics sessions, approximately 35-40 total items
  • Four ELA/Literacy sessions, approximately 35-40 total items

Most of the items on MSAA are selected response; however, some are constructed response. To engage with and become familiar with the presentation of MSAA items online and to test any assistive technology, sample items may be accessed on the MSAA website.