Special Education Acronyms and Glossary of Terms and Definitions

Acronyms and Glossary of Terms

Special Education Acronyms from Support for Families of Children with Disabilities

Key Definitions in IDEA | A Reference List from Center for Parent Information & Resources

Spanish and Cantonese Definitions

Spanish Glossary of Common Terms Related to IDEA from the Office of Special Education Programs (OSEP) 

Special Education Definitions in Spanish and Cantonese from Support for Families of Children with Disabilities

Glossary of Terms


An abeyance is a temporary halt to something, with the emphasis on "temporary." 


Accessibility is the “ability to access” the functionality and benefit of some system or entity. This term is used to describe the degree to which a product (such as a device, a service, or an environment) is accessible by as many people as possible.


Accommodations are adaptations made for specific individuals with disabilities (as defined by law) when a product or service isn’t accessible.

Adaptive Software

Adaptive software is any software or program that builds a model of the preferences, goals, and knowledge of each individual student and uses that model throughout the interaction with the student in order to adapt to that student’s assessed needs.

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR)

Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) is a mediation for the resolution of complaints between parents and school district personnel in a cooperative forum of problem- solving conducted by skilled neutral facilitators who are not SFUSD employees.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA is a federal civil rights law that provides legal protections for individuals with disabilities from discrimination in employment, state and local government, public accommodations, commercial facilities, telecommunications, and transportation. Title II of the ADA requires schools to make educational opportunities, extracurricular activities, and facilities open and accessible to all students. These provisions apply to brick-and-mortar and online schooling.


The observing and testing of children in order to identify their strengths and needs, to develop appropriate educational programs, and to monitor progress.

Assessment Plan

The description of the battery of tests (psychological, achievement, language, etc.) to be used in a particular student's assessment.

Assistive Technology

Assistive technology (AT) is any item, piece of equipment, or product system, whether acquired commercially off the shelf, modified, or customized, that is used to increase, maintain, or improve the functional capabilities of a child with a disability.

Asynchronous vs. Synchronous instruction 

Asynchronous instruction is teaching that is offered at a different place or time than when or where the actual instruction is being provided (e.g., video modules that students can access without being connected to an instructor or peers in real time). In contrast, synchronous instruction can happen in different locations, but it occurs at the same time that the instruction is being delivered. It’s delivered through methods such as real-time chats and videoconferencing.

Community Advisory Council for Special Education (CAC)

A group of parents of children with disabilities, members of the community, students and special education professionals who advise the school board and school district administration about special education programs.

Distance Learning

Distance learning involves how students engage in learning and make academic progress when they are not physically present in schools. This is accomplished using a variety of digital and print resources, and differentiated modes of interaction with teachers and peers, when possible. How teachers engage students in distance learning is informed by the student’s access to technology and the internet.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The nation’s main law governing K–12 education, ESSA calls for states, districts, and schools to provide students access to challenging academic standards and holds schools accountable for the success of students, including students with disabilities and other subgroups. 

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE), a cornerstone of the IDEA, our nation’s special education law, is that each eligible child with a disability is entitled to a FAPE that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet the child’s unique needs and that prepares the child for further education, employment, and independent living.

Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act

The nation’s main law governing specific rights of K–12 students with disabilities (and a civil rights law), IDEA entitles all public school students to a free appropriate public education (FAPE). Students suspected of having a disability have the right to a free evaluation, and students deemed eligible for special education have the right to special education and related services.

Individualized Education Program

An IEP is a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services. 

Least restrictive environment (LRE)

A term meaning that children with disabilities must be educated (to the maximum extent appropriate) with children without disabilities.

Non-public school (NPS)

A private placement under contract with the district and certified by the state, to service pupils with disabilities whose needs can not be served by the special education programs offered within the SFUSD.

Prior Written Notice (PWN)

A Prior Written Notice (PWN) is a document that informs (provides notice to) a parent/guardian/education rights holder of actions that the school intends to take in regard to their child’s Individualized Education Program.

Progress Reports

Progress Reports must, at a minimum: inform parents of their child's progress toward each annual goal; determine whether progress is sufficient for their child to achieve the goals by the annual IEP due date; must be reported on when report cards are sent out ( a copy must be sent home to parent/guardian)

Related Services

Related services is the term for those services a disabled child needs in order to benefit from special education. Related services include speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, and rehabilitation counseling are related services. Transportation to school is a related service.

Resource Specialist Program (RSP)

Students who can participate in regular education may also receive special education instruction in the RSP. These students can receive services within the classroom, or can be "pulled out" of the regular education classroom for special assistance during specific periods of the day or week and are taught by credentialed teachers with resource specialist authorization.

SB 117

SB-117 is emergency legislation signed by Governor Newsom on March 17, 2020. SB-117 waived certain special education timelines in California, such as sending an assessment plan or responding to records requests.

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act prohibits discrimination in the education of children and youth with disabilities; vocational education; college and other post-secondary programs; employment; health, welfare and other social programs; and other programs and activities that receive federal funds

SOAR Academy

SOAR is a special education setting that is designed to support students whose disabilities significantly impact their emotional regulation, social skills, and behaviors. SOAR stands for Success, Opportunity, Achievement and Resilience.

Special Day Class (SDC)

Special education service setting comprised entirely of special education students.

Special Education (SPED)

Instruction or education that is required to meet the needs of children with special needs that cannot be supplied through modification in the regular education program.

Special Education Intake Unit (SEIU)

The intake center within Special Education Services which processes the referrals and conducts the assessments of children referred for special education services.

Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)

The county office from which some special education services are funded; SFUSD is both a local school district and the county office for San Francisco.

Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI)

Specialized academic instruction (SAI) is determined by the IEP team and is derived from assessment information, data collected, and goals/objectives developed in the student's area(s) of need. Each student's educational needs are unique; thus, SAI and services may vary greatly between students.

Student Success Team (SST)

A regular education process designed to make preliminary modifications within the regular education program of a student not succeeding in class. Each SST is to meet on a weekly basis.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

UDL is a way to optimize teaching to effectively instruct a diverse group of learners. The approach is based on insights from the science of how people learn. It emphasizes accessibility in how students access material, engage with it, and show what they have learned. UDL can be applied to in-person or virtual educational settings.

This page was last updated on June 28, 2022