Glossary Of Education Terms

Click on a letter to go to that section of the glossary.

A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z



Accreditation – The process of evaluating a school’s quality of education.  Accrediting agencies, which are private regional and/or national educational associations, develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to assess whether or not certain specific criteria are met. Institutions and/or programs that request an agency’s evaluation and that meet an agency’s criteria are then “accredited” by that agency.  The U.S. Department of Education does not accredit educational institutions and/or programs. However, the Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list  of nationally recognized accrediting agencies he/she determines to be reliable.

Achievement gap – The performance  disparity between diverse student populations.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) – The measure of a student’s, school’s or district’s academic growth from one year to the next according to guidelines set under the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” renewal known as “No Child Left Behind”.

AP classes – Advanced Placement classes are rigorous high school classes designed to prepare students for college-level courses.

At-risk schools – Schools that may soon become labeled “high priority” for repeated inability to reach standards set by the federal “No Child Left Behind” law.

At-risk students – 1. Students at risk of dropping out. 2. Students who may not meet growth and progress benchmarks based on factors like excessive absenteeism, poverty, etc.

ASD – Alternative School District. Offers nontraditional school management, teaching, and/or curriculum.

Alternative High Schools – These schools for both existing and potential drop-outs (SEE “At-risk Students” above)  rely heavily on forming learning communities where both teacher and learner are empowered. Innovation and flexibility are usual practice in alternative high schools.

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) – The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 provided financial aid to school districts as part of a government program to spur economic activity. The Act was a direct response to the economic downturn and has three immediate goals:
1) Create new jobs and save existing ones. 2) Spur economic activity and invest in long-term growth. 3) Foster unprecedented levels of accountability and transparency in government spending
The Recovery Act intended to achieve those goals by providing $787 billion (later increased in 2011 to $840 billion) in: 1) Tax cuts and benefits for millions of working families and businesses. 2) Funding for entitlement programs, such as unemployment benefits. 3) Funding for federal contracts, grants and loans.



Blended learning – A mix of traditional and nontraditional instructional methods, often combining lecture with computer-based activities in a classroom.



Career ladder – A career pathway for educators with clear “steps” or “rungs” at intervals along the way usually tied to increased pay levels.  Career ladders set pay scale based on educator skill level and student academic progress instead of basing pay on years of experience and level of education.

Collaborative preschool systems  - a state-regulated preschool system that integrates the services of multiple providers including Head Start, Title 1 pre-k, private or nonprofit childcare centers and state-funded programs.

Cooperative learning –  Students are placed in small groups to synthesize classroom lessons.

Collaborative learning environment – A term applied to groups of teachers in schools meant to describe teachers working in close partnership towards a common goal.

Collaborative conferencing – A type of negotiation between teacher representatives and school board representatives formalized in 2011 in Tennessee to determine some conditions of employment. This process replaced collective bargaining.

Collective bargaining – A negotiation process between teacher representatives and school board representatives to determine the conditions of employment.  The interests of the teachers are often presented by representatives of a union or teachers’ association. The collective agreements reached by these negotiations usually set out wage scales, working hours, training, health and safety, overtime, and grievance mechanisms.

Cognitive development – The process of a child’s gain in thought processes and patterns through adulthood.  Cognitive Development is also a  field of study in neuroscience and psychology focusing on a child’s development in terms of information processing, conceptual resources, perceptual skill, language learning, and other aspects of brain development and cognitive psychology compared to an adult’s point of view. A large portion of research has gone into understanding how a child imagines the world.-

Cohort – In education, a group of people working together through the same academic program.  Usually refers to teachers working through teachers colleges, but can refer to group of students who work through a curriculum together to achieve the same academic degree together. A cohort forms when the students begin the curriculum and typically does not admit new members afterward.

Common Core – A group of similar standards many states are working to develop and share.  The standards are for English-language arts and math and the standards are for grades K-12. English  and math were the first subjects chosen for common core because these are subjects are  basic skills which students use to  build skill sets in other subject areas. They are also the subjects most frequently assessed for accountability purposes.

Charter school – A school within a public school district  run by an outside organization, such as a parent group or independent board. They are public schools paid for with taxpayer dollars, but have greater freedom to operate independently than traditional public schools.  Parents may choose to move their children/students from the public school to which they are normally assigned to an available charter school.

CTE – Career and Technical Education.

Comprehensive School Reform –  Refers to the Comprehensive School Reform Program, authorized under the 2002 Education and Secondary Education Act renewal commonly known as No Child Left Behind. The Comprehensive School Reform Program provided targeted grants to low-income/low-performance schools.

Classroom management – Commonly refers to handling issues outside of curriculum, such as classroom behavior and student attention.



Differential pay – Also known as merit pay or incentive pay, a model of teacher compensation based on  skills, student achievement scores, responsibilities and subject area rather than experience and education level.

Differentiated instruction – An instructional theory in which teachers provide students different ways to access curriculum, tailoring the lesson to each student.

Dropout factory –  A term used to describe a high school with chronically low graduation rates, where typically where no more than 60% of starting freshmen make it to graduation.

Dual enrollment – A program allowing a student to be enrolled in two sepapate academic institutions simultaneously. Generally, it refers to high school students taking college courses in addition to their high school classes. Credits earned from dual enrollment may be applied to high school graduation requirements, or toward college degree requirements or both.  At colleges and universities, it also refers to pursuing simultaneous degrees in two disparate disciplines, such as a B.A. in literature and a B.S. in chemistry.



End of Course (EOC) exams – Exams given at the end of a course to measure student knowledge and aptitude; often used to determine if that student has acquired the skills to move to the next grade level.

English Language Learners (ELL) – Students who are learning to speak English while learning other material.

English as a Second Language (ESL) – Sometimes used interchangeably with ELL (above), this term refers to students who are learning English after learning another language.

Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) –  President Lyndon B. Johnson published the first version of this act in 1965 to provide equal education despite income level. Congress would renew the act every five years.  The act was significantly rewritten and renewed in 2002; that version became known as “No Child Left Behind.”



Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) – The Family Education Rights and Privacy Act is a federal law that protects the privacy of student education records.  The law applies to all schools that receive funds under an applicable program of the U.S. Department of Education.  FERPA gives parents certain rights with respect to their children’s education records. These rights transfer to the student when he or she reaches the age of 18 or attends a school beyond the high school level.  The eligible student has the right to have access to his or her education records, the right to seek to have the records amended, the right to have control over the disclosure of personally identifiable information from the records, and the right to file a complaint with the Department.

Flipped Classrooms/Flipped Learning - (sometimes referred to as “blended learning”) A reversed teaching model that delivers instruction at home through interactive, teacher-created videos and moves “homework” to the classroom. Proponents say moving lectures outside of the classroom allows teachers to spend more one-on-one time with each student and focus more attention on those who are struggling.  Rather than listening to a lecture, students have the opportunity to ask questions and work through problems under the guidance of their teachers.

Free or reduced-priced lunch (FRPL) –  Students receive this program based on household income and poverty level. The percentage of FRL students at a school is often used to determine Title I status.



Gifted and Talented Education (GATE) –  ‘Gifted and talented’ is a broad definition for programs and resources tailored to students identified as performing at  what the National Association for Gifted Children calls “outstanding levels of competence.”  The NAGC also says  there is no universal standard to define a “gifted” student.

Graduation rate – The percentage of total students who begin high school or college in a certain year as freshmen, and earn a diploma within a specified period of time. For high school, this is generally four years. For college, it’s 6 years to get a bachelor’s degree.

GHSGT (Georgia High School Graduation Test) – Administered to all Georgia students in 11th grade to test knowledge in four core subjects (English Language Arts, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies). This test is part of state requirements for high school graduation.



Head Start program –  Head Start is a national program that promotes school readiness. The Head Start program provides grants to local public and private non-profit and for-profit agencies to provide comprehensive child development services to economically disadvantaged children and families, with a special focus on helping preschoolers develop the early reading and math skills they need to be successful in school.

HOPE scholarships – Lottery-funded merit scholarships available in Tennessee and Georgia.  Georgia began the program in 1993; Tennessee followed suit in 2004.

Higher order thinking skills –  The ability to analyze, synthesize and evaluate, stepping  beyond  basic recall and comprehension. Term coined by Benjamin Bloom, Bloom’s Taxonomy, 1956.

Highly qualified teacher (under NCLB) – By the 2005-06 school year, all current teachers had to meet federal quality standards for licensure including at least a bachelor’s degree,  valid state certification and a demonstrated core content expertise in the subject(s) they taught. The US Department of Education also published guidelines for flexibility in some local districts.



IEP: (Individualized Education Program). Students with learning disabilities may be eligible to undertake a specially tailored program of study. The plan is generally agreed upon in through consultation between parents, teachers and other administrators. The plan lists the educational goals of a student as well as any special assistance the student may require to attain those goals. IEP regulations are federally mandated through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (O.S.E.R.S.).

Inclusion –  The concept of inclusion is based on the idea that students with disabilities should not be segregated, but should be included in a classroom with their typically developing peers. A student in an inclusion classroom usually needs only to show that he/she is not losing out from being included in the classroom, even if he/she is not necessarily making any significant gains. Proponents of inclusion tend to put more of an emphasis on life preparation and social skills than on the acquisition of level-appropriate academic skills. Although the terms “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” may be used interchangeably at times, they are in fact two very different movements.  (See Mainstreaming)

I3 grant – The American Recovery and Investment Act of 2009 funded I3 grants.  Local education agencies and nonprofit groups working with those agencies apply for the grants in yearly competitions much like Race to the Top, but on a smaller local scale. The U.S. Department of Education says winners must show investment in “innovative practices that are demonstrated to have an impact on improving student achievement or student growth, closing achievement gaps, decreasing dropout rates, increasing high school graduation rates, or increasing college enrollment and completion rates.”

“Inquiry based learning” –  Inquiry-based learning is an instructional method developed during the discovery learning movement of the 1960s. It was developed in response to a perceived failure of more traditional forms of instruction, where students were required simply to memorize fact-laden instructional materials. Inquiry learning is a form of active learning, where progress is assessed by how well students develop experimental and analytical skills rather than how much knowledge they possess.



Joint enrollment –  See dual enrollment.

Just cause  - Just cause is sufficient or legally acceptable reason; as it relates to education, it refers to the grounds on which a school board or other authority  may dismiss a tenured teacher.  Teacher unions play a role when the employee requests representation in dismissal hearings under Weingarten rights.



K-12 – Common abbreviation for references to kindergarten through 12th grades.



LEA (Local Education Agency) — An LEA is synonymous with a school district or a local agency that operates public schools. Traditionally, LEA’s have included schools of various levels (elementary, middle, and high schools) and is responsible for providing the instruction and support services to educate members of the community. This includes setting budgets, allocating funds, creating policies, supervising hiring new teachers—basically running a school district. Under NCLB, the term LEA has become more commonly used, as the federal law requires these agencies to demonstrate that their schools meet government standards and have plans to address areas of weakness..

Licensure – A formal process of earning/granting certification to teach in K-12 public schools.
For more on licensure, visit our teacher quality resource guide.

Limited contracts – These contracts do not guarantee contract renewal from year-to-year.  Limited teacher contracts usually last for one year; some may cover a two-year term of employment.

LEP (Limited English Proficiency) -  This refers to students who are unable to communicate effectively in English because it is not their primary language and they have not yet developed English fluency.



Mainstreaming –  The concept of mainstreaming is based on idea that students with disabilities may benefit from being in a general education classroom, both academically and socially. A mainstreamed student may have slight adjustments in how he/she is assessed, but learns mostly the same material and must show that he/ she is gaining from her classroom placement. Although the terms “mainstreaming” and “inclusion” may be used interchangeably at times, they are in fact two very different movements.  (See Inclusion)

Master Teacher – This term is valued by many educators, but its definition varies from state to state and among school districts.  A growing number of experts believe the true definition of Master Teacher is based not on awards, years of service, or degrees earned but rather a set of qualities that distinguish these teachers—including an on-going desire to improve their skills and knowledge as professional educators. Other qualities often associated with Master Teachers are: good communication skills; strong connection with students;  flexibility in teaching approach; placing students needs first; and allowing students to take ownership of learning.

Motor skills – learned sequences of movement that develop over time so a body can grow to efficiently or automatically execute tasks.

Magnet school – A public school with specialized courses or curricula that draws students from an entire district. They can be elementary schools, middle schools or high schools. They may offer concentrations in the arts or trades, or provide classes for gifted students. Magnet schools first became popular in the South in the 1960’s and 1970’s, as a way to hasten desegregation voluntarily.

MFP – Acronym/common abbreviation for Minimum Foundation Program, Louisiana’s school funding formula. The MFP is calculated on a district-by-district per-pupil basis. It adds extra money for special needs students and for “at risk” students (those that qualify for free or reduced lunch). It pays extra to districts with no local funding support, and reduces the amount for districts with high local funding support.

Meta-discipline – The creation of a discipline based on the integration of other disciplinary knowledge into a new ‘whole’



NAEP – The National Assessment of Educational Progress conducts tests in mathematics, reading, science, writing, the arts, civics, economics, geography, and U.S. history.  Since all students take the same test and the assessment stays the same from year to year, the NAEP provides a benchmark for comparing student academic progress nationally over time.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) - The No Child Left Behind Act (or NCLB) is a landmark piece of federal legislation that ushered an era of data-and standards-based accountability into American education.
The law dramatically increased the federal role in the oversight of public education. And it is both credited for creating a new focus on student achievement and blamed for generating an over-reliance on standardized testing in schools. “No Child Left Behind” is in fact the popular name of reauthorization of the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” (ESEA). (For more on NCLB, please go to our NCLB Topic Guide)

NCLB waiver – In September 2011,  The U.S. Department of Education offered State educational agencies an opportunity to request flexibility (or a “waiver”) on specific requirements mandated by the federal NCLB Act of 2001. This voluntary opportunity offered to  provide such waivers in exchange for rigorous and comprehensive State-developed plans designed to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.

National boards – A set or series of tests teachers take for certification. This does not guarantee licensure in states, as most states have their own set of tests for certification.





Professional Learning Community (or communities) (PLCs) – Teachers in PLCs are encouraged to collaborate and share teaching techniques as well as ideas for classrooms through the year.

Professional development – Continuing education for school personnel, particularly teachers and administrators. Individual schools and districts designate days for professional development, and may hold workshops or seminars on pedagogy or specific subjects.  In the parlance of teacher evaluations, professional development may be required if a classroom instructor receives an unsatisfactory review. That teacher may be required to take refresher courses or additional classes from a university’s college of education.

Proficiency – Demonstrated mastery of classroom skills.  Oregon is an example of a state using proficiency-based education, a method that denies students classroom credit for homework and other assignments, instead basing credit only on each student’s demonstrated knowledge.

PECCA (Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act), Tennessee – In 2011, the Tennessee legislature passed the Professional Educators Collaborative Conferencing Act, replacing the 1978 Education Professional Negotiations Act.  PECCA replaced the former collective bargaining process with collaborative conferencing.

PELL grants –  The Federal Pell Grant Program provides need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain postbaccalaureate students to promote access to postsecondary education. Students may use their grants at any one of approximately 5,400 participating postsecondary institutions. Grant amounts are dependent on: the student’s expected family contribution (EFC); the cost of attendance (as determined by the institution); the student’s enrollment status (full-time or part-time); and whether the student attends for a full academic year or less.

Performance measures – Benchmarks of a student’s or teacher’s progress over time.  Performance measures often include both behavioral expectations (standards) and achievement expectations (indicators) and both must be met to meet adequate progress requirements.

Problem-based learning – Different from project-based learning, problem-based learning gives students a single question, or problem, within the classroom.  Students then generate further questions while working on/through the project.

Project-based learning – Different from problem-based learning, project-based learning gives students a single task, or project, within the classroom.  Students then explore the central tenets of the lesson while working on/through the project.





Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge – A 2011 federally-administered competition between states for a share of $4.35 billion.  States were asked to put forth “ambitious” development plans to increase the number of kids in early learning programs, synthesize collaboration between these programs and improve quality and accountability measures.

Race to the Top  - A three-phase federally-administered competition among states for a share of $4.35 billion set aside under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  States were asked to submit plans to show they were “creating conditions for education and innovation reform” including improving student outcomes, closing achievement gaps, improving graduation rates and showing student preparation for college programs.  Tennessee was an early winner, netting $501 million in the first round of competitions.  Georgia got $400 million in phase two; Louisiana received a share of $200 million in the third round.

Rubric – A grading or scoring system.  Rubrics communicate expectations, guide evaluation and set performance ranges.

Reciprocity – In education, the ability to transfer education credits such as test scores and teacher credentials across state lines.



Socioemotional skills – A social and emotional intelligence or skill set that is critical to building virtuous character and communicating and working well with others.

Special education (SPED) –  ‘Special education’ is a broad definition for programs and resources tailored to students with a wide spectrum of physical and/or psychological disabilities.

Step and lane salary scales – Common teacher pay scales that increase teacher pay based on seniority and experience.  Teachers may change positions on the scales by earning advanced education degrees and/or through time spent at a school.

School Improvement Grant (SIG) – School Improvement Grants (SIG), authorized under section 1003(g) of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, are grants to State Educational Agencies (SEAs) that SEAs use to make competitive subgrants to local educational agencies (LEAs) that demonstrate the greatest need for the funds and the strongest commitment to use the funds to provide adequate resources in order to raise substantially the achievement of students in their lowest-performing schools.

Seat-time requirements – The number of days or hours a student must attend class each school year or semester, in order to receive credit for completing the course or grade level. Also known as mandatory or compulsory school attendance time. For high school, it is often part of the diploma requirements, though some states–such as Alabama–give course credit based on course content mastery instead of classroom time.  Overall, seat-time is related to attendance requirements and instructional days. While allowable numbers and types of absences vary from state-to-state and district-to district, Southern Education Desk states all have laws mandating the number of “instructional days” each school year.  In Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi and Tennessee, it is 180 days. In Louisiana, it is 177 days.

Stealth Learning - A term for lessons that don’t appear to be lessons. For example, using computer games that have academic information and skills inserted, so that by playing the games students learn without realizing it.

STEM – STEM is an acronym for the fields of study in the categories of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.  The initiative was started to address the perceived lack of qualified candidates for high-tech jobs. It also addresses concerns that the subjects are often taught in isolation, instead of as an integrated curriculum.  Maintaining a citizenry that is well versed in the STEM fields is considered a key portion of the public education agenda of the United States.

Strategic compensation – Pay based on performance, especially student test scores and principal evaluations.

School choice – School choice, in its broadest sense, is a simple idea: that families should be able to choose what school their children attend, including charter schools, vouchers and home-schooling. Some proponents of school choice argue that families should not be bound to their neighborhood public school if that school is failing their children. Critics of choice-based models often argue that instead of spending public money on offering students a way out, those funds should be used to improve the neighborhood schools. For more on school choice, go to our Topic Guide: What You Need To Know: School Choice, Charter Schools And Vouchers

Supplemental Educational Services (SES) – Low-income families can enroll their child in supplemental educational services if their child attends a Title I school that has been designated by the state to be in need of improvement for more than one year. The term “supplemental educational services” refers to free extra academic help, such as tutoring or remedial help, that is provided to students in subjects such as reading, language arts, and math. This extra help can be provided before or after school, on weekends, or in the summer.  Each State Education Agency is required to identify organizations that qualify to provide these services. Districts must make a list available to parents of state-approved supplemental educational services providers in the area and must let parents choose the provider that will best meet the educational needs of the child.

Southern Regional Education Board (SREB) - SREB is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization founded by the region’s governors and legislators in 1948. The organization to improve public pre-K-12 and higher education in its 16 member states–AL, AR, DE, FL, GA, KY, LA, MD, MS, NC, OK, SC, TN, TX, VA, WV. The SREB is governed by a Board that includes the governor and four gubernatorial appointees from each member state, including at least one state legislator and one educator. It is supported by annual appropriations from the member states and by funds from philanthropic foundations and state and federal agencies. Also see the 2011 SREB Annual Report: Helping States, Helping Students.

Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) – SACS confers accreditation based on specific standards.   (See also “Accreditation”)

SWD – Students with disabilities



Title I pre-K programs –  public school preschool services paid for by Title I funding – federal money allocated to schools with high poverty .  Title I preschool is a form of targeted intervention, or a particular education service (in this case, preschool),  that works to enhance academic performance for students at risk of failing or dropping out.

Title I schools – High poverty schools defined under NCLB standards as schools where at least 40 percent of the children in the school attendance area are from low-income families or at least 40 percent of the student enrollment are from low-income families.

TCAP – Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program achievement test, given in grades 3 – 8, to assess skills in reading, math, science and social studies.

Tennessee Educator Acceleration Model (TEAM) – Tennessee’s baseline model for teacher evaluations.

Teacher colleges -Schools or colleges where students can earn a specialty bachelor’s or master’s degree with an emphasis or certification in teaching.

Teacher Incentive Fund (TIF) – The U.S. Department of Education Office of Academic Improvement and  Teacher Quality Programs awards grants for states to implement performance measures like teacher evaluations, differential pay, and recognition systems to evaluate educators and schools.

Tennessee Basic Education Plan (BEP) – The Tennessee Basic Education Plan is a funding formula the state of Tennessee uses to distribute state funds to districts.

Tenure – Status granted to a teacher after a probationary period, usually indicating that the position is permanent except in extenuating circumstances.

Tennessee Value Added Assessment System (TVAAS) – Data measurement over time showing student academic growth used as a measurement for Tennessee teacher evaluations.

Tracking – The process of sorting students into sets or classrooms or courses based on perceived or real ability or intelligence.





Value Added. This is a grading system for teachers. It bases teachers’ scores on fluctuation in students’ standardized test grades in math and reading. Value Added is intended to provide administrators with information on teacher effectiveness: if students’ scores rise, their teacher is thought to be providing quality instruction. The reverse is thought to be true if students’ score fall. Teachers’ unions generally oppose the system, arguing that because students come from various backgrounds and possess different skill sets, standardized tests cannot provide accurate information about a teacher’s ability. The system is in place in a number of states, including Tennessee. Mississippi and Georgia both have Value Added pilot programs in use, and Louisiana will implement it fully in the 2012-2013 school year.

Voluntary pre-K – preschool that is optional and which contrasts to mandatory enrollment usually beginning in first grade.

Vouchers –  School vouchers are programs that use taxpayer dollars to fund students’ private school educations. The first modern voucher program was introduced in Milwaukee in the early 1990s, and other programs soon followed in states like Florida, Georgia and Louisiana.  Right now, 12 states and Washington, D.C. offer voucher or scholarship tax credit programs. For more on Vouchers, go to our Topic Guide: What You Need To Know: School Choice, Charter Schools And Vouchers