There are so many different terms that parents need to understand when it comes to Individualized Education Plans (IEP).  It can be very stressful going into an IEP meeting or reading through documentation about supports available to your child, and the last thing you want to happen is not being sure if you understand what is being said. 

This is a glossary of common terms related to Special Education and IEPs that can be used for reference when you are preparing for an IEP meeting.


Adaptations (aka accommodations) are techniques and materials that are used by individuals with special needs to allow them to complete their school work within an easier and more effective manner. This can include the teacher using strategies for assignments and tests that would enable the student to demonstrate their mastery of the concepts required by the learning outcomes of the course.  Adaptations do not change the learning outcomes of the course, they may change how these outcomes are presented to the student and, or how, their knowledge of the information is assessed.



Assessment is a broad term used to describe the process of collecting information about a student’s performance in a specific area. This information is then used to make educational decisions for the student.

Assistive Technology (AT) 

Assistive technology is any piece of equipment an individual with special needs uses to help them function or learn in the environment they are in.  Assistive technology can be something as simple as using a highlighter on tests to help identify the important concepts in a test question or something more advanced like a using a device with text to speech software that allows text to be read to them.


Behaviour Intervention Plan (BIP)

A behaviour intervention plan includes strategies designed to prevent and stop the problem behaviour.  The strategies are typically designed to teach and reward positive behaviour with the goal of the student being educated in the least restrictive environment.



The curriculum is the knowledge and skills that are to be learned by students in a given grade.  In British Columbia, these are referred to as the Learning Outcomes. 


Differentiated Instruction

Differentiated instruction uses teaching strategies that allow for a wide range of abilities and learning styles. It can address content, process, procedures, methods of delivering instruction, methods for assessing learning, and ways to communicate learning.


A disability is a condition that is recognized by law and qualifies an individual to receive an Individualized Education Plan.


Goals and Objectives

Goals and objectives are a written component that is included in the IEP.  It lists the specific skills unique to the student, and they are expected to be achieved within the school year. The goals and objectives do not have to be limited to academics.  They can include functional skills the student will require in everyday life. These goals and objectives need to be both reasonable and measurable.



Inclusion is a principle stating that all students are entitled to equitable access to their education.  This does not necessarily mean their learning will take place in an integrated environment with their general education peers.  It means the student will be able to participate and interact with others.


Individualized Education Plan (IEP) 

An IEP is an annually written document that is developed for a student with special needs.  It describes how the student’s education is different from their peers by stating any additional services they require to meet their needs and how these educational needs will be met. The IEP includes individualized goals and objectives, any adaptations or modifications that will be made to their educational program, and the measures that will be used for tracking their achievement.

It is created by a team that consists of the student’s parent or guardian, a general education teacher, a special education teacher, the principal or vice-principal, and other school-employed professionals based on the individual student’s needs.  Depending on the situation, students may be included in at least part of the meeting.



Students with special needs are included in educational settings with their peers who do not have special needs.  The students with special needs are provided with the appropriate individualized supports in the form of adaptations and modifications to allow them success in their assigned learning environment (typically the regular classroom setting).

Learning Support Services

Another term for Special Education Services refers to the services within a school or school district that provide direct and or consultive support for the individual with special needs and their teacher.

Least Restrictive Environment

The least restrictive environment is generally thought to be the general education classroom where students with special needs can be educated with their peers.  The goal is for students with special needs to spend the maximum possible time in the regular classroom.



Mainstreaming is an old concept from the early years of the integrated movement and has been replaced by the term “integration.” It refers to the idea that every child should be placed in the least restrictive environment.  Mainstreaming generally involves placing students with special needs into the general education classroom with their peers instead of into a segregated classroom.  It allows the use of adaptations and modifications in the general education classroom.


A modification requires a change in the student’s curriculum or instruction that substantially alters the learning outcomes for the subject.  They are instructional and assessment related decisions made to accommodate a student’s special needs. Modifications consist of individualized learning goals and outcomes. They should only be considered for students with special needs significant enough to prohibit them from learning the learning outcomes in the curriculum (i.e. students with limited awareness of their surroundings, those with fragile mental or physical health, those who are medically or cognitively challenged)


Neighbourhood School

The neighbourhood school is the catchment school a child would attend based on their home address.

Parent Report

A parent report is a document parents write about their child.  It is an excellent way to document their child’s strengths, weaknesses and successes in different environments such as home, school and within the community. It provides educators with a more complete view of your child.



Placement does not refer to a location, it refers to a set of services.  It is a unique combination of facilities, personnel, location and or equipment required to provide instruction to meet the goals for a student as specified in their IEP.


School-Based Team

This is the team made of personnel within the school that has a formal role in providing support for the classroom teacher.  They help the teacher to develop and implement instructional or management strategies in the classroom.  The school-based team coordinates support resources for a student with special needs within the school.



Self-advocacy refers to the development of a specific set of skills and understanding that allow an individual to explain their disability and their needs to others.  It involves the ability to cope positively with attitudes of peers, parents, teachers and employers they discuss their disability with.


Special Education

Special Education is the instruction that is specifically designed to meet the unique needs of a child.  It is designed to take the individual’s needs into account while trying to provide them access to the general education curriculum.  Special education is provided for the student at no extra costs to the family.  Identification of a child to a special education program typically requires a formal assessment by a qualified professional.



A transition is when an individual moves from one environment to another at crucial points in their lifetime.  These include going from home into preschool or daycare, preschool to kindergarten, elementary school to middle school, middle school to high school, high school to adult life.


Transition Plan

A transition plan coordinates a set of activities designed to promote the movement from one environment to another during the significant transitions of a student’s life.  Transition goals are determined by the IEP team and include a set of goals and activities to smooth the transition. These goals can be both functional and academic.

*Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

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