For newbies to education, the jargon can be bewildering. For example:
“Our faculty just completed professional development on the foundational skills required for the science of reading and we are aligning our instructional materials to ensure coherence with our core practices as well as our vision, mission, and goals. Our formative and interim assessments measure competency based on the standards. Of course, our inclusive pedagogy will ensure your children develop a sense of belonging.
“We just attended training about some new ways to teach reading. Your kids will take some quizzes to help us see how it goes. We’ll work to make sure your kids enjoy the class together.”
Fancy words can get in the way. The point of Ed100 is to help you understand education so you can make a difference. We try to write Ed100 in a way that focuses on the stuff that matters, demystifying jargon along the way.
Below is a list of some education-related terms that many “insiders” know. Do you? Click the terms to check and learn more.
PTSAs include students in their leadership
Many schools in California have a Parent Teacher Association — familiarly known for generations as PTA. Each PTA is a non-profit tax-exempt organization that has satisfied a few requirements to be affiliated with the PTA name. PTA is a network of organizations with a shared mission to improve the lives of children, youth and families at every level from the school to the state and beyond.
PTA organizations associated with high schools and middle schools generally include students in their leadership. These are known as PTSAs — the “S” stands for students.
PTAs associated with individual schools are known as PTA Units. Groups of PTAs can form regional organizations known as PTA Councils (which have names, like the Burbank Council) and PTA Districts (which usually have numbers, like First District PTA or Fourth District PTA).
Not all parent-teacher organizations meet the requirements to affiliate with PTA. Some schools (or groups of schools) form Parent Teacher Organizations (PTOs), which are not affiliated with PTA. Some PTOs are set up as non-profit organizations, others not.
If your school has more than twenty students learning English, it must set up an English Language Advisory Committee (ELAC, pronounced EE-lack).
The ELAC is meant to advise your school's leadership, particularly when it comes to determining the goals expressed in the School Plan for Student Achievement (SPSA, usually pronounced SIPsuh.)
If your school district has more than 51 English Learners, it needs to have a District English Language Advisory Committee (DELAC, pronounced DEE-lack), which advises school district officials on programs and services for English Learners. Each California public school district with 51 or more English language learners must form a DELAC unless the district designates a subcommittee of an existing districtwide advisory committee to assume the role.
Many groups are known as Community Advisory Committees, often abbreviated CACs. In the context of education, the most common CACs relate to special education. These groups provide input and recommendations about local plans. Every school district is supposed to have a CAC.
To connote gravitas, use a TLA. (JK)
In your work, you interact with people. Intentional interaction is ordinarily called a meeting or, if it involves learning, training.
To imbue ongoing training groups with a soupçon of gravitas, perhaps for a funding proposal, you can call them Professional Learning Networks, or even more cryptically PLNs. Tip: To make anything sound mysterious and important, Capitalize it and abbreviate it with a Three Letter Acronym (TLA).
Most of the “business” of public education is carried out by school districts. They pay teachers, make contracts, pay the bills, and all that. But not all schools are run by districts. Some are run by charter schools, or by county offices of education (COEs). And there are also rare administrative entities for specific special education purposes (SELPAs).
When you must have a precise term to accurately include all of these entities — and don’t care that regular folks can’t understand you — the term Local Education Agency (LEA, pronounced as the letters) is numbingly perfect.
Laws and policies are not written to be understood, they are written to be precise and not wrong. In most cases, the term LEA confuses more people than it helps. Just call them districts and charter schools. The COEs and SELPAs will forgive you.
How well are kids learning?
Generally, assessment is a fancy word for a test. As discussed in Ed100 Lesson 9.3, assessments can come in many forms and serve different purposes. Assessments that determine grades or lead to important decisions are called summative assessments. Tests used only to guide teachers are described as formative assessments. Summative assessments are high-stakes if the outcomes can determine a student’s access to opportunities or resources.
This lesson demystifies many other terms associated with testing and grading, including cut scores, rubrics, and grade inflation.
Every year, California’s students in grades 3-8 and 11 take standardized tests in math and English (technically English Language Arts, or ELA, pronounced as three letters). These tests are called the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP — it rhymes with grasp). They are also known as Smarter Balanced tests because California is part of a consortium of states that use similar tests under that name. The tests are sometimes informally referred to as Common Core tests because the grade level expectations reflected in the tests are shared by many states.
Students with cognitive disabilities that prevent them from taking the CAASPP tests are given different ones, the California Alternative Assessments (CAA).
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as The Nation's Report Card, is the largest nationally representative and continuing assessment of what students in the USA know and can do in various subject areas. (It's pronounced "nape.")
Not all students take the NAEP tests — only a statistically meaningful sample do. But it’s regarded as the key measure to answer big-picture questions about the effectiveness of the education system, whether kids are learning more and which states are succeeding.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA, pronounced like the famous leaning tower) is the most important international comparison of learning. Every three years it tests 15-year-old students' reading, mathematics, and science literacy among countries of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
Students can demonstrate their skills in Spanish Language Arts by taking the California Spanish Assessment (CSA) in grades three through eight and high school. The tests measure Spanish-specific skills in reading, writing mechanics, and listening comprehension. Students can take the tests regardless of whether they are currently enrolled in Spanish instruction.
An Individualized Education Program (IEP, pronounced as letters) documents how a school will meet the learning needs of a student who requires special education services. The student’s right to an individualized learning plan was created with the passage of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) in 1975.
To the maximum extent appropriate, schools must educate students with disabilities in regular classrooms with their nondisabled peers in the schools they would attend if not disabled. Each plan must provide the student with a Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) in their Least Restrictive Environment (LRE).
Because the stakes are high and issues can be sensitive, special education is an endless wellspring of jargon. Terms related to this idea include mainstreaming and some uses of the word inclusion.
Civil rights law prevents discrimination in access to education due to a disability. Students who qualify under section 504 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 have a plan that specifies accommodations and modifications to overcome, work around or mitigate obstacles. Common examples include extra time for testing, changes in work spaces, and modification of assignments.
The California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE), was discontinued in 2023 by the State Board of Education (SBE). A Certificate of Proficiency earned through the California Proficiency Program (CPP) is the legal equivalent of a high school diploma. The major High School Equivalency (HSE) tests associated with this program are HiSET® and GED®. To recap in maximum jargon mode: The SBE approved GED and HiSET to replace the CHSPE HSE certificate.
California’s state finances substantially rely on revenue from income taxes, which can boom and bust wildly from year to year. In 2014 voters overwhelmingly adopted the Public School System Stabilization Account (PSSSA), better known as the Rainy Day Fund, or Proposition 2. Deploying the rainy day fund was key to the Governor’s budget proposal for 2024-25.
In 2030-31, the PSSSA is scheduled to be combined into the Budget Stabilization Account (BSA), another rainy day fund instrument that is less specifically dedicated to sustaining education.
Curriculum is the education buzzword for "what" is taught. Pedagogy is the buzzword for "how" it is taught. Teachers are accustomed to this word, and use it without blushing. It rhymes with "stodgy" in common use in America, but you can make it sound phaahncier if you rhyme it with emoji.
When teachers prepare a lesson plan that describes how they will engage students in learning, they are thinking about pedagogy. As Ed100 Lesson 6.7 explains, students are an excellent source of great input about this.
For no particularly good reason, the well-understood term soft skills is out of vogue among educators. The closest surviving analog, unfortunately, is the awkward combination of the terms social-emotional learning (SEL) and character education.
Some educators do a good job of helping students develop empathy, patience, and interpersonal skills. Ed100 Lessons 6.13 and 6.14 relate SEL to other useful terms including agency, grit, and restorative justice.
When specific students need extra help, how can teachers provide it without bringing the rest of the learning in the class to a halt? The aspirational idea of a Multi-Tiered System of Support (MTSS) is to systematically notice each child's needs, effectively respond before issues become hard to address, and do so without disrupting other learning or costing a fortune.
In other words, magic!
MTSS is the latest twinkling buzzword in a constellation of terms with this general quintessence. Related terms that have largely expired after their supernova star turn include RTI, RtI2, UDL and PBIS. There's definitely some good stuff to be gleaned from old grant proposals about these ideas, but also a lot of vague, wishful dross.
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