Glossary of Terms used in Special Education

There is a lot of specialized language used in special education and it can be very confusing. This glossary includes many of the terms and names commonly used in Ontario. It is important to know that while many terms are used by all school boards, there are variations in the some of the names used by school boards. For example, the definitions of terms such as “accommodations” are from the Ministry of Education and are used consistently across the province. However, teachers that provide special education programs and services have a variety of titles, including Learning Support Teacher (LST), Student Support Teachers (SST) and Special Education Resource Teacher (SERT) depending on the school board. For the definitions of special education terms used by your local school board you can check the school board website. Definitions are often provided in school board Parent Guides or you can ask the teacher or principal at your child’s school. If you are unsure about a term or acronym ask the person using the word. This can prevent misunderstandings and make sure you understand the topic under discussion.

This is a glossary of terms and Acronyms used in special education in Ontario. There are some differences in terminology in schools across Ontario, and the most common terms are included.

Accommodations are the strategies, supports and/or services that are required in order for the student to access the curriculum and demonstrate learning. Accommodations do not alter the provincial learning expectations for the grade level. There are three types of accommodations:

  • Instructional Accommodations – changes to the teaching method, for example providing Braille books or text to speech computer software;
  • Environmental Accommodation – changes to the classroom or school environment, for example changing seating arrangements, or lighting; and
  • Assessment Accommodation – changes that are required to show what the student has learned, for example allowing a student to answer test questions verbally or providing speech to text computer software

Alternative Expectations – Program that the student needs, but is not part of the Ontario curriculum. Expectations should represent a specific program designed and delivered to the student to support skill development in areas such as:

  • Orientation and mobility for students who are blind;
  • Personal care for students who require assistance with daily activities;
  • Anger management for students with behavior challenges; or
  • Social skill programs for students with developmental delays

Assessments: Assessment is the process of systematically gathering information about student learning and/or cognition from a variety of sources, using a variety of techniques and tools. This information can be used to develop class and individual profiles. Assessment can relate to the instructional or working environment and/or the requirements of a particular strand or subject area. Assessments can be further characterized as assessment of learning, assessment for learning, and assessment as learning. Diagnostic assessments represent a type of assessment that provides specific information on the reasons a student may be experiencing learning difficulties. The key purpose of an assessment for students with special education needs is to ensure that they are provided with the most effective programming possible for learning. (Education for All K to Grade 6, 2005, Page 21)

Bill 82: This law, introduced in 1980 in Ontario, requires school boards to provide special education programs. It is now known as the Education Amendment Act and is part of the Education Act, which governs all education in Ontario. Under the Act, all school boards must provide or purchase special education programs and services to meet the needs of all students with special educational needs.

Case Conference: A case conference is a meeting to discuss your child’s needs. A Case Conference may be held to plan for your child’s transition to school, or to address changes in your child’s needs. Community agency staff and professionals involved with your child, as well as his/her teacher(s), support staff and school administrators may attend. Parents may choose to bring someone with them to take notes or speak on their behalf. The purpose of the meeting is usually to problem solve or make plans to support your child,

Curriculum: The province of Ontario has outlined the program, or curriculum, that must be followed to educate children at each grade level. The curriculum describes the learning expectations (skills and knowledge) that students are expected to acquire in each grade. The curriculum is divided into different subject areas (e.g., Language, Mathematics, Social Studies) for both elementary and high school students.

Developmentally Disability/Challenge): Children who are described to have a developmental disability have been assessed as being significantly below their age peers intellectually. Many of these students have learning needs that require highly specialized support and assistance. Children may have medical or health needs, may have difficulty communicating and extreme difficulty learning.

Education Act: The Education Act is the provincial law that governs education in Ontario. All school boards must operate according to this law. The Act includes:

  • Legislation: These are the overall laws, passed as Bills by government, regarding education
  • Regulations: These are made by the Minister of Education to expand on the Education Act and give more details about how the Act is to be applied.
  • Memoranda: These are instructions issued to schools and boards. They are sub-divided into Policy-Program, Business and Safety. They are issued by the Deputy Ministers of Education and are valid until revoked.
  • Standards: These are required minimum expectations from the Ministry of Education. For example, The Standards for Individual Education Plans (2002)
  • Monographs: These are issued to provide strong suggestions or clarification on contentious issues. They are not binding, but are viewed to be important.
  • Resource Guides: These documents are developed to provide school boards with additional information and examples of effective practices on particular topis. For example, Planning Entry to School (2006).

Educational Assistant (E.A.) – Educational Aide, Teaching Assistant, Pupil Aide: This term describes staff hired by school boards to work with individual students under the supervision of the classroom teacher. There is no standardized training for Education Assistants, although many school boards require College Diplomas. Education Assistants may work with individual or groups of students for part or all of the school day.

Exceptional Student: According to Ontario law (the Education Act), an exceptional student is a student who has been formally identified by an Identification and Placement Review Committee (IPRC). An exceptional student has significant needs in the areas of behaviour, communication, intellectual, physical or multiple disability and meets the provincial and school board criteria for identification. A student who has been identified as exceptional must be provided with the supports and services required to meet the exceptional needs. In addition, an Individual Education Plan must be developed for the student within 30 days of identification at an IPRC.

Identification and Placement Review Committee (I.P.R.C.): The IPRC is a committee made up of three persons appointed by the school board (at least one of the committee must be the principal or superintendent). This committee identifies a student’s exceptional learning needs and recommends the special education placement for the student. The IPRC also documents students’ strengths and needs, which is sometimes called the profile statement. The IPRC may also recommend support services and equipment. The IPRC process is outlined in a Ministry of Education regulation (Regulation 181/98) and includes an appeal mechanism for parents who are not satisfied with the decision regarding Identification or Placement.

Individual Education Plan (I.E.P.): The IEP is the plan that outlines the programs and services to be provided to students, and is developed by the school, in consultation with the parents. It must include specific educational expectations based on the curriculum, an outline of the special education program and services that will be received, and a statement about the methods by which the student’s progress is assessed. The IEP must be completed within 30 days after a student the IPRC. An IEP may be developed for students who have not been Identified through the IPRC to document accommodations, modifications or alternate programs that the student may require. Parents must receive a copy of the IEP and the IEP is to be reviewed each term or semester.

Learning Disability: This term is used to describe students who exhibit learning and academic difficulties that are greater than would be expected from assessed intellectual ability. A psychologist usually diagnoses a learning disability. The learning disability may include difficulties with the use of spoken language, understanding non-verbal cues, reading/writing and/or mathematics.

Learning Expectations: These are the skills and knowledge that each student must demonstrate for each subject and grade. The Ontario Curriculum describes the learning expectations for all students.

Modifications: These are changes made to the grade level expectations for a subject or course to meet the needs of the student. For core subjects, such as Math and Language, the expectations may be from another grade level (higher or lower). For content subjects, such as Social Studies or History, the modifications may include significant changes to the number and/or complexity of the learning expectations.

Ontario School Record (O.S.R.): This is the student file that contains all documents related to your child’s education. The contents of the OSR and access to the information are authorized by the Education Act. Report cards. IEPs and assessment reports are kept in the OSR. Your child’s teacher(s), the principal, and others working with your child have access to the OSR. Parents can ask to see the contents of the OSR by contacting the Principal.

Parent Guide: Every school board is required to develop a guide for parents that outlines the special education services provided as well as the procedures for IPRC, deciding the student’s placement or appealing these decisions. Many school board Parent Guides also contain answer to frequently asked questions and information on community resources.

Provincial Demonstration Schools: The Ministry of Education operates special schools throughout Ontario for children who are deaf-blind, deaf-blind, and severely learning disabled, as well as those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Residential programs are offered at the schools for students who live too far from the school to travel daily.

Psychological Services (Psychologist and Psychometrist): Psychological Services staff administer and interpret psychological and educational tests; assist with behaviour management; provide counselling, and consult with school staff.

Resource Withdrawal (Resource Room): This is a special education program where the student is in the regular program for most of the day, but also receives regularly scheduled assistance from a Special Education Teacher outside of the classroom..

School Health Support Services Program: This refers to services provided within schools for students with health needs, by the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care. The types of services provided include dietician services, nursing care, physiotherapy, occupational therapy, and speech therapy for eligible students. The referrals from the school Principal are required to access the program, and the process requires parent consent.

School Team: These teams are composed of teachers and support staff for the school and meet to discuss individual students who may be having difficulty in the classroom. The purpose of the team is to review the student’s progress and intervention strategies that have been used by the classroom teacher, and develop a plan for the student. The student plan may include new strategies for the classroom teacher to use or a referral for additional assessments.

Parents of children referred to a School Team are usually invited to attend the team meeting or to provide input. These teams have various terms in different boards and the classroom teacher or Principal can let you know the proper term (e.g., Program Development Team, In-School Team, School Based Support Team).

Special Education Advisory Committee (S.E.A.C.): Every board is required to have a SEAC. This committee is composed of local association representatives, such as Easter Seals Ontario, as well as trustees. The purpose of this committee, which usually meets on a monthly basis, is to advise the school board on special education issues. Meetings are open to members of the public.

Special Education Funding: School boards receive a number of special purpose grants including the Special Education Grant. The grant includes 5 components including:

    • Special Education Per Pupil Amount (SEPPA): School boards receive money from the Ontario government based on the number of students enrolled in their school board. This funding is intended to cover the incremental cost of special education programs and services.
    • High Needs Amount (HNA): Funding provided to address the cost of providing the intensive staff support required by the small number of pupils with high needs (enrolment plus the board-specific incidence of students with high needs ). Includes three components:
      • Base amount for each school board of $450,000
      • Measures of Variability (M.O.V.) – 25 individual measures of student supports, including items such as EQAO test results, credit accumulation, number of accommodations, number of students on alternative programs, etc.
      • Special Education Statistical Prediction Model (S.E.S.P.M.) – based on board specific student information and census data including, occupational structure, median income, percent unemployed, percent moved in previous year, etc.
    • Behaviour Expertise Amount (B.E.A.): Funding provided for the hiring of additional board level Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA) expertise to support principals, teachers, and multi-disciplinary transition teams.
    • Special Equipment Amount (S.E.A.): Funding to school boards to assist with the costs of equipment essential to support students with special education needs where the need for specific equipment is recommended by a qualified professional. Grant components:
      • SEA Per-Pupil Amount (Based on enrolment) supports the purchase of all computers, software, computing-related devices and required supporting furniture, as identified for use by students with special education needs in accordance with the SEA funding guidelines. The SEA Per-Pupil Amount will also help school boards in providing training for staff and students (where applicable), equipment set-up, maintenance and repair as determined by the board for all SEA equipment, including SEA equipment funded through the SEA claims-based process.
      • SEA Claims-Based Amount – supports the purchase, through a claims-based process with an $800 deductible, of other non-computer based equipment to be utilized by students with special education needs, including sensory equipment, hearing support equipment, vision support equipment, personal care support equipment and physical assists support equipment.
    •  Special Incidence Portion (S.I.P.): Funding provided for students with extraordinarily high needs who require more than two full-time staff to address health and safety needs to a maximum of $27,000 per claim (claim based).
    • Facilities Amount (F.A.): Funding for educational programs for school-aged children and youth in Government-approved facilities such as hospitals, custody or correctional facilities, or a care and/or treatment facility (program based).

Special Education Plan: Every school board is required to have a plan for the special education programs and services that they provide.  The Special Education Plan must be reviewed annually and a report submitted each year to the Ministry identifying any changes.

Special Education Program: is defined in the Education Acts as an educational program that is based on and modified by the results continuous assessment and evaluation and that includes a plan containing specific objectives and an outline of educational services that meets the needs of the exceptional pupil.

Special Education Services is defined in the Education Act as facilities and resources, including support personnel and equipment, necessary for developing and implementing a special education program.

Special Education Teacher (Education or Learning Resource Teacher): Special Education Teachers have additional training in the education of students with exceptional learning needs. They are usually assigned to work with groups of students throughout the school day. Some Special Education Teachers work with a specific group of students for the majority of the school day (e.g., learning disabled, language impaired, multiple handicapped). In addition, Special Education Teachers may also look after IPRC preparation, arrange case conferences, assist in ongoing assessment, evaluation and reporting, facilitate placements, act as a liaison with service agencies and arrange for transportation

Transition Plan:  Students who have an IEP must have transition plans as required under the Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum 156. Transition plans can be for a variety of situations, depending on student needs, including:

    • Transition into school from preschool services, other school boards, and Care and Treatment Programs.
    • Transitions between grades, divisions and schools
    • Transition into and out of secondary school.
    • Transitions between activities, subjects and classes

The transition plan documents the strategies and supports the student will require for the transition event and identifies who will be responsible for the activity. The Ministry of Education Policy/Program Memorandum 156 identifies the requirements for transition plans and the related documentation in the IEP.

Other Sources of Information:

  • Parent Guide to Special Education, produced by each District School Board and available on school board website and from the school.
  • Ministry of Education Website at