Glossary of Education Terms and Acronyms



AAAS American Association for the Advancement of Science

AACTE American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education

AASA American Association of School Administrators

AEL Appalachia Educational Laboratory

AERA American Educational Research Association

AFT American Federation of Teachers

AIT Agency for Instructional Technology

alternative assessment: An assessment in which students originate a response to a task or question. Such responses could include demonstrations, exhibits, portfolios, oral presentations, or essays. (Compare to traditional assessment.)

analytical trait scoring: A method for assigning a summary score to a product, performance, or work sample based on a prior analysis that defined the key traits, dimensions, or characteristics possessed by the class of objects being scored. The object is scored independently against each dimension, and a summary score is calculated following a set formula. The summary score may be a simple total (or average) across dimensions, a weighted total, or a more complex algorithm. An example might be the scoring of a piece of persuasive writing on such traits as attention to audience, correct use of grammar and punctuation, focus on the topic, and persuasiveness of argument.

AOD alcohol and other drugs

ASCD Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

ATE Association of Teacher Educators

ATOD alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs

at risk: A term applied to students who have not been adequately served by social service or educational systems and who are at risk of educational failure due to lack of services, negative life events, or physical or mental challenges, among others.

authentic assessment: An assessment presenting tasks that reflect the kind of mastery demonstrated by experts. Authentic assessment of a student's ability to solve problems, for example, would assess how effectively a student solves a real problem.

authentic task: School assignment that has a real-world application. Such tasks bear a strong resemblance to tasks performed in nonschool settings (such as the home, an organization, or the workplace) and require students to apply a broad range of knowledge and skills. Often, they fill a genuine need for the students and result in a tangible end product.


behaviorism: A theory suggesting that learning occurs when an environmental stimulus triggers a response or behavior. Based on classical conditioning theory, behaviorism applies to educational practices that reward performance behaviors to encourage repetition of those behaviors. Rote memorization and drill-and-practice instruction are supported by behaviorist theory.

benchmark: Statement that provides a description of student knowledge expected at specific grades, ages, or developmental levels. Benchmarks often are used in conjunction with standards. (See standards.)

benchmark performances: Performance examples against which other performances may be judged.


CCSSO Council of Chief State School Officers

CELA National Research Center on English Learning and Achievement

CIERA Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement

CRESPAR Center for Research on the Education of Students Placed At Risk

CRESST National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing

coaching: An instructional method in which a teacher supports students as they perfect old skills and acquire new skills.

cognitive science: A science investigating how people learn rather than what they learn. Prior knowledge and out-of-classroom experience help form the foundation on which teachers build effective instruction. Also referred to as the study of the mind.

cognitively guided instruction: An instructional strategy in which a teacher assesses what students already know about a subject and then builds on students' prior knowledge. Students typically are asked to suggest a way to represent a real problem posed by the teacher. Guided questions, encouragement and suggestions further encourage students to devise solutions and share the outcome with the class.

collaborative learning or cooperative learning: An instructional approach in which students of varying abilities and interests work together in small groups to solve a problem, complete a project, or achieve a common goal.

constructivism: Theory suggesting that students learn by constructing their own knowledge, especially through hands-on exploration. It emphasizes that the context in which an idea is presented, as well as student attitude and behavior, affects learning. Students learn by incorporating new information into what they already know.

CPRE Center for Policy Research in Education

criterion-referenced assessment: An assessment that measures what a student understands, knows, or can accomplish in relation to specific performance objectives. It is used to identify a student's specific strengths and weaknesses in relation to skills defined as the goals of the instruction, but it does not compare students to other students. (Compare to norm-referenced assessment.)

critical thinking: Logical thinking that draws conclusions from facts and evidence.

curriculum (plural curricula): A plan of instruction that details what students are to know, how they are to learn it, what the teacher's role is, and the context in which learning and teaching will take place.


data-driven decision making: A process of making decisions about curriculum and instruction based on the analysis of classroom data and standardized test data. Data-driven decision making uses data on function, quantity and quality of inputs, and how students learn to suggest educational solutions. It is based on the assumption that scientific methods used to solve complex problems in industry can effectively evaluate educational policy, programs, and methods.

distance learning: Using technology such as two-way, interactive television, teacher and student(s) in different locations may communicate with one another as in a regular classroom setting.


ECS Education Commission of the States

ENC Eisenhower National Clearinghouse

equity: The state of educational impartiality and fairness in which all children—minorities and nonminorities, males and females, successful students and those who fall behind, students with special needs and students who have been denied access in the past—receive a high-quality education and have equal access to the services they need in order to benefit from that education.

ERIC Educational Resources Information Center

ETS Educational Testing Service

exhibition of mastery: A type of assessment in which students display their grasp of knowledge and skills using methods such as skits, video presentations, posters, oral presentations, or portfolios.


facilitator: A role for classroom teachers that allows students to take a more active role in learning. Teachers assist students in making connections between classroom instruction and students' own knowledge and experiences by encouraging students to create new solutions, by challenging their assumptions, and by asking probing questions.


graphing calculator: A calculator with a large display that enables the user to see math functions and data graphically.


"hands-on/minds-on" activities: Activities that engage students' physical as well as mental skills to solve problems. Students devise a solution strategy, predict outcomes, activate or perform the strategy, reflect on results, and compare end results with predictions.

heterogeneous grouping: Grouping together students of varying abilities, interests, or ages.

higher-order questions: Questions that require thinking and reflection rather than single-solution responses.

higher-order thinking skills: Understanding complex concepts and applying sometimes conflicting information to solve a problem, which may have more than one correct answer.

holistic scoring: Using a scoring guide or anchor papers to assign a single overall score to a performance. (See scoring guide.)


informal knowledge: Knowledge about a topic that children learn through experience outside of the classroom.

inquiry: A process in which students investigate a problem, devise and work through a plan to solve the problem, and propose a solution to the problem.

IES: Institute of Educational Sciences (U.S. Department of Education).

interdiscipinary curriculum: A curriculum that consciously applies the methodology and language from more than one discipline to examine a central theme, issue, problem, topic, or experience.

intermediate service agency (ISA) or intermediate unit (IU): Regional centers or agencies established by some state governments to provide needed services, assistance, and information to local schools and districts.

Internet A worldwide "network of networks" that allows participants in different electronic networks to share information, transfer files, access news, and communicate through electronic mail.


LAB: The Northeast and Islands Laboratory at Brown University.

learner-centered classroom: Classroom in which students are encouraged to choose their own learning goals and projects. This approach is based on the belief that students have a natural inclination to learn, learn better when they work on real or authentic tasks, benefit from interacting with diverse groups of people, and learn best when teachers understand and value the difference in how each student learns.

"less is more": A principle built on the idea that quality is of higher importance than quantity. It is reflected in instruction that guides students to focus on fewer topics investigated in greater depth, with teachers performing the task of prioritizing subjects as well as specific skills within those subjects.

LSS Laboratory for Student Success (serves states in the Mid-Atlantic area)


manipulative: Any physical object (e.g., blocks, toothpicks, coins) that can be used to represent or model a problem situation or develop a mathematical concept.

matrix sampling: An assessment method in which no student completes the entire assessment but each completes a portion of the assessment. Portions are allotted to different, representative samples of students. Group (rather than individual) scores are obtained for an analysis of school or district performance.

McREL Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning

metacognition: The process of considering and regulating one's own learning. Activities include assessing or reviewing one's current and previous knowledge, identifying gaps in that knowledge, planning gap-filling strategies, determining the relevance of new information, and potentially revising beliefs on the subject.

modeling: Demonstrating to the learner how to do a task, with the expectation that the learner can copy the model. Modeling often involves thinking aloud or talking about how to work through a task.


NAEP National Assessment of Educational Progress

NAEYC National Association for the Education of Young Children

NASBE National Association for State Boards of Education

NASDC New American Schools Development Corporation

NCADI National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information

NCAL National Center on Adult Literacy

NCATE National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education

NCES National Center for Educational Statistics

NCMSC North Center Mathematics and Science Consortium

NCREL North Central Regional Educational Laboratory

NCRTEC North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium

NCTE National Council of Teachers of English

NCTM National Council of Teachers of Mathematics

NEA National Education Association

new math: The teaching of highly abstract and conceptual math, which was popular during the early 1960s.

NGA National Governors Association

norm-referenced assessment:An assessment designed to discover how an individual student's performance or test result compares to that of an appropriate peer group. (Compare to criterion-referenced assessment.)

NSDC National Staff Development Council

NSTA National Science Teachers Association

NWREL Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory


OERI Office of Educational Research and Improvement (Now Institute of Educational Sciences), U.S. Department of Education

open-ended question: A question that has many avenues of access and allows students to respond in a variety of ways. Such questions have more than one correct answer.

open-ended task: A performance task in which students are required to generate a solution or response to a problem when there is no single correct answer.

open-response task: A performance task in which students are required to generate an answer rather than select an answer from among several possible answers, but there is a single correct response.

outcome-based education: An integrated system of educational programs that aligns specific student outcomes, instructional methods, and assessment.


performance assessment: Systematic and direct observation of a student performance or examples of student performances and ranking according to preestablished performance criteria. Students are assessed on the result as well as the process engaged in a complex task or creation of a product.

performance criteria: A description of the characteristics to be assessed for a given task. Performance criteria may be general, specific, analytical trait, or holistic. They may be expressed as a scoring rubric or scoring guide. (See rubrics and scoring guide.)

performance task: An assessment exercise that is goal directed. The exercise is developed to elicit students' application of a wide range of skills and knowledge to solve a complex problem.

portfolio assessment: An assessment process that is based on the collection of student work (such as written assignments, drafts, artwork, and presentations) that represents competencies, exemplary work, or the student's developmental progress.

PREL Pacific Resources for Education and Learning

prior knowledge: The total of an individual's knowledge at any given time.

problem solving: A method of learning in which students evaluate their thinking and progress while solving problems. The process includes strategy discussion--determining solution strategies to similar problems and pinpointing additional problems within the context of their investigation.

Project 2061: A reform initiative, developed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which seeks to improve the quality, increase the relevance, and broaden the availability of science, math, and technology education.

PTA Parent Teacher Association

PTO Parent Teacher Organization


R&D research and development

RD&D research, development, and dissemination

reliability: An indicator of score consistency over time or across multiple evaluators. Reliable assessment is one in which the same answers receive the same score regardless of who performs the scoring or how or where the scoring takes place. The same person is likely to get approximately the same score across multiple test administrations.

restructuring: See systemic reform.

rubrics: Specific criteria or guidelines used to evaluate student work.


scaffolding: An instructional technique in which the teacher breaks a complex task into smaller tasks, models the desired learning strategy or task, provides support as students learn to do the task, and then gradually shifts responsibility to the students. In this manner, a teacher enables students to accomplish as much of a task as possible without adult assistance.

scale: The range of scores possible for the student to achieve on a test or an assessment. Performance assessments typically use a 4- to 6-point scale, compared to a scale of 100 or more with traditional multiple-choice tests.

scientific knowledge: Knowledge that provides people with the conceptual and technological tools to explain and describe how the world works.

scoring guide: A set of guidelines for rating student work. A scoring guide describes what is being assessed, provides a scoring scale, and helps the teacher or rater correctly place work on the scale. (See rubrics.)

SEA state education agency (e.g., state department of education)

SEDL Southwest Educational Development Laboratory

standardized tests: Assessments that are administered and scored in exactly the same way for all students. Traditional standardized tests are typically mass-produced and machine-scored; they are designed to measure skills and knowledge that are thought to be taught to all students in a fairly standardized way. Performance assessments also can be standardized if they are administered and scored in the same way for all students.

standards: Statements of what students should know and be able to demonstrate. Various standards have been developed by national organizations, state departments of education, districts, and schools.

student assistance program: A school-based program, modeled on employee assistance programs, that focuses on addressing students' behavior and performance at school and includes a referral process to help students address identified problems.

systemic reform: Change that occurs in all aspects and levels of the educational process and that impacts all stakeholders within the process—students, teachers, parents, administrators, and community members—with implications for all components, including curriculum, assessment, professional development, instruction, and compensation.


teaching for understanding: A teaching method that focuses on the process of understanding as the goal of learning rather than simply the development of specific skills. It focuses on forming connections and seeing relationships among facts, procedures, concepts, and principles, and between prior and new knowledge.

technology: In education, a branch of knowledge based on the development and implementation of computers, software, and other technical tools, and the assessment and evaluation of students' educational outcomes resulting from their use of technology tools.

TECSCU Teacher Education Council of State Colleges and Universities

traditional assessment: An assessment in which students select responses from a multiple-choice list, a true/false list, or a matching list. (Compare to alternative assessment.)


validity: An indication that an assessment instrument consistently measures what it is designed to measure, excluding extraneous features from such measurement.


WestEd: The Regional Educational Laboratory serving Arizona, California, Nevada, and Utah.


zone of proximal development: A level or range in which a student can perform a task with help.

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