Parents and Teachers

The Most Commonly Used Special Education Acronyms With Definitions

Special Education Acronyms For You to Know

In my time working in school and with families of students receiving special education services, I’ve noticed that many people are overwhelmed with the number of acronyms included in vital documents, informative pamphlets, and educational resources. While the acronyms have been included to create an ease with which these documents are read, they have quickly created a more uncomfortable experience for educators and families alike.

The worst culprits? Educators in the special education space (myself included)! When we get into “edu-mode” the acronyms start flying fast and furious!

Whether you’re new to special education or have experience, these acronyms can be quite confusing. That’s why I’ve decided to round up some of the most common special education acronyms for you to know.

Why It’s Important to Understand Special Education Acronyms

Before diving into some of the most common acronyms in the special education space, I think it’s important to define how valuable knowing and understanding these acronyms will be.

While there are certainly more than a handful of acronyms that cover pages and pages of important documentation, knowing the ones that will impact families and students the most will allow everyone to approach educational material with more confidence. 

Each acronym holds a unique meaning regarding testing, disability, or educational methodology. Since each student experiences a unique educational path compatible with their learning ability, it’s not uncommon to see acronyms tailored to a student’s specific journey. Keep this in mind as we cover some of the most common acronyms.

Common Special Education Acronyms

Below are some of the most common special education acronyms that you will encounter within a student’s curriculum.


IEP stands for Individualized Educational Program. You may have heard of an IEP in conjunction with a formal document. Formalities aside, the IEP is more than just a legal document. It is a specialized plan including special education instructions, learning goals, services, and additional support and resources that aim to provide the best possible education for students receiving special education services.

IEP’s are commonly given to students attending public schools who showcase a learning disability or hindrance. Private schools and homeschooling environments often reserve similar documentation in the form of an individualized service plan or ISP. 

IEP tends to be one of the most important acronyms for families who have children in need of special education. The reason for this is because the IEP encapsulates the entirety of a student’s specialized education plan.


PLOP stands for Present Levels of Performance and is one of the most important aspects of a student’s IEP. Before an IEP can be drafted and defined, a PLOP needs to be made for the student. PLOP will cover parental concerns, the student’s educational strengths and needs, how the student’s disability impacts their learning environment, and other evaluation data provided by a general teaching provider.

The PLOP should be focused on data and include as much fact-based information as possible. The more specific the PLOP, the better it will be for the team drafting the IEP as well as the parents of the student.


IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The IDEA outlines the rights of parents/guardians and the student in regards to the public school system. All children with disabilities are entitled to Free Appropriate Public Education, FAPE and in the Least Restrictive Environment, LRE possible. 

The law defines what a school system can and cannot provide for a parent and the student, so it’s essential to be familiar with this special education legal documentation. It’s important to note  that Local and State requirements can be different across the United States. These requirements are in addition to Federal regulations so being familiar with one’s respective jurisdiction is important in order to understand how IEPs are to be drafted.

IDEA categorizes special education needs in thirteen categories:

  1. Specific Learning Disability
  2. Other Health Impairment
  3. Autism Spectrum
  4. Emotional Disturbance
  5. Speech or Language Impairment
  6. Visual Impairment
  7. Deafness
  8. Deaf and Blindness
  9. Hearing Impairment
  10. Orthopedic Impairment (self-care)
  11. Traumatic Brain Injury
  12. Multiple Disabilities
  13. Intellectual Disability

Here’s an article I wrote that provides a much more in-depth explanation eligibility categories under IDEA: The 13 Disability Categories Under IDEA To Be Eligible for an IEP


SDI stands for Specially Designed Instruction. SDI refers to the methodology of adapting content and instruction to fit the needs of the student. SDI is based on the results of a student’s evaluation and IEP to create a better learning environment and process moving forward in the education system. The instruction focuses on math, reading, writing, speech, social skills, behavior, and other related services to best suit a student’s needs.


LRE is an acronym for Least Restrictive Environment. Under the IDEA, children with disabilities should learn in the Least Restrictive Environment, meaning they should spend a majority of their educational time with others who are not receiving special education services. 

The IDEA encourages children with disabilities to learn in a general education classroom with supplemental special education classes or curriculum unless the disability is severe and requires a separate learning environment entirely. 

The specifications of the LRE for a student are often defined in the IEP and individualized to meet the student’s needs.


BIP stands for Behavior Intervention Plan. BIP is a segment of the IEP if the behavior box is checked during evaluation. BIP is often necessary for students whose disabilities interfere with their ability to learn in a standard educational setting.

BIP is often preceded by an FBA or Functional Behavior Analysis, which looks at the Antecedent, Behavior, and Consequence of situations that highlight interference with the student’s education. 

The BIP seeks to improve a student’s environment and reactive behavior by focusing on the situation and setting with which learning disruption occurs.

Functional Behavioral Assessment – Behavior Intervention Plans:

  • Target Behavior – Observable and Measurable
  • Antecedent – What happens immediately before you observe the target behavior?
  • Consequence – What happens immediately after you observe the target behavior?
  • Function – This is the why. Why is this behavior happening? Is it a sensory, escape, attention, or tangible need?

Understanding the Antecedent Behavior Consequence ABC Data Model


ER is an acronym that represents a student’s Evaluation Report. The Evaluation Report is administered to the student to help define the curriculum and pace of their IEP. All reports after the initial ER are referred to as RR or Re-evaluation Reports. 


ESY stands for Extended School Year. Some children participating in special education struggle to retain information during summer breaks or long holiday breaks. Regression within a student’s educational career is often tracked and outlined within the IEP or discussed with the IEP team. If you notice a student on an IEP struggles to retain educational content after long breaks, convening the IEP team to discuss this concern is highly advised.

It’s also important to remember that services and plans for ESY educational material differ between school districts. However, ESY is regulated under the IDEA, which states that any child with a disability is entitled to ESY learning material if the IEP team deems the content necessary.

ESY educational materials are often presented during summer school with a teacher that has gathered data on areas that need to be reintroduced and reviewed. When your child is a part of ESY learning, they won’t be learning new material. Instead, they will revisit already learned topics to retain the information better.


IEE is an acronym for Independent Education Evaluation. The IEE can be requested by parents who believe the public school system is not providing the best learning environment or evaluations for their child’s needs. IEE is an evaluation conducted outside of the public school system to help identify a student’s learning disability. 

The IDEA reserves the parent’s right to request that the school provide an outside evaluation opportunity if there is disagreement with the school’s evaluation. 

There are several reasons a parent/guardian may choose to get an IEE.

The parent guardian:

  • Disagrees with the results of the school’s evaluation.
  • Believes the evaluation data was incomplete or incorrect.
  • Believes the school used non-compatible methods of evaluation. For example, their child may be non-verbal, but the test administered did not take this into consideration or chose to use a protocol not compatible with the child’s disability.
  • Is refused an evaluation by the school district. The district should provide written notice of the reason they are refusing evaluation.


IFSP or ISP refers to an Individual Family Service Plan. As mentioned earlier in this article, ISP’s are often administered to families outside of the public school system. It is similar to the IEP, except there is no team to draft formal documents for your child within a public school system. 

Instead, the ISP focuses on specific curriculum and outside services provided to a student to better their learning environment and educational career.

What to Keep In Mind Moving Forward

It’s important to remember that you may come across several vital acronyms not listed in this article. Each child’s IEP is different and will outline unique paths and services suited to their needs.

The IDEA is another helpful tool for identifying important acronyms and services that will cater to a student’s needs. 

If you are a parent or educator who actively participates in the education of a child with special needs, I’d love to hear your thoughts. What acronyms have you been struggling to identify? What are the most common phrases you’ve seen in a student’s IEP? How confident do you feel moving forward with your student’s educational plan? 

The more you continue to participate within your student’s educational career, the easier it will be to recall and utilize these special education acronyms.

About the author

Emily Cummings

I am a mom of two crazy, amazing, independent, little feminists. They bring so much light to my life and a lot less sleep. Since becoming a mother and increasingly in the last year, I have witnessed parents struggling to connect with their child's special education team with no success. I have become more aware of the gaps in our public school system and how parents may benefit from empowerment and advocacy tools.

My work experiences range from a juvenile detention center to an autism specialist in the Issaquah School District and a special education teacher in a self-contained program in the Lake Washington School District. My master's in teaching focused on special education and behavioral disorders from Seattle Pacific University. I completed my BCBA coursework from Montana State University.

Want to get in touch?

I'm happy to help however I can. Email me at hello at behaviorist .com.

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