In every profession there are terms, phrases, and abbreviations that are common knowledge only to insiders. For the rest of us, the lingo can be very confusing. This glossary is intended to offer simple explanations of what are sometimes complex issues in education. It is far from complete but may help you better understand important trends and topics. Bear in mind that the meaning of many of these terms may vary, even from school district to school district.
Alternative assessment differs from traditional assessment in that it often requires the child to perform a task rather than just bubble in an answer on a multiple-choice test or "fill in the blank" of a question. Alternative assessment might require the child to respond by writing a paragraph to explain reasoning on a math problem; create a graph using appropriate data; write an essay to persuade, explain, or tell a story; present an oral report; or actually perform an experiment such as creating a simple electrical circuit.
Anecdotal records are simple notes that the teacher might take while observing a child as he performs a task. Anecdotal reports might record the kinds of reading or math errors a child consistently makes or the kind of misconceptions she has about a subject. These reports are intended to help the teacher shape future instruction for the child.
Assessment is a way of studying or judging what the child knows and does not know. Its purpose is to shape future instruction to meet goals for the child's academic growth. Assessment may come in many forms: state or national multiple-choice tests such as the Stanford Achievement Test, state or national performance assessments (see Alternative Assessment) that require the child to complete a project to demonstrate his or her knowledge of the material and the process (NAEP [National Assessment of Educational Progress] and New Standards tests are famous for this), textbook assessments that are given as a child completes a chapter of work, and teacher-made classroom assessments that closely mirror what has been covered in a unit of study in class.
This term is applied to students in many different situations. Usually it is reserved for children with academic, physical, or emotional difficulties that interfere with their progress in learning. "At-risk" students are often (but not always) placed for counseling, retention, or testing to determine the source of their difficulties. At-risk students usually have an academic plan or IEP to provide for their individual needs.
Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
In simplest terms, "attention deficit disorder" refers to an individual's inability to concentrate on any one subject or activity for any length of time. In the school setting, this often results in students that miss directions or information because they are not paying attention. While many students (and adults!) suffer from this to a certain degree, it becomes a major problem if the child fails to make academic progress because of this condition. In severe cases, ADD is treated with medication, such as Ritalin.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is the same as ADD except that it is compounded by the child's inability to control body motion. In essence, this is the child who cannot sit still to hear a story, play a game, or eat a meal. In severe cases ADHD is treated with medication, such as Ritalin.
Auditory discrimination is the ability to differentiate between sounds. For example, the brain should be able to recognize that "cat" is different from "pat" or "sat." Children who find it hard to hear these differences often have difficulty learning to speak, read, write, and spell. (See Auditory Processing, Visual Discrimination, and Visual Processing.)
Auditory processing is often paired with the term auditory discrimination. While auditory discrimination refers to the ear's ability to hear differences, auditory processing refers to the brain's ability to process and make sense of the sounds of words and their meanings.
Authentic assessment is that in which the child must perform a task to demonstrate knowledge or competence in a skill. The child might have to conduct an experiment, present a speech, or play an instrument or game to prove that he knows and understands the material that has been presented. This is popular because it gives the instructor much more information about the student's knowledge and skills than a paper-and-pencil test. (Also see Alternative Assessment.)