THE BLOG
08/29/2011 03:43 pm ET | Updated Oct 29, 2011

Educational Alphabet Soup

Another school year and the hassle of knowing all you need to know for your special needs child to receive a fair and equal education begins anew. The only person who truly stands between your child and "the system" is you, and you need to be aware of your rights as your child's advocate.

Some changes in education occur at a moment's notice. Parents, as well as educators, need to be constantly on the alert for the newest ideas, state and federal regulations, and new federal laws. This is especially true of anyone who is involved either personally or professionally with special education.

Due to the internet we live in an acronym writing and speaking world. In education this has led to a veritable "alphabet soup" of educational terms.

Acronyms, such as IDEA, I&RS, IEAS, BIP, ESEA, IEP, and PRISE can be daunting even for the professionals who deal with these programs or regulations on a daily basis. How much more difficult is it for the parent who arrives for a meeting concerning her child's learning difficulties and is thrown into the maelstrom of educational alphabet soup!

Imagine a meeting where the principal makes the following statement to the parents of a classified child:

"We are fortunate that IDEA can be incorporated into your son's IEP so that it will fulfill the requirements of NCLB, formerly known as ESEA. During the I&RS, our team felt that a BIP wasn't necessary so we don't have to concern ourselves with IEAS. Oh, by the way, did you receive PRISE?"

The above is an exaggeration of course, but it seems that many of us today like to throw acronyms around a little too easily.

Acronyms are simply short-cuts to the spoken and written language. Instead of saying or writing the four words "as soon as possible" we are more likely to say or write "ASAP." Living in a "hurry up and get it done" world, acronyms save time but, for the bewildered parent, they do little but add to the confusion.

Not all acronyms are easy as far as gaining insight and information on what is being done for your child via his or her IEP or Individualized Educational Program, (some states use the word plan instead of program), but knowledge of exactly what the letters stand for can help you navigate the "soup."

You must be given a pamphlet titled PRISE, or Parental Rights in Special Education. This details your rights as parents in helping to decide what is best for your child.

IDEA is an acronym for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Decisions regarding your child's special education needs are made at meetings. As the parent of a child who has or may have a disability, you have the right to participate in all meetings regarding your child. You are considered a member of the multi-disciplinary team of qualified persons who meet to make these determinations and develop your child's IEP.

If you disagree with the evaluation done by the school district where your child attends school, you have the right to request an independent evaluation and are entitled to one which will be paid for by the district.

Intervention is a district's way of getting students the help they need before a major problems results. Usually it is initiated by a faculty member who may have noticed either educational or emotional difficulties in your child that are hindering her learning process. They are not required by law to do so but many educators will call a parent before initiating an Intervention and Referral Service or I&RS.

And speaking of intervention, there is a new catch-phrase that is called BIP, which stands for Behavioral Intervention Plan. If your child is showing inappropriate behavior in school, either towards others or themself, BIP is one of the first types of meetings to be held. An IEAS, Interim Alternative Educational Setting, may be implemented if your child cannot safely be placed in a classroom. The district must supply an alternative educational place and comparable education.

Finally there is ESEA, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 that was renamed the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. It established laudable goals, standards and accountability for the learning of all children. States which do not adhere to Federal guidelines risk losing any federal funding for their districts.

Arm yourself for any meetings with the knowledge of what the acronyms mean and how each applies to your child. Don't be confused by educational alphabet soup. Knowledge is power and, in the case of confusing acronyms, knowledge is vital in helping you get the best possible educational aid for your child.

© 2011 Kristen Houghton

To read more from Kristen Houghton, peruse her articles at KristenHoughton.com and visit her Keys to Happiness blog. You may email her at kch@kristenhoughton.com. Read the book critics call "sane and savvy advice for all a must-read," ranked in the top-selling 100 books of 2011 by Tower.com "And Then I'll Be Happy! Stop Sabotaging Your Happiness and Put Your Own Life First."