IEPs, 504s, and ARDs, OH MY.

The acronyms ALONE can make the special education process a nightmare. But once you learn the lingo, you’ll have the confidence you need to navigate the process. If you are feeling overwhelmed and need some help, please reach out or schedule a free consultation!



Think of accommodations as adjustments made in how a student with a disability will be taught or tested–not what the student is taught or tested (see TEKS, below). Some examples of accommodations include extensions of time for testing, sitting closer to the teacher, or Assistive Technology (see below).

Adult Students

A student with a disability reaches adulthood at 18 under state law. At that moment, the rights of the parents under federal law transfer to the student–meaning, without an agreement otherwise, parents no longer have rights to records or participation in these meetings. However, parents can still help a student if the student agrees, if the parent has obtained guardianship of the student, or if the student is able to and chooses to enter into an agreement with the parents, called a Supported Decision-Making Agreement. A student may also choose to sign a power of attorney giving the parents the right to make education decisions for the student.

Alternative Education Programs (AEPs)

AEPs are disciplinary programs facilitated by school districts for students who have committed certain offenses under state law or the district’s Student Code of Conduct. AEPs operated by the school district are called Disciplinary Alternative Education Programs (DAEPs). AEPs operated by the juvenile justice system are called Juvenile Justice Alternative Education Programs (JJAEPs). Students with disabilities in either of these programs are still entitled to special education services.

Admission, Review and Dismissal (ARD) Committee

In Texas, the ARD committee is a group of people who meet at least annually to determine whether a child has an eligible disability and what education services will be provided. The committee is made of of several school employees, as well as the student’s parents, if the child is still a minor. The main job of the ARD committee is to develop the student’s IEP (see below).


Assessments are tests given to all students to evaluate learning. In Texas, the most common assessment is the STAAR test (previously, TAKS). Students receiving special education services still take the same assessments given to other students, unless the ARD committee determines a test is inappropriate. In such a circumstance, a student may take a STAAR alternative.

Assistive Technology

An assistive technology device isn’t necessarily an electronic device. Rather, it is any item, piece of equipment or product used to increase, maintain or improve the functioning of a student with a disability. For example, devices include those used for seating and positioning, mobility, augmentative communication, computer access and instruction, environmental control, adaptive toys and games, visual and listening aids, and self care. An assistive technology evaluation determines whether an assistive technology device and/or service is necessary to ensure the student will benefit from special education services.


Behavior Intervention Plan (BIP)

A Behavior Intervention Plan, which is part of the IEP, identifies supports and services that help develop appropriate behaviors and reduce inappropriate behaviors. A BIP is created with the help of a functional behavioral assessment.



The ARD committee will determine (1) if the individual initial evaluation shows that a student has a disability fitting one or more of the following categories defined in state law and TEA Commissioner Rules and (2) if the student needs special education and related services. The Texas disability categories are:

  • Orthopedic Impairment (OI)
  • Other Health Impairment (OHI) – includes students with ADD or ADHD, and Tourette syndrome
  • Auditory Impairment (AI) – includes deaf or hard of hearing
  • Visual Impairment (VI) – includes students who are blind or visually impaired
  • Deaf-Blindness (D-B)
  • Intellectual Disability (ID)
  • Emotional Disturbance (ED)
  • Learning Disability (LD)
  • Speech Impairment (SI)
  • Autism (AU) – includes Autism Spectrum Disorder
  • Multiple Disabilities (MD)
  • Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
  • Non-Categorical – for students ages 3 – 5 who may meet criteria for certain of these disabilities. Such a child will be re-evaluated at 6 years old to determine if they still meet the criteria.

Due Process Hearing

If there is a dispute between parents and the school over special education for a child, the parents may ask for an independent hearing to show that the decisions of the school were wrong. This hearing is not the same as a court hearing, though court rules are used. Rather, it is conducted in your community by a hearing officer appointed by the Texas Education Agency. Details about the hearing process are described in the notice of procedural safeguards.


Early Intervening Services

IDEA allows schools to use up to 15 percent of IDEA funds for support services for students not identified as having a disability, but who need additional academic and behavioral supports to succeed in a general education classroom.

Early Childhood Intervention (ECI)

ECI is a statewide program for children from birth to 3 years who have developmental delays. ECI must make services available for every eligible child.

Extended School Year (ESY)

ESY refers to education services provided during breaks (like in the summer or over a holiday) to qualifying students with disabilities who require them as a part of FAPE. ESY services are to be provided in accordance with the IEP and at no cost to the parents.


Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE)

Special education and/or related services designed to meet the individual needs of each student at no cost to the parents, guaranteed to all students with disabilities by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Full and Individual Initial Evaluation (FIIE)

If the referral process demonstrates that a student may need special education and related services, the school must do a FIIE to determine if the student has a disability and needs services. The school has a certain amount of time to complete this testing, depending on the time of year the parent’s consent was obtained.

Functional Behavioral Assessment (FBA)

A functional behavioral assessment is a problem-solving process for addressing student problem behavior. The FBA relies on a variety of assessments, techniques and strategies to identify the purposes of specific behavior and to help ARD committees select interventions to directly address the problem behavior. FBAs can be used, as appropriate, throughout the process of developing, reviewing and, if necessary, revising a student’s IEP.


Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

IDEA is the federal law requiring school districts to provide students with disabilities with a free appropriate public education (or FAPE).

Individual Education Program (IEP)

An IEP is a written plan for your student. It is a legal document–meaning it is an enforceable agreement between the school and the parents on how the student will receive his or her education. The IEP must be reviewed at least once a year. Developing the IEP is the most important function of the ARD committee. As a parent, you have a right to participate, and you should: YOU are your child’s best advocate.

IEP Facilitation

IEP Facilitation is used by the ARD committee in writing the IEP to ensure all members of the committee have a say. In some instances, the state can provide an independent facilitator for the ARD meeting.


Least Restrictive Environment (LRE)

The term used in IDEA to refer to a student’s right to be educated to the maximum extent appropriate with students who do not have disabilities (general education) and as close to home as possible.


Manifestation Determination Review (MDR)

MDR is a review of the relationship between a student’s disability and the behavior that is the subject of a disciplinary action.


Modifications, unlike accommodations, change the level of instruction provided or tested. Modifications create a different standard for the student receiving them. The most common modifications are those made to the general education curriculum for a student with a cognitive disability. Curriculum modifications should be in the student’s


Orientation and Mobility Services

Orientation and mobility services assist a student with a visual impairment to navigate her or his environment, including the school campus and community. Services are based on an orientation and mobility evaluation, which is typically conducted by a certified orientation and mobility specialist.

The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR)

OCR is the federal agency that enforces Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act in public schools, including charter schools.



The definition of parent in IDEA includes biological, adoptive or foster parents; guardians (unless the child is a ward of the state); individuals acting in the place of natural or adoptive parents, such as grandparents, stepparents other relatives with whom the child lives; individuals responsible for the child’s welfare; and assigned surrogates.

Positive Behavior Intervention and Supports (PBIS)

PBIS is a proactive systems approach for creating and maintaining safe and effective learning environments in schools and ensuring that all students have the social and emotional skills needed to ensure their success in school and beyond.

Pre-Employment Transition Services

These services are training and services provided by the vocational rehabilitation program operated by the Texas Workforce Commission to work with transition services provided by schools to help students with disabilities be better prepared for future learning and employment after high school.

Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD)

PPCDs are public school services for children between the ages of 3 and 5 who qualify for special education services. Students ages 3 to 5 can receive special education services and support in settings such as a regular preschool in the
community, a Head Start program or a pre-kindergarten class. Options for 3-year-olds and 4-year-olds cannot be limited to PPCD classrooms containing only students with disabilities.

Prior Written Notice

Prior written notice is a required document that the school must provide to parents any time the school proposes a change, or refuses a parents’ request, affecting a student with a disability’s identification, evaluation, placement or receipt of special education.

Procedural Safeguards

Procedural safeguards are the collection of rights given to parents of children with disabilities under the IDEA. Procedural safeguards are rights that parents can enforce to ensure their participation in the process as well as to raise complaints about the provision or denial of special education services.


Response to Intervention (RTI)

RTI is a process for providing increasingly intensive high quality instruction to students with learning problems and struggles in a general education classroom. State law requires that the school notify the parents about their child’s participation in RTI.


Scientifically Based Instruction

These are instructional and curriculum practices based on sound methodology and supported by credible research. An important component of scientifically based instruction is that the research has been “peer reviewed.” Requirements for scientifically based instruction are in the IDEA.

Section 504

Section 504 is the common name for the federal law that prohibits discrimination against students with disabilities. Section 504 (of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973) applies to any agency, including a school district, which receives federal money.

Standards-Based IEP

All students are required to have enrolled, grade-level, standards-based, measurable, annual IEP goals. Standards-based goals are aligned to enrolled grade-level Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS), the general curriculum in Texas. IEP goals should point a child directly toward specific grade-level TEKS for all students, including
students who are taking alternate assessments.

Supplementary Aids and Services

These are the terms used in IDEA to describe those aids, services and other supports provided in regular education classes, extracurricular activities and/or non-academic settings that enable a student with a disability to be educated with students who do not have disabilities. Schools must try supplementary aids and services before recommending removal of a student with a disability from a setting with nondisabled peers.

Supported Decision-Making Agreement

A student with a disability who has turned 18 now has the exclusive right to make his or her education decisions–meaning, the parents may no longer do so (see Adult Students, above). A Supportive Decision-Making Agreement allows a parent to assist the child in the education process–not make decisions for the child.


Ten-Day Recess

If the parents disagree with the ARD Committee, they can request that the meeting stop and take a break for 10 school days to gather information and develop other ideas and plans upon which an agreement can be reached. In Texas, this is called a ten-day recess. If the parents and school agree, the break can last longer than 10 school days.

Texas Education Agency (TEA)

The Texas state agency ultimately responsible for making sure every student with a disability receives a free appropriate public education.

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) Curriculum

TEKS is the state-mandated curriculum for each grade level in Texas public schools. TEKS should be considered the “general education curriculum” referenced in IDEA. Parents should request (or download) a copy of TEKS for their child’s age-appropriate grade level to use in developing their IEP.

Transition Services

Transition services are services identified in the student’s IEP that will help prepare the student for future learning, employment and life after high school. In Texas, transition planning starts no later than the student’s 14th birthday.

(Definitions taken and modified, in part, from Disability Rights TX Parent Manual)