Learning the Lingo: A Parent’s Guide to Educational Terms

Just like any other industry, education uses a language filled with acronyms and rooted in science. You need to break through some of that lingo in order to support your student.

I consider myself blessed both personally and professionally. Personally, I’m the mom to two boys who are healthy, pretty typical in development, behavior, and abilities, and (usually) well-behaved. Professionally I work in communications for one of Iowa’s Area Education Agencies and experts in education surround me! Literally every day I’m immersed in the learning that the AEA provides for our teachers and school administrators, and I can hang out around the break room Keurig and ask really smart people for insights into that learning.

So,I want to share that opportunity with you.Understanding Educational Lingo

Being an effective parent means you need to be able to communicate effectively about your student’s performance. 

There’s an education-based researcher named John Hattie who built his career around researching and understanding how to improve educational outcomes for kids. His research demonstrates that parents play a key role, but sometimes struggle to speak the same language. 

“A major concern is that some parents know how to speak the language of schooling and thus provide an advantage for their children during the school years, and others do not know this language, which can be a major barrier to the home making a contribution to achievement.” Hattie, J. (2009).

So here’s my crib sheet for some phrases you might encounter during the upcoming school year. Save this post for your next parent-teacher conference so you can reference it; trust me, it’ll come in handy.

Common Educational Terms

Attendance center

Folks, this is just a fancy term for the physical building where your kiddo will attend classes. Every year I hear from administrators about parents who ‘forget’ to register their child with their attendance center. Find out which building your child will attend and watch for registration information.


You might see tickets for a ‘job well done’ come home with your elementary-aged kids: this is part of the school’s Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) program. Nearly every school in the area has a program in place that praises positive behavior and reframes the negative. You can ask your child’s teacher about the program for your building so you can use similar ideas at home. 

Iowa Core

Guys, this term has gotten a real bum rap in our state. For better or for worse, the Iowa Core is simply a statewide list of academic standards. It’s a way the state helps districts sort through all the information in the world and make sure teachers in accredited public and non-public schools teach similar things in math, science, English, language arts and social studies. It also ensures that schools don’t miss important topics like financial and technology literacy.


 If you choose to enroll your child in a public school you’ll quickly be introduced to something called FAST. Schools administer this literacy test several times a year to check some basic things like letter sounds, reading sentences and sight word reading.  Now here’s an important disclaimer: don’t worry if your child isn’t making the mark right out of the gate. As your child’s teacher will be quick to remind you, there are lots of things teachers consider when looking at how your child learns. FAST is, however, one way your teacher can make sure your child is learning the key elements of literacy.


Student scores on FAST and other tests are reviewed often, and you’ll likely hear the results of this assessment during your parent-teacher conference. The term proficient is a bit controversial. It’s simply stating a child is demonstrating that he or she has learned the skills they were expected to learn at the point when they were tested. 

Today’s schools are rooted in science and data like never before.

Today’s teachers are incredibly adept at changing their entire instructional practice to match the needs of diverse learners. It’s really phenomenal, and I hope every parent out there has great experiences with their kiddos’ teachers as we’ve had.

But sometimes, even when teachers do their best to explain their lingo for a parent, it still can be hard to really grasp what they’re telling you.

Don’t be afraid to ask your kid’s teacher to break it down a bit for you. Remember, they’re teachers. 

They love good questions and an opportunity to share knowledge with you!

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