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Glossary of Education Terms

(This glossary of terms was compiled from Education Week's web site - www.edweek.org and is reprinted with permission.)

ability grouping - A common instructional practice of clustering students according to their academic skills in classrooms. Ability grouping allows a teacher to provide the same level of instruction to the entire group. Also called tracking.

alternative assessment - Any form of measuring what students know and are able to do than traditional standardized tests. Alternative forms of assessment include portfolios, performance-based assessments, and other means of testing students.

alternative schools - Refers to public schools which are set up by states or school districts to serve populations of students who are not succeeding in the traditional public school environment. Alternative schools offer students who are failing academically or may have learning disabilities or behavioral problems an opportunity to achieve in a different setting. While there are many different kinds of alternative schools, they are often characterized by their flexible schedules, smaller teacher-student ratios and modified curricula.

at risk - Describes a student with socioeconomic challenges, such as poverty or teen pregnancy, which may place them at a disadvantage in achieving academic, social, or career goals. Such students are deemed "At risk" of failing, dropping out, or "falling through the cracks" at school. (EWA editor's note: don't use this term in describing children)

basal readers - Elementary school books that incorporate simple stories and practice exercises to reinforce what students are learning.

basic skills - The traditional building blocks of a curriculum that are most commonly associated with explicit instruction in early elementary language arts and mathematics. Basic skills have historically been taught in isolation. Basic skills include teaching the letters of the alphabet, how to sound out words, spelling, grammar, counting, adding, subtracting, and multiplying.

Carnegie Unit - A credit representing the completion of a core of high school courses. Developed in the early 1900s to set norms for curriculum and course time in public schools across the country, these are named after the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, which first suggested the practice.

character education - Deliberate instruction in basic virtues or morals, as opposed to weaving these values into every lesson. A national movement is underway to include character education in school curricula as one means of alleviating the current deficit in school-children's values by strengthening their moral fiber.

charter schools - Schools run independently of the traditional public school system but receiving public funding, run by groups such as teachers, parents, or foundations. Charter schools are free of many district regulations and are often tailored to community needs.

cooperative learning - A method of instruction that encourages students to work in small groups, learning material then presenting what they have learned to other small groups. In doing so, they take responsibility for their own learning as well as their classmates.

creationism - Creationism is the product of a literal interpretation of the Biblical story of Genesis. It holds that God created the world in a single act approximately 6,000 years ago--and that human beings, animals, and other forms of life exist today much as they did then. To many creationists, the theory of evolution is heresy. They argue that fossil records and other scientific evidence of evolution are either false or were themselves created by God.

critical thinking - The mental process of acquiring information, then evaluating it to reach a logical conclusion or answer. Increasingly, educators believe that schools should focus more on critical thinking than on memorization of facts.

curriculum - The subject matter that teachers and students cover in class.

decentralization - The breakup and distribution of power from a central government authority, usually including a reduction of the personnel and funding of that authority. In education, the term is most frequently used to describe the transfer of school policymaking authority from the federal to the state level, or the transfer of decisionmaking authority from the state level to districts or schools.

dyslexia - A reading impairment, thought to be a genetic condition, which affects up to 10 percent of the nation's school children. One trait of dyslexia might be transposing letters. Children born to parents with dyslexia may be eight times as likely to have the condition.

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