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Do you ever feel like when you ask your kid’s teacher a question, the teacher speaks a foreign language? It’s funny how a person who communicates complex ideas to children often has difficulty explaining something to a parent! In an effort to improve parent/teacher communication, here is a guide to teacher-speak.


Individualized Education Plan. An IEP is a plan for students with academic gaps resulting from a disability.

Most IEPs have a medical professional like a psychologist or psychiatrist providing documentation the student has an impairment. For example, a student may have a dyslexia diagnosis.

504 Plan:

A 504 Plan is for students with a health impairment that impacts their academic performance. An example is a student who has severe migraines. A 504 Plan is not an IEP.

Teacher speaking to family


EIP stands for Early Intervention Plan. Schools use a variety of testing.

If a student struggles in a subject and falls behind, the school will refer them to an early intervention program. They will receive additional help until they close the gap.

Reading Fluency:

Reading fluency is the ability of a child to recognize, pronounce, and read words without hesitation. One measure of reading fluency is a test where a child reads aloud while a teacher records the number of mistakes.

The assessment is usually a one-minute timed test. The teacher compares the number of words per minute without errors a child reads and compares them to their peer group. Reading fluency is not the same as reading comprehension.

A child can be a fluent reader but do not understand what they read. The opposite is true as well. A child may not be a fluent reader but has strong comprehension skills.

Reading Comprehension:

Reading comprehension measures what a child understands after they read a passage. The assessment usually reads a passage and answers questions demonstrating they understand and comprehends the information. It’s different from the reading level.

Reading Level:

Many schools use several assessments to determine a student’s reading level. The student reads a book or a passage and takes an assessment, usually on a computer. The review assigns a reading level to the book and how many responses are correct.

For example, a third-grade student reads Third Grade Mermaid, a third-grade-level book. The student takes a test and gets 100%. The assessment reports that the student reads at a comprehension level of 3.2. You interpret the student is reading at a level of a third-grade and second-month student.

At the beginning of the school year, the score is what is expected. If it’s the end of the school year, the score should be closer to a 4th-grade student. Assessments like these can be confusing and are not always accurate reflections of reading comprehension.

Focus, attention, and active:

child day dreaming

When a teacher says your child has difficulty focusing or distracts others in the class, they are telling you that there is a behavior that is creating a distraction to others. How do you respond?

First, ask specific questions. At what time does it happen? Provide some examples and sample work. What were you teaching when it happened? How did you respond? What do you think the source of the problem is? What interventions have you tried?

In my experience, no kid wakes up in the morning and thinks, “I am going to make my teacher’s life miserable today and misbehave.” When a teacher gives vague responses, they may not know how to handle a naturally active kid. However, the teacher may try to communicate that behavior is more than being off task.

Most of the time, it’s something simple and straightforward to fix. But you can’t fix something without knowing what is causing the problem. If it’s a big enough problem for a conference, the teacher should have a log of what and when.

Norm or Criterion Assessment:

students testing

A norm-referenced test compares your child’s score with other students nationwide to see how they are doing. For example, SAT or ACT college entrance exams are norm-referenced assessments.

Teachers usually report the score in percentile ranking. Percentile rankings can be confusing. A student who scores in the 50th percentile is average. The closer to the 99th percentile, the better the student performed.

A criterion-referenced assessment measures the student’s performance on standards.Most state test scores are criterion. They are trying to determine if the student understands a specific standard.


Motivation comes from two words – motive and action. If you know why someone does what they do, you understand the action of what they are doing. Motivation is an internal reason for doing something.

While you can motivate children with incentives, incentives sometimes are short-term lasting. Children either motivate themselves to do something or they motivate themselves to do nothing. When a teacher says a child lacks motivation, the best question to ask is why you think that is.

Maybe the student is having a bad week. The student may not understand the material, and it’s easier to do nothing. There is always a reason.

Finally, good teachers are foremost good communicators. They listen, ask questions, and respond positively to parents and students. Teachers who use an abundance of teacher-speak may think they are impressing you with their knowledge.

Some just don’t know they are teacher-speaking! Most teachers want to hear from you and work to be excellent communicators.

As a parent, if you hear something you don’t understand, ask questions. Let’s put an end to parent/teacher miscommunication. After all, we all work together for the same end – the best possible education for our children.

Written by, Doug Carroll, Ed.D.

*For more resources on helping your child succeed in their education, check out our lesson plans and YouTube channel!