What does IEP mean?




Recently I attended Reading in the Rockies. (It is the annual convention of the local branch of the International Dyslexia Association.) I have attended Reading in the Rockies for many years, ever since I first learned that my daughter was dyslexic. I haven’t gone every year, but I have gone many times in the past 12 years or so. This year one of the things that I am happy to report is that I understand so much more than I did back when I first went to Reading in the Rockies.



You see, teachers, like every profession, have their own jargon.

Their own way of saying things.

So many vocabulary words that they use a lot, but other people don’t.

And a lot of the vocabulary they use is abbreviated.


They constantly use abbreviations for things in the education world and act like everyone there knows what that abbreviation stands for.


When I first attended Reading in the Rockies, I had been a stay-at-home mom for almost 10 years.

Before that I had been a teacher but not in a public school.


So many times, I had no idea what they were talking about.

They would say things about MTSS, and RTI as if it was common knowledge and everyone knew what that meant.


I didn’t.


I am thinking I am not the only one. Reading conventions like this one are open to parents as well as teachers. You don't have to be a teacher to go and learn about how to help a struggling reader. Homeschool parents are able to attend these types of meetings too.


At the convention, these terms are used in the stream of conversation, and I was just trying to keep up and try to understand something that would give me a clue about how to teach reading to a dyslexic child.

This year I felt much better about the number of words and abbreviations that I understood.

It has occurred to me that you, my readers, might be in the same place I was back then.

You might be wondering what MTSS, RTI, and a multitude of other abbreviations might mean.


So, for this blog, I have decided to give a brief definition of a bunch of abbreviations and other vocabulary used in the education world. It will certainly not be a comprehensive list. I am not even going to try to include all the abbreviations related to education, but I am going to try to make the education jargon a little more understandable to someone who is not a teacher. I hope it will be helpful to someone. Even if you are homeschooling this information may be useful to you for several reasons.


SOR = Science of Reading

Science of Reading is teaching reading in a way that is systematic, structured, sequential, multisensory, and cumulative. It is supported by research and includes all 5 elements of reading: phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.


OG = Orton-Gillingham

Samuel T. Orton was a doctor that studied students who were otherwise smart but who failed to learn to read in the early 1900s. Anna Gillingham was a teacher that worked with Dr. Orton to come up with ways that were effective in teaching these children to read. Today there are lots of reading programs and curriculums that use Orton-Gillingham methods to teach children with dyslexia to read. If someone is teaching the Science of Reading (SOR) they are using Orton-Gillingham (OG) methods.


RTI= Response To Intervention

MTSS= Multiple Tiered Systems of Support ( I believe this has replaced RTI.)

IEP= Individual Education Plan. This plan will provide special instruction.

504 plan= is similar to IEP but only provides accommodations without special instruction. If you are interested in understanding the difference between an IEP and a 504 plan here is a link to an article about that.


SPED= special Education. An IEP is considered special education.


IDEA= Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. This is the federal law that supports special education.


Here is how things are supposed to work in public school. Multiple Tiered Systems of Support ( MTSS) means that there are 3 tiers or 3 levels of support for students. Tier 1 is the regular classroom instruction that every student receives. Some students may need a little more help. So, during certain times the teacher can work with a small group of students so that they can get more practice and individualized instruction. This is tier 2.


Students in Tier 2 should receive regular progress monitoring. If they are still not making the gains that are expected, then they should be given formal diagnostic testing and an IEP or 504 plan. Then if they have an IEP they can go for a portion of the day with a specialist to work on the goals they have set in the IEP.






At this point, I want to get on a soap box and express the thought that is growing in this country and will make a huge difference for good if it is able to get to all schools. Every child - that's tier 1 should be taught by well-qualified teachers that understand the science of reading (SOR). This would greatly reduce the number of students that need to be pulled out for tier 3 instruction. There still would be some students that would need extra help but the number would be reduced.


But - another soap box of mine - (really important to me - because it was me-)

Some students - those with dyslexia - would still need extra help and extra time. So if you are a mom who has been working really hard with your children to teach reading and they are still struggling - it is not your fault.


Ok - off the soap box - let me say a few other things...



Reading Assessments: there are lots of them. Some of them are screeners that should be given to all children (Tier 1). This is how we determine if a student needs to be moved to Tier 2. They are not diagnostic, but they are short assessments that will alert the teacher the student is exhibiting red flags in any area related to reading. A very popular reading screener is:

DIBELS ® (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills)


There are also many “informal reading inventories” used to place the students in levels. This tells the teacher which books the student should be able to read. After doing this type of assessment the teacher will tell you which books are at the child’s independent, instructional, and frustration reading level.


The Independent reading level is where they can read all by themselves.


The instructional reading level is the level where they benefit from reading with a parent or teacher so that they may stretch their skills and grow.


The frustration reading level is where the book is hard enough that all it does is frustrate the child.


DRA= Developmental Reading Assessment

The Developmental Reading Assessment is an assessment that will help you figure out your child’s “just right reading level”. It is confusing because the levels are #’s that do not align with grade levels. For example a 1st grade student should be at a DRA level between 6 and 16.


GRL= Guided Reading Levels

Guided Reading Levels are very similar things by different authors. Guided Reading Levels are from popular textbook authors Fountas and Pinnell. Instead of numbers, they use letters. According to them, a 1st grader should be reading somewhere between level D and I.


I find this to be really confusing. I have a chart that shows how they line up and how they both relate to grade levels but to tell the truth, what I usually do is completely ignore these levels.


Instead, this is what I do and what most teachers of the Science of Reading (SOR) do:


We use decodable books.


In the beginning, we only have our students read very controlled text. We don’t give them books with words that they do not have the skills to read. It’s that simple. We teach one concept at a time and have the child practice that concept with decodable books that have controlled text.


As a child gains more and more experience and recognizes more words including words that may have parts that are not following phonetic rules I have no problem with them reading leveled text. But in the beginning, I ignore the leveled books and use decodable text.



By the way, what I do with my tutoring business is basically put you on the fast track.

Instead of waiting to see how your child will do, and then waiting for the school to do formal testing and waiting for all the meetings to happen and all the decisions to be made….


We just do the informal screening and start 1-to-1 tutoring.

This would be equivalent to being in Tier 3 but your child doesn’t have to leave class to participate. And you do not have to wait for formal testing etc.


Also, if you homeschool you are already having small group instruction.

That would be similar to tier 2 instruction. If your child is still struggling you will want to make sure you are using a curriculum that follows the science of reading (SOR) or you may opt to hire a tutor to make sure your child gains this most essential skill of all school subjects.


I do not pretend to be an expert in public school but these are some of the things that I have learned that I thought might help some of my readers also. Even if you do not go to public school it is useful to know this stuff if you are trying to understand what people are talking about in regard to reading instruction. If this helped you please like and share it with others. Thanks!

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