Key Terms and Definitions


In searching for a school, you may come across a lot of acronyms and jargon. Below are some simple definitions to help explain these terms.


  • Advanced Placement (AP): College-level courses offered by some high schools. Students take an Advanced Placement exam at the end of the year and can earn college credit in that subject.

  • Attendance Rate: The percent of students at a school who are present on an average day.

  • Chronic Absentee Rate: The percent of students at a school that missed at least 15 days of school in one year.

  • College Attendance Rate: The percent of students from a school that enrolled in college courses after graduating from high school.

  • College preparatory: Curriculum or academic program designed specifically to prepare students for a four-year college or university.

  • DESE (Department of Elementary and Secondary Education):The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is responsible for public education at the elementary and secondary levels across all of Massachusetts.

  • Dual enrollment: Programs or classes which allow students to take college-level courses that will count both for their high school and college credits.

  • Dual language: Academic programs that are taught in two languages. Sometimes called "bilingual education."

  • Economically disadvantaged: The term that the state of Massachusetts uses for "low-income" students. Includes all students who participate in one or more state assistance programs.

  • English as a Second Language (ESL): English classes for students who are non-native speakers.

  • English Language Learner (ELL): A student who is learning English. ELL students generally receive specialized or modified instruction until they master English.

  • Expanded Learning Time: A longer school day.

  • Experiential learning: A style of education in which students learn through hands-on experience rather than strictly from reading or hearing about topics in school.

  • Graduation Rate: The percent of students from a high school that graduated from school in either 4 or 5 years.

  • Inclusion: An approach to special education in which students with special needs spend most or all of their time in school with students without special needs - all students are in classes together.

  • International Baccalaureate (IB): An academic program which emphasizes research and students learning from their peers; often thought to develop critical thinking skills.

  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): All students who receive special education services have one of these. An IEP is a written description of the program that a school will use to meet the individual needs of a student with special learning needs.

  • Learning Adaptive Behavior (LAB): A program to help students, especially students with special needs, master school or social norms.

  • MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System): One of the two state tests that public school students take in Massachusetts in grades 3-10, including separate tests in Math, English Language Arts (ELA), and Science. Starting in 2016-2017, this and the PARCC test have developed into a test called the “Next Generation MCAS,” which includes questions from both the MCAS and the PARCC tests.

  • SGP (Median Student Growth Percentile): Student Growth Percentile indicates the academic improvement or growth that students in that school made in one year compared to other similar students across the state. A median of SGP of 60 and higher is considered “high growth”; a median SGP of 40 or below is considered “low growth.”

  • National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC): An organization that certifies or accredits early childhood programs that meet education, health, and safety standards. A program that is "NAEYC accredited" has been certified as a quality program by this organization.

  • PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers): One of the two state tests that most students took in Massachusetts from 2014 to 2016, generally taken by students in grades 3-8. Includes separate tests in Math, English Language Arts (ELA), and Science. PARCC was used to develop the new version of the MCAS, the “Next Generation MCAS,” which started in grades 3-8 in 2017.

  • Restorative justice: An approach to discipline in a school. In restorative justice, a student who has violated a rule or norm will meet with a group of their peers and teachers to discuss the incident and how to avoid damaging the community.

  • SEI (Sheltered English Immersion): A style of instruction in which students who are learning English (ELLs) are taught in English by certified teachers, with additional explanation in their native language when needed to make the content understandable. In an SEI class, students are grouped by native language - so, for example, native Vietnamese speakers are in class with other Vietnamese speakers.

  • SLIFE (Students with Limited or Interrupted Formal Education): Students who are English Language Learners (ELLs) and whose formal education has been interrupted. Some schools offer special classes or programs to serve these students.

  • Special Education: The practice of educating students with special educational needs (such as learning disabilities or developing language skills) in a way that addresses their individual needs. All students receiving special education services have an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) indicating the services that their school will provide.

  • SPEDPAC (Special Education Parent Advisory Council): Massachusetts state law requires all public school districts to maintain a Parent Advisory Council open to all parents of students with disabilities, and all other interested parties.

  • State Level: How DESE classifies the academic performance of students in specific districts and schools in Massachusetts. It helps the state decide what support schools need and how to allocate resources. The state level takes into account academic achievement, progress or growth, high school completion, chronic absenteeism and advanced classes. Some schools may not be classified due to “insufficient data”, which means that the number of students tested was not large enough to categorize the school. Schools and districts are classified into the following five categories, from highest designation (best) to lowest:

    • Schools of recognition: This is the highest academic designation. Schools or districts in this category do not require assistance or intervention from the state and are recognized for their academic accomplishments. Schools of recognition are identified for high achievement, high growth, and exceeding targets.

    • Meeting targets: A school or district is identified as meeting targets if they are meeting targets for most students and have not otherwise been identified as having low overall performance, low subgroup performance, low graduation rates, or low assessment participation.

    • Partially meeting targets: A district or school is identified as partially meeting targets if they are meeting targets for fewer of their students and have not otherwise been identified as having low overall performance, low subgroup performance, low graduation rates, or low assessment participation.

    • Focused/targeted support: A school or district is identified as in need of focused/targeted support if it is among the lowest 10 percent of schools statewide, as measured by the accountability percentile; has one or more subgroups with a subgroup percentile of 5 or below; has a low graduation rate for all students (below 66.7 percent); and/or has low assessment participation (below 95 percent) for all students or for one or more subgroups in one or more subjects.

    • Broad/comprehensive support: This is the lowest designation. A school or district is identified as in need of broad/comprehensive support if it is designated underperforming or chronically underperforming by the Commissioner of Elementary and Secondary Education.

  • STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, the Arts, and Math): Some schools provide classes or curriculum with a focus on these topics. Similar to STEM, but with an additional focus on the Arts.

  • STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math): Some schools provide classes or curriculum with a focus on these topics.

  • Student Attrition Rate: The percent of students that left a school from the end of one year to the beginning of the next.

  • Student Suspension Rate: The percent of students at a school that were suspended for any reason in one year.

  • Student/Teacher Ratio; students per teacher: An estimated number of students per one teacher. This is not the size of a class - most classes in most schools will have more students than this number.

  • Teacher Retention Rate: The percent of teachers at a school that remain working in the same position from one year to the next.

Specific to Massachusetts

  • Charter School - Commonwealth: Commonly referred to as just “charter schools.” These are tuition-free schools that are authorized by the state of Massachusetts and run with public funds but are not affiliated with a city’s school district. Admission is by an open lottery.

Specific to Boston Public Schools (BPS)

  • AWC (Advanced Work Classes): An accelerated or advanced academic curriculum available in some BPS schools to students in grades 4-6. Students are accepted into AWC classes based on scores on a test called TerraNova (all students take it). Students in AWC are grouped together in classes.

  • BPS Tier: BPS schools are ranked from 1 to 4. 1 is the highest (best) ranking and 4 as the lowest ranking. BPS tiers are determined by a school's test scores, school culture survey results, and other measurements.

  • Boston Exam Schools: The three Boston Public Schools - Boston Latin School, Boston Latin Academy, and the John D. O'Bryant School - that students must be accepted to based on academic qualifications. Acceptance is determined by a student's grades and performance on a test called the ISEE (Independent School Entrance Exam). Students are accepted in grades 7 and 9.

  • Charter School-Horace Mann: Tuition-free public district schools that are overseen by Boston Public Schools, the city’s school department, but are authorized by the state of Massachusetts. Admission is by an open lottery.

  • EFA (Excellence for All): A program within BPS schools that expands access to rigorous coursework, typically from Advanced Work Classes (AWC). Students in schools with Excellence for All have challenging work and classes such as STEM and world languages.

  • Extended Learning Time (ELT): Any time beyond the traditional school day that is used to expand options for quality learning. Can include a longer school day, after-school activities, and/or summer school.

  • K0, K1, and K2: The “kindergarten” and “pre-kindergarten” grades offered by schools in Boston. Students are guaranteed a seat in a BPS school for K2 but not K0 or K1 (seats in these grades are administered on a lottery basis). K2 is commonly called “kindergarten” and K0 and K1 are both “pre-kindergarten” or “Pre-K.”

    • K0 is for students who will be 3 years old by September of the new school year (for 2019-2020, 3 years old by 9/1/19).

    • K1 is for students who will be 4 years old by September of the new school year.

    • K2 is for students who will be 5 years old by September of the new school year.

  • Special Education-Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA): A method of therapy used to improve or change specific behaviors. Available as a service, often for students with an autism spectrum disorder, as determined by IEP team.

  • Special Education-inclusion services: Inclusion classrooms for students - may differ by age/grade level

  • Special Education (Mild/Moderate/Severe Intellectual Impairment): Services to support students with mild, moderate, or severely limited capacity to perform cognitive tasks.

  • Special Education-Physical Impairment: Services to support students who have limited physical capacity to move or coordinate actions.

  • Special Education-Substantially Separate: A classroom environment outside of the general education setting for children with significant learning needs.

Boston Charter Schools

  • Boston Charter School Application: A student can enter the lottery for all Boston Charter Schools (except Bridge Boston) via a single online application system.
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