Glossary of Instructional Terms

The glossary is a dynamic document shared by the district’s leadership team.  Its purpose is to provide our community with explanations of educational terms that are frequently used in documents, presentations, and discussions.

The Core Instructional Practices are described on another page.

Some terms, such as those with * have been copied from and


Allocation – An expenditure limit established for an organizational unit or function.

Appropriation – Funding assigned to a specific agency or program to make expenditures/incur obligations for a specified purpose and period of time. The Board of Aldermen appropriate specific amounts to each department in their annual budget.

Carryover Appropriations – The balance available for expenditure in years subsequent to the year of enactment.

Encumbrance – An amount set aside to pay for goods or services which have been ordered by means of contracts, salary commitments, etc., but not yet received.

Line-items – A sub-classification of expenditures based on type of goods or services. The line-items used in a budget are determined by the organization, and they may be broad or finely-grained.

Required Local Contribution – Amount that a municipality is required to pay towards the school district’s Foundation Budget. This figure is based on the prior year required contribution and includes some transition factors, so that the shift toward the target level occurs over a period of several years.

Revenues – Money that comes into the school district.

Revolving Fund – An account that is allowed to maintain a balance from one fiscal year to the next. This flexibility allows a community to raise revenues from a specific service and use those revenues to support the service. Revolving funds are closely regulated by state law as to purpose and amount.

Salaries – Wages for employees, including teachers, drivers, secretaries, administrators etc.

Special Education Tuition – When a district is not able to provide the appropriate education to a student, that student may attend a school designed to provide that level of education. The need for this outside school is determined by the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for the student. These programs may be through a Collaborative such as SEEM or in individual state approved private special education schools.

Title I – federal funding to schools based on poverty levels. The funding is meant to help students who are at risk of falling behind academically by providing supplemental instruction.

Unfunded Mandate – A requirement imposed by law, regulation, or order without underlying financial support, such that districts must find funding sources within their own budgets to meet the requirement.

userFeesUser Charges/Fees – A payment that is collected from the user of a service to help offset the cost of providing the service.


Accountable Talk – speaking and listening practices measured by respectful tone, body language, and clarity that results in issue-focused conversation resulting in improved understanding and learning outcomes.

Achievement Series – A web based assessment platform that allows for the development and administration of district based assessments.

Assessments – a general term that refers to the process of gaining information about student learning. The instrument of the assessment is the particular work or test being evaluated.

Benchmarks – The standard by which progress is measured.

Benchmark Assessments –  An assessment administered at a specific point in the school year in which the results are measured against established standards or benchmarks.

For example, a beginning of year (BOY) assessment is an assessment that used to benchmark a student’s performance at the beginning of year in order to measure growth using ensuing assessments.   Subsequent assessments for benchmarking are referred to as middle of the year (MOY) assessment and end of year (EOY) assessment.

Capacity – the resources (manpower, funding, materials) to accomplish a task, job, or project.

Data Specialist – a school staff member who obtains, processes, reports, and analyzes employee and student data in order to comply with applicable laws and regulations, as well as to enhance the efforts of improving teaching and learning.

DIBELS Next– Students in grades K-5 are assessed using DIBELS Next, Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills Next. DIBELS Next assesses five skills that are necessary for learning to read. Children who learn these skills become good readers. The skills are:

  • Phonemic Awareness: Hearing and using sounds in spoken words
  • Alphabetic Principle: Knowing the sounds of the letters and sounding out written words
  • Accurate and Fluent Reading: Reading stories and other materials easily and quickly with few mistakes
  • Vocabulary: Understanding and using a variety of words
  • Comprehension: Understanding what is spoken or read

DIBELS consists of seven short individual tests, called subtests. Each DIBELS subtest focuses on a different skill and takes 1 minute to complete. Your child may be given two to five of the DIBELS subtests depending on his or her grade level.  Each subtest provides specific benchmarks students must achieve. A score falling at the low risk level indicates the child is on track for success in reading at their grade level. Students scoring at some risk have scores that fall in the mid-range and are in need of some supports to meet grade level goals. At risk scores indicates that additional interventions are needed in order for the student to meet the end of year reading goals.

District Determined Measure (DDM) – District-determined measures (DDMs) are measures of student learning, growth, or achievement that are part of the MA Educator Evaluation Framework.  They are common assessments developed by the district to measure student growth as well as curriculum alignment and instructional consistency across a grade or a course.  All staff members are required to have multiple DDMs that are used to calculate their impact on student learning.

Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) – the federal government’s 2015 revision of the 2001 No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).

Evidence Based Selected Response – One of  three types of English Language Arts questions on PARCC that combines a selected response question with a second  one that asks students to show evidence from the text.

Formative Assessments – Assessment for learning – Taken at varying intervals throughout a course to provide information and feedback that will help improve •the quality of student learning. •the quality of the course and instruction

Mastery – A performance level that implies proficiency has been demonstrated multiple times and in multiple ways or contexts.

Multiple Means of Expression – a principle of Understanding by Design (UdL) in which students select multiple ways to demonstrate understanding as a path to mastering content. An alternative to single-assessment demonstration.


Performance Level – Student results on MCAS and MCAS-Alt tests are assigned one of four performance levels:

Grades 48 and 10 – Advanced, Proficient, Needs Improvement, or Warning/Failing.

Grade 3 only – a fourth performance level is Above Proficient.

MCAS-Alt – Progressing, Emerging, Awareness, or Portfolio Not Submitted.

Performance Tasks – An assessment in which students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of previously taught content and skills.  Performance tasks are often written in the context of real world experiences.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports (PBIS) – a framework by which schools can develop common language and behaviors that lead to a culture of respect.

Prose-Constructed Responses – One of three types of English Language Arts questions on PARCC that requires students to write using evidence they have read.

Proficiency – A rating that meets the required level of performance on an assessment that serves as evidence toward advancement.

Progress Monitoring – Interim assessments used to assess if a student has moved closer to the benchmark expectation.

Restorative Justice – a way for offenders and victims to develop and execute a path from offense to retribution that allows for learning and improvement. An alternative to punitive justice.

Self-assessment – The process of reflecting on one’s strengths and areas of development.  Self-assessments are often coupled with goal setting and action planning as part of the new Massachusetts teacher and administrative evaluation protocol.

Soft Measures – alternative ways of measuring the impact of teaching on learning, including attendance, graduation, drop-out, and suspension rates; depression screening results; etc.

Student Attendance Rate – Attendance rates are calculated by dividing the total number of days all students attended school by the total number of days all students were enrolled

Student Growth Percentiles (SGP) – Measure change in achievement over time as reported by MCAS. The goal for all groups is to achieve or maintain a median SGP at least one point above the state median. The SGP for each group is also given a rating relative to its own annual target of Above Target, On Target, or Below Target.

Subgroup (also known as “Student Group”) – The state reports data for all students in a school or district within eleven student groups: high needs, low income, Limited English Proficient, students with disabilities, multi-race, African American/Black, Asian, Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic or Latino, Native American/Alaskan, or white. A student’s test scores are counted toward each group to which the/she belongs.

Summative Assessments – Assessment of learning, generally taken by students at the end of a unit or semester to demonstrate the “sum” of what they have or have not learned.

Technology Enhanced Constructed Response – One of three types of English Language Arts questions on PARCC that uses technology to authentically capture student comprehension of text that have been traditionally difficult to score via multiple choice. Students use technology tools such as dragging and dropping, shading of text, and moving of text.

Open Responses – A type of question that is included on all MCAS tests that requires students to generate a written response in a form of narrative, chart, table, diagram, illustration or graph, as appropriate.  Open responses are also used as formative and summative assessments across all subject areas.

Teaching and Learning

21st century skills – refers to a broad set of knowledge, skills, work habits, and character traits that are believed—by educators, school reformers, college professors, employers, and others—to be critically important to success in today’s world, particularly in collegiate programs and contemporary careers and workplaces.

Academic Support – refer to a wide variety of instructional methods, educational services, or school resources provided to students in the effort to help them accelerate their learning progress, catch up with their peers, meet learning standards, or generally succeed in school.

Acceleration – A means by which a qualified student may move ahead a grade or move ahead in a content/course sequence based on mastery and ability.

Grade Acceleration
Content-based Acceleration

Accommodations – An alteration of environment, curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual to allow a student to gain equal access to learning the content and/or complete assigned tasks but that does not substantially change the level, content, or performance criteria. An accommodation changes how the student learns or accesses the curriculum, but does not significantly change the content, instruction, or assessment.

Advanced Placement (AP) – A program that is run by the College Board.  AP courses are available to high school students in many subjects that are traditionally offered to a college freshman (Biology, Microeconomics, Calculus).  At the end of the course, students take an exam that determines whether or not they will qualify for college credit for the course.

Alternative Academic Opportunities – a broad range of academic, behavioral, and social/emotional interventions designed to increase the academic achievement levels of these students so that they are able meet the Learning Standards and complete their education in a safe learning environment.

Authentic Learning* – refers to a wide variety of educational and instructional techniques focused on connecting what students are taught in school to real-world issues, problems, and applications.

Between-class Intentional Grouping – Grouping students for a specific purpose with other students from their classroom as well as with other students from other classrooms in their same or different grade level.

CER (Claims, Evidence, Reasoning) framework – Framework for both science inquiry and social studies inquiry, when researching and testing a hypothesis or claim.

Competency-based Learning* – systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.

College and Career Readiness – Characteristic of graduating students having the knowledge and skills in English and mathematics necessary to qualify for and succeed in entry level, credit bearing, postsecondary course work without the need for remediation.

Consultancy Protocol – a structured process used by teams for analyzing a problem and generating solutions.

Core Instructional Practices – A collection of research-based best practices that form the foundation of instruction.   Please see the chart at the end of the glossary.

Common Planning Time (CPT) – Any period of time that is scheduled during the school day for multiple teachers or teams of teachers to work collaboratively together.

Competencies* – A set of related skills, knowledge, conceptual understandings, and mindsets that involve the application or creation of knowledge and that encompass subject-specific as well as cross-disciplinary constructs.

Credit by Examination – For a student to receive credit for having completed a course by showing in examination that they have mastered the content, whether or not they have attended the classes.

Criterion Referenced – tests and assessments that are designed to measure student performance against a fixed set of predetermined criteria or learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education.

Curriculum – The means and the materials with which students will interact for the purpose of achieving identified educational outcomes.

Curriculum Frameworks – A set of standards of learning outcomes that defines the content to be learned in terms of what students should know and be able to do. The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education outline Curriculum Frameworks in all content areas.

Data meetings – Planned meetings in which a group of educators review assessment data to determine student needs and review the implementation of curriculum and instruction.

DESE Data Toolkit – A set of tools provided by DESE to help districts learn to use data better.

DICE (Dissect, Illustrate, Calculate, Explain) – A mnemonic used by students to solve math problems. Students begin by dissecting and making sense of the problem. Students then illustrate the problem focused on seeing the relationships between the ideas. The problem is then represented in numbers. Finally, students write their explanation.

Differentiation – A framework for effective teaching that involves providing different students with different avenues to learning (often in the same classroom) in terms of: acquiring content; processing, constructing, or making sense of ideas; and developing teaching materials and assessment measures so that all students within a classroom can learn effectively, regardless of differences in ability.

Director – The title we use for our department chairpersons.

District Curriculum Accommodation Plan(DCAP) – A plan that is designed to assist administrators and teachers to ensure that all possible efforts have been made to meet students’ needs in general education classrooms. It supports teachers in analyzing and accommodating diverse learning styles of all children.

Document-Based Question – The form of text-based question that is used on Advanced Placement History exams.  Typically, students are given 3-12 documents, including primary source excerpts, images, maps, charts, and political cartoons, and asked to analyze and synthesize them, and write in response to this analysis.

Dual-enrollment-A program that allows high school students usually juniors and seniors to enroll in college courses for credit prior to graduation.

Flexible groupings – A system of grouping students that are made within/between a classroom or grade level that can be changed depending on specific criteria.

Gateway Project (Boston MOS) – A professional development program provided by the Museum of Science to help district implement rigorous and engaging technology and engineering programs at all grade levels

Google Apps for Education – A number of applications, similar to those found in Microsoft or iTunes to augment instruction and production.

Individual Student Support Plan (ISSP) – A plan for each student, which describes what they will need to learn successfully.  An ISSP is typically written when a child is referred to the Instructional Support Team (IST) who discusses the student’s challenges and provide the teacher with options.  ISSPs can be for children who need remediation and for children who need extension.

Inquiry based – An instructional method that starts with questions or problems, instead of starting by learning facts

Individualized Education Program (IEP) – When a child qualifies for special education services, the IEP team comprised of the parents and educators creates a written plan to address the student’s academic and behavioral needs.

Informational Text – The purpose of informational text is to convey information about a topic.  It may include newspaper articles, magazines, biographies, websites, non-fiction, videos and many more.

Intentional Grouping – to place students in groups based on some criteria of their learning. Students can be intentionally placed in homogenous or heterogeneous groups according to purpose.

Learning Experience* – refers to any interaction, course, program, or other experience in which learning takes place, whether it occurs in traditional academic settings (schools, classrooms) or nontraditional settings (outside-of-school locations, outdoor environments), or whether it includes traditional educational interactions (students learning from teachers and professors) or nontraditional interactions (students learning through games and interactive software applications).

Learning Objectives* – A brief statement that conveys what students are expected to learn throughout the school year, course, lesson, or class period

Learning Pathways* – learning pathway refers to the specific courses, academic programs, and learning experiences that individual students complete as they progress in their education toward graduation. Learning pathways typically refers to the various courses, programs, and learning opportunities offered by schools, community organizations, or local businesses that allow students to earn academic credit and satisfy graduation requirements.

Learning Standards* – Learning standards are concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. Learning standards describe educational objectives—i.e., what students should have learned by the end of a course, grade level, or grade span—but they do not describe any particular teaching practice, curriculum, or assessment method

Lesson study – An approach to professional development in which a group of teachers improve their practices by focusing on a shared lesson, observing each other and providing feedback and analysis.

Literary Text – A literary text is primarily fiction including short stories, fables, myths, folktales, novels, drama, poetry and more.

Literature Circles – An instructional strategy used in English Language Arts where small-groups of students independently or teacher-led read, discuss, and write about the same text. Literature Circles provide a way for students to engage in critical thinking and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to books

Modifications – A significant change in the curriculum or assessment that gives students an opportunity to participate meaningfully and productively along with the other students in the classroom. Modifications can only be made if required and agreed upon by a student’s Individualized Education Program (IEP).

Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) – An evidenced based framework for instruction that uses data-based problem solving to provide a range of supports, interventions, and extension that is responsive to the academic and non-academic needs of all students.  including students with disabilities, English language learners, and students who are academically advanced.

Naviance – College and Career readiness software provided to help students decide about after high school choices

Personalized Learning* – The modification of instruction, courses, and learning environments by or for learners with the goal of meeting their different learning needs

Positive Behavior Intervention System (PBIS) – A proactive approach to establishing the behavioral and social supports needed for all students in a school to achieve social, emotional, and academic success.

Professional Development – The continuous process of acquiring new knowledge and skills that relate to one’s profession, job responsibilities, or work environment.  Professional developed is designed to advance the collective goals of the district and with the intent of improving the academic outcomes for students. An annual district professional development plan is presented to the School Committee each year for review and consideration based on stakeholder feedback.

Proficiency* – A high degree of competence or skill demonstrated by consistently superior performance measured against established benchmarks or standards.

Proficiency-based learning* – refers to systems of instruction, assessment, grading, and academic reporting that are based on students demonstrating that they have learned the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they progress through their education.

Project Based Learning – A teaching method in which students gain knowledge and skills by working for an extended period of time to investigate and respond to a complex question, problem, or challenge.

Reciprocal Teaching – A research based instructional strategy used by teachers and students involving four key comprehension strategies of predicting, summarizing, clarifying, and asking questions. Students read in partners, small groups, or teacher guided groups.

RETELL – Rethinking Equity and Teaching for English Language Learners – DESE ‘s program to improve instruction for English Language Learners

Rigor* – widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork,learning experiences, and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging.

SEI – Sheltered English Immersion – DESE ‘s preferred approach to English as a Second Language instruction that focuses on access to a standards-based education.

SEL Social Emotional Learning – Social and emotional learning (SEL) is the process through which children and adults acquire and effectively apply the knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary to understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions.

Standards-Based – A system of academic reporting based on students’ demonstration of the mastery of the knowledge and skills they are expected to learn as they advance through their education

Teacher Action Research –  A professional development approach in which a teacher or team of teachers identify a problem, conduct research, and then propose a solution which they test in the classroom.

Text-Based Questions – Questions that require students to look back into the text to find specific evidence.

Text Complexity – Students read a wide range of text that are not too easy and not too hard.  When students read more challenging text, the teacher supports their understanding of the text through close readings and text-based questions.

Understanding by Design (UbD) – A tool for curriculum mapping used by groups of teachers that focuses on teaching for understanding.  The mapping process requires teachers to clarify student learning goals, devise assessments of students’ understanding, and craft effective and engaging learning activities.  Stage 1 Desired Results, Stage 2 Evidence Stage 3 Learning Plan

Universal Design for Learning (UdL) – A framework of principles for curriculum development that gives all individuals equal opportunities to learn.  UDL addresses the “what,” the “how,” and the “why” of learning.

Within-class Intentional Grouping – Grouping students for a specific purpose only with other students from their classroom.

Your Plan for College (DESE) – A free alternative to Naviance that we use at the middle school for personalized learning and goal setting.


Aspen – The district’s student information management system.  All districts are required to have a SIS that can exchange information directly with the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education’s databases. Aspen has a number of functions for record keeping and communication including attendance and discipline records, grades,  teacher pages, calendar, etc.

Blended Learning – Blended learning is an instructional approach  in which a student learns through a combination of classroom instruction and through content and instruction provided digitally and online.

Modified: 29-Sept-15