Below you will find definitions for many common educational terms, including those used on



Advanced Career: A program that teaches real-world skills allowing students to jump start their vocational careers upon graduation.

Alternative school: A school that has a different educational philosophy than traditional schools and often serves students who have not succeeded in a traditional classroom setting.

At-risk: A term used to describe students whose actions or circumstances have put them at risk of not doing well in school. At-risk students are more likely not to graduate from high school. Circumstances include poverty, homelessness, parental abuse or neglect, parents who never completed high school, drug or alcohol abuse in the family, or living in a home where English is not the primary language.

Attendance area / Attendance zone: The area surrounding a neighborhood public school. The school district assigns students living within the attendance area to a school. Elementary, middle, and high schools have their own attendance area. Sometimes a school is too crowded and students living in the neighborhood cannot attend their neighborhood school. In Colorado, students are not required to attend their neighborhood school.

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Back-to-basics: An educational philosophy that places primary emphasis on teaching the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic in the early grades. Back-to-basics can also be called “fundamental” education.

Bilingual education: This term generally refers to a program designed to help English language learners gradually learn English. Students learn new information in their native language. The information then is reviewed in both the native and second language. Some schools also refer to bilingual education as part of a dual-language program that seeks to produce students who can read, write, and speak in both languages.

Blended learning: Blended learning combines online learning, with some element of student control over time, place, path, and/or pace with at least some time also spent in a supervised brick-and-mortar location away from home.

Block scheduling: A daily schedule where each class period lasts longer than traditional school class periods. Students often take a different set of courses on alternate days.

Board of Education: An elected group of five or seven people who oversee the administration of a school district. Colorado has 178 school districts. Each district selects its own curricula.

British Primary School: British Primary schools feature multi-grade classrooms where students usually stay with the same teacher for several years to maintain a continuous relationship. The schools place great emphasis on respect for each individual student. The curriculum emphasizes learning through experience and integration of subject areas under broad themes and group projects. Teachers encourage and help students to make many decisions and choices about their education. Parent involvement is expected and welcomed.

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Character education: A school program or philosophy that teaches good morals and values.

Charter school: A tuition-free independent public school. Charter schools are usually founded by parents, teachers, or community members. Charter schools provide a different kind of education than traditional public schools. In order to open, the schools are approved by either the local school district or the Charter School Institute. Currently, there are 140 Colorado charter schools serving about 50,000 students.

Charter School Institute: A state government organization that approves and provides accountability to charter schools.

Classical education: A program based on the ancient Greek and Roman model of education. The purpose of the program is to increase knowledge through teaching facts and helping students make logical arguments. Classical education also seeks to promote moral virtue and responsible citizenship. A classical education includes reading many “great books” of history and literature.

College preparatory (“college prep”) school:
A school with the primary mission of preparing students for college-level academic work.

Colorado Student Assessment Program (CSAP): A series of tests taken by public school students in 3rd to 10th grade in the areas of reading, writing, math, and science.

Contract school: A tuition-free independent school that is not operated by the school district. The school’s operator signs a contract with the local Board of Education to provide an educational program. Contract schools are not under charter school law.

Core Knowledge: An educational curriculum that provides a solid, sequential, and specific grade-by-grade core of common knowledge with the goal of developing cultural literacy, greater fairness, and higher literacy in the early grades. Some schools only use parts of the curriculum and are not considered “official” Core Knowledge schools like those that use the entire curriculum.

Cyberschool: see Online learning school / Online learning program

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Diploma Completion: A program or school designed to help students who have not succeeded in a traditional school to complete the coursework needed to obtain a high school diploma.

Distinct Ethnic Cultures: A school that offers cultural, educational, and/or social support to a particular ethnic group.

Dual-language school: A school with the goal of teaching students to read, write, and speak in two languages. The schools usually serve about 50 percent native English speakers and 50 percent students of another native language. Students are taught in both English and the non-English second language.

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Early College: A high school that requires students to earn an associate’s degree or at least sixty credits toward a post-secondary degree in order to graduate. For more information on Colorado Early Colleges click here.

English immersion: see Structured English immersion

English language learners (ELL): This term refers to students whose first language is not English. Schools use different programs to teach ELL students.

Environmental Focus: Schools with an environmental focus integrate instruction about the environment and natural sciences into other subject areas. Such schools often emphasize service learning projects and outdoor education to help students learn how their actions impact the local environment and the world.

Expeditionary Learning Schools: A type of school where students learn academic subjects through real-world projects, also known as expeditions. Expeditions may involve long-term investigation of important questions and subjects that include individual and group projects, field studies, and performances and presentations of student work. Expeditionary learning also emphasizes community service and “active teaching,” where students and teachers discuss the concepts they are learning about.

Experiential education / Experiential learning: A way of teaching that primarily uses experiences such as projects, field trips, discovery, and experimentation to help students learn.

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Focus school: A term some school districts use to describe a type of option school. A focus school is a program that uses the district curriculum but offers a unique theme (such as a focus on science or the arts) or philosophy (such as Montessori). A focus school may be a program within a neighborhood school or a school of its own where all students open enroll.

Fundamental education: see Back-to-basics

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GED Completion: A program for students to complete the General Educational Development (GED) test, which shows proficiency in high school-level academic subjects.  The GED is not a high school diploma.

Gifted and talented: The term used to describe students with exceptional or advanced academic abilities and potential for accomplishment. Click here to see common characteristics of gifted students.

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Homeschool: Colorado homeschool law allows parents or guardians to teach their children at home without a teaching license. Parents or guardians are responsible for purchasing books, supplies, and tests, and must notify the local school district of their intent to homeschool. Click here to learn more about homeschooling in Colorado.

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Independent school: 1. A private school. 2. A public charter or contract school.

Individualized Program: An educational program that is altered to meet the academic needs of each student.  Schools may create an individualized learning plan and/or offer one-on-one help with academic work.

Innovation School: The Colorado Innovation Schools Act of 2008 (Senate Bill 08-130) provides for a school (or group of schools) to request certain waivers from state law and / or collective bargaining agreements. Depending on the type of waivers requested and received, the school may have greater autonomy and flexibility in academic and operational decision-making, such as hiring and firing, professional development, budget, calendar, and curriculum decisions. The school must submit an innovation plan to its school district board of education for approval. The innovation plan outlines the changes the school plans to implement in order to improve student outcomes. If approved, the school district board of education must submit the innovation plans and waiver requests to the Colorado State Board of Education for ratification.

A school whose innovation plan has been ratified is known as an “Innovation School.” A group of schools that jointly submit an innovation plan that is approved are considered an “Innovation School Zone.”

Integrated Learning: Integrated learning focuses on teaching traditional subjects (math, science, social studies, etc,.) through broad themes explored in projects and learning centers. This method of learning is designed to help students relate learning to their own experiences in order to understand how the curriculum is relevant to their lives.

International Baccalaureate (IB): The International Baccalaureate (IB) is designed to be a challenging educational program for students ages 3 to 19 (Primary Years, ages 3-12; Middle Years, ages 11-16; Diploma Programme, ages 16-19). IB aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. Schools that implement IB may continue to use the local school district curriculum but teach subjects according to IB objectives and methods.

The IB works with schools in four areas:

  • Development of curriculum
  • Assessment of students
  • Training and professional development of teachers
  • Authorization and evaluation of schools

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Leader in Me: Leader in Me is a leadership and character development program based on the works of Stephen Covey.

Liberal arts education: A school program that includes extensive coursework in all core academic subject areas. There is a focus on broad knowledge, thinking, and analytical skills.

Looping: A system where a class of students stays with the same teacher for two or more years. The goal is to provide a sense of community and stability for the students and to help the teachers have a better understanding of the students’ educational development.

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Magnet school: A type of option school. A magnet school is focused on a specific subject or theme. These schools are designed to attract students from different ethnic, racial, social, and economic backgrounds.

Medical Prep: A school that offers a program designed to prepare students for a career in the medical field.

Military: A school that incorporates a formal military training program and discipline into their curriculum.

Montessori: An educational philosophy and method of learning through hands-on activities. Montessori offers a student-centered environment where teachers introduce new ideas as they see that the students are ready. Most Montessori programs begin in preschool and go through sixth grade, but there are also a few Montessori middle and high schools.

Multi-age classroom: A classroom that combines children of different ages. Multi-age classrooms are based on the idea that older students benefit by modeling skills to younger students who benefit from having older role models to imitate.

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National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP): Also known as the “Nation’s Report Card.” A representative sample of students in America take the NAEP tests in 4th, 8th, and 12th grade to provide a national assessment of what America’s students know.

Neighborhood School: A public school students are assigned to attend because they live in the school’s attendance area or attendance zone. Students who live in a school’s attendance area may also choose to attend a private school, parochial school, home school, or open enroll into a charter school, option school, magnet school, focus school, online school, or another neighborhood public school.

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Online school: A school that provides curriculum over the Internet, allowing students to study at their own pace. Some online programs are home-based, where parents or guardians are the primary instructors who receive guidance from qualified teachers via phone, e-mail, and in-person visits. Other online programs are site-based, where students come to a central location where teachers and mentors are available to help guide students through the course work.

Open enrollment: The option Colorado students have to apply for enrollment in a public school other than the “neighborhood school” that many students are assigned to by their school district based on where they live.

Option school: A tuition-free public school that provides a special focus or educational program. Unlike charter schools, option schools are run by the school district. Most option schools do not have an attendance area and all students must open enroll into the school. Some option schools are also neighborhood schools where only the students who live outside of the attendance area must open enroll. Option schools are also called “magnet” or “focus” schools.

Outward Bound: A nonprofit educational organization that operates several schools throughout Colorado that are dedicated to character development and self-discovery through challenge and adventure.

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Parochial school: A type of private school that teaches religious ideas in its educational program and usually operates as part of a religious institution, such as a church.

Private school: A school not administered by the local, state, or national government that has the right to choose which students it will enroll. Private schools charge tuition and some offer or accept scholarships to help families pay tuition.

Project Lead the Way is a program that engages students to learn real world problem solving skills in computer science, engineering, and biomedical science.

Project-based learning: Academic content is taught primarily through projects that include learning about many subjects (such as math, science, reading, and writing) and may be completed over the course of weeks or months.

Public school: A school funded by taxpayer dollars that does not charge tuition. There are many different kinds of public schools to choose from, including charter schools, option schools, magnet schools, focus schools, online schools, and neighborhood schools.

Public school of choice: A public school that a student may choose to attend outside of his or her assigned attendance area. In Colorado, students open enroll into a public school of choice such as a charter school, option school, magnet school, focus school, online school, or another neighborhood school.

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ROTC: The school hosts a chapter of a United States’ Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) that teaches leadership skills and military discipline.

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Same-sex Classrooms: The school separates boys and girls into different classrooms during instructional times to help students focus on academic achievement.

SAT Results: Above State Average: A school that has a composite SAT score above the 2018 Colorado state average score of 1014 (out of a possible 1600).

Scholarships: Funds provided by private organizations or the government to help families pay for tuition and related educational costs. Colorado does not provide government-funded scholarships for students attending school in grades prekindergarten through 12. Several private organizations in Colorado provide scholarships for low-income families to help pay for private school tuition.

School Accountability Report (SAR): The report is published by the state of Colorado and is also known as the “public school report card.” A SAR is published for each Colorado public school and includes the overall school rating (based on the CSAP), a student academic growth rating, assessment results, school environment and safety reporting, a district taxpayer’s report, questions parents should ask, and more.

School board: Often used as another term for a school district Board of Education and may also refer to a group of people who oversee the administration of a private school or charter school.

School choice:
A term used to describe a program that allows students to choose to attend one of various participating schools, either through vouchers, tax credits, scholarships, or the open enrollment process.

School district: An entity designed to administer public education for elementary and secondary students in a specific geographical area. School districts are governed by a locally-elected Board of Education.

School-sponsored Tutoring: A school that offers tutoring by educators or other qualified adults for students who need extra help in one or more academic areas.

School Uniforms: A school that requires students to wear uniforms or standardized solid colored clothing, such as khaki and navy blue pants or skirts, and shirts.

School-within-a-school: A small academic program within a larger school that has its own students, personnel, budget, program, curriculum, and culture.

Special needs: A term used to describe students who have learning difficulties that require extra support, including visual or hearing impairment, physical or mental handicap, serious emotional difficulties, autism, and attention deficit disorder.

STEM: Is an acronym for science, technology, engineering, and math. STEM programs focus on these subjects to increase interest in these fields.

Strand: An element of a school’s educational program that offers a unique learning environment or curriculum. For example, a school offers both the traditional district curriculum and a Montessori strand where students who enroll in the program learn in a separate Montessori classroom.

Structured English immersion: A program that teaches students with limited background in the English language. These students learn only in English and at a separate pace from other students until they have improved their English fluency.

Student-directed learning / Student-centered learning:
A progressive educational format in which the students’ interests and stages of development determine what and how subjects are taught in the classroom, rather than pre-arranged lessons and curricula.

Supplemental (education) services: Part of the federal No Child Left Behind Act, these services may include free tutoring or other remedial help for low-income students in schools that fail to meet academic growth goals set by state and federal government. School districts are required to give parents a list of state-approved service providers.

Supplemental online program:
An online learning program that offers courses or other learning opportunities to students who are otherwise enrolled in physical schools or online schools. Credit for successful completion of these learning opportunities is awarded by the physical school or online school in which the student is enrolled.

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Tax credits: Credit on an individual’s or corporation’s tax bill for payments or donations made to cover a child’s educational expenses, such as tuition, tutoring, and textbooks.

Technology: A school that offers a program designed to train students in technology systems. The schools usually teach skills needed for a career in the field of technology.

Teen Parent Program: Most teen parent programs are housed at alternative schools and provide on-site childcare to allow students the opportunity to earn their high school diploma or complete the GED.

Traditional district curriculum: Each local board of education determines the curricula that its schools will teach. The majority of schools in a school district will teach the district-chosen curricula, but charter and option schools often request a waiver from the board to teach different curricula.

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Virtual school: see Online school / online learning program

Vocational education: A program that teachers middle or high school students specific skills or trades to prepare them for careers, occupations, or trades that are generally non-academic and do not require a four-year or advanced college degree.

Vouchers: Usually refers to a program that allows parents to direct a specified amount of government-collected funds to send their children to a participating public or private school of their choice. The term is also used by private organizations to mean a scholarship provided to low-income families to help with private school tuition payments.

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Waldorf: Also known as Steiner education, focuses on developing the artistic, practical, and intellectual skills of their students using a holistic and hands-on approach.

World Language/International Studies: The school offers non-traditional foreign languages and / or a program that explores the economic, cultural, and political histories of other countries.

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Year-round school: A school calendar that exchanges a longer summer vacation for several shorter breaks at different times in order to reduce the need for extra review. Most students in year-round school are in class about the same number of days as students on a traditional school calendar.

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