Glossary of Education Terms

This page explains the terms and acronyms used in California’s education system. To find a specific word or phrase, enter it in the search box below. Clear the box to return to the full glossary. For suggestions about additions or changes to the glossary, please contact us.

A-G Courses

The set of high school courses students must take to be eligible to enter either the California State University (CSU) or University of California (UC) systems. Required a-g courses beginning with the class of 2003 and beyond include: (a) Two history/social science; (b) Four English language arts; (c) Three math (through Algebra II or Integrated Math III); (d) Two laboratory science (two different disciplines); (e) Two foreign language (same language); (f) One visual/performing arts; and (g) One elective from the above subjects. Students must also meet other criteria to gain admission to the university systems.

Academic Performance Index (API)

NOTE: The API was discontinued in 2014 and has been replaced by the California School Dashboard. The API was a number, used for school accountability purposes, summarizing the performance of a group of students, a school, or a district on California’s standardized tests. The API was discontinued with the introduction of the Smarter Balanced tests aligned with the Common Core standards, and the push in the state to establish an accountability system based on multiple measures. A school’s number (or API score) was used to rank it among schools of the same type (elementary, middle, high) and among the 100 schools of the same type that were most similar in terms of students served, teacher qualifications, and other factors. Schools and districts also received separate API scores for any student group – including ethnic subgroups, socioeconomically disadvantaged students, English learners, and students with disabilities – comprised of more than 10 students with valid test scores. They only received academic growth targets for “numerically significant” student groups, however.


Changes in the way tests are designed or administered to respond to the special needs of students with disabilities and English learners (EL). Accommodations might include allowing a student to take more time for a test or using Braille forms of the assessment. California distinguishes between accommodations and modifications. Modifications, such as allowing a calculator for a math test, affect the validity of the test results. However, some Special Education students may need modifications in order to take a test.


The notion that people (e.g., students or teachers) or an organization (e.g., a school, school district, or state department of education) should be held responsible for improving student achievement and should be rewarded or sanctioned for their success or lack of success in doing so.

Achievement Gap

A consistent difference in scores on student achievement tests between certain groups of children and children in other groups. The data document a strong association between poverty and students’ lack of academic success as measured by achievement tests. And while poverty is not unique to any ethnicity, it does exist in disproportionate rates among African Americans and Hispanics, and among English learners.


A set of college admissions tests and the organization that makes them, the American College Testing Program, located in Iowa City, Iowa. Most colleges now accept either the SAT or the ACT for admissions purposes.


The amount a district actually spent in a given period as opposed to original budget estimates.


An approach to school funding that begins with the premise that the amount of funding schools receive should be based on some estimate of the cost of achieving the state’s educational goals. This approach attempts to answer two questions: How much money would be enough to achieve those goals and where would it be best spent.

Adult Education

Classes offered by school districts, community colleges, and other public and private organizations for residents 18 years or older who are not enrolled in a high school. State law requires that certain courses, including citizenship and English, be provided at no charge, while others may carry a fee. Adult Education revenues and expenditures must be tracked separately from a school district’s general fund.

Advanced Placement (AP) program and AP exams

A cooperative educational program between high school students and institutions of higher education that offers high school students the opportunity to complete college-level courses and earn college credit for them. The College Board, which administers the AP program, currently offers 37 courses and examinations in 22 subject areas including biology, calculus, and American history. Examinations are graded on a five-point scale, five being the highest possible score. College credit is earned by achieving a satisfactory score on an AP exam, usually a three or better. In addition, many college admission officials favor students who have completed AP coursework and have taken the exams.


The degree to which assessments, curriculum, instruction, textbooks and other instructional materials, teacher preparation and professional development, and systems of accountability all reflect and reinforce the educational program’s objectives and standards.

Alternative Assessments

Ways, other than standardized tests, to get information about what students know and where they need help, such as oral reports, projects, performances, experiments, and class participation. (See portfolio assessment.)


Funds set aside or budgeted by the state or local school district boards for a specific time period and specific purpose. The state Legislature and local school boards must vote every year on appropriations.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1200

Legislation passed in 1991 that defined a system of fiscal accountability for school districts and county offices of education to prevent bankruptcy. The law requires districts to do multiyear financial projections; identify sources of funding for substantial cost increases, such as employee raises; and make public the cost implications of such increases before approving employee contracts. County offices review district budgets, and the state reviews countywide school districts.

Assessed Value

The value of land, homes, and businesses set by the county assessor for property tax purposes. Assessed value is either the appraised value of any newly built or purchased property or, for continuously owned property, the value on March 1, 1975 plus annual increases. These increases, tied to the California Consumer Price Index, may not exceed 2% annually. (See Proposition 13).


Another name for a test. An assessment can also be a system for testing and evaluating students, groups of students, schools, or districts. Summative assesments measure how well students have mastered the content standards at the end of a course or school year. However schools also use formative or diagnostic assessments to evaluate how well the student is learning the material throughout the period of instruction.

Average Class Size

The number of students in classes divided by the number of classes. Because some teachers, such as reading specialists, have assignments outside the regular classroom, the average class size is usually larger than the pupil-teacher ratio.

Average Daily Attendance (ADA)

The total number of days of student attendance divided by the total number of days in the regular school year. A student attending every day would equal one ADA. ADA is not the same as enrollment, which is the number of students enrolled in each school and district. (Enrollment is determined by counting students on a given day in October.) ADA usually is lower than enrollment due to factors such as students moving, dropping out, or staying home due to illness. The state uses a school district’s ADA to determine its funding.


A detailed description of a specific level of student achievement expected of students at particular ages, grades, or developmental levels. Benchmarks are often represented by samples of student work. A set of benchmarks can be used as checkpoints to monitor progress in meeting performance goals within and across grade levels.

Bilingual Education

An in-school program for students whose first language is not English or who have limited English skills. Bilingual education provides English language development plus subject area instruction in the student’s native language. The goal is for the child to gain knowledge and be literate in two languages.


The ability to read, speak, understand, and write well in two languages.

Block Grant

An allotment of money that is the sum of multiple special-purpose funds combined into one. A block grant tends to have fewer restrictions on how the money is spent than the original, disparate funding streams had; and it often combines funds that have similar purposes.

Bond Measure

A method of borrowing employed by school districts to pay for a large capital investment, used in much the same way as a person who takes out a mortgage to purchase a home. Since 2001 voters in a school district can authorize a local general obligation bond with a 55% “supermajority” vote. In the past a two-thirds vote was required. Districts can choose to seek bond passage with either a two-thirds vote or a 55% vote that requires greater accountability measures. The principal and interest are repaid by local property owners through an increase in property taxes. A simple majority of state voters must approve a state general obligation bond, which is repaid by state taxes and has no impact on property tax rates.

Bonus/Performance Pay

Extra money for school district employees who perform extra duties or are considered exemplary. In some states, performance pay is being offered as an incentive for teachers to improve their students’ performance. In California, both employee pay and benefits are determined in collective bargaining, according to state law. (See performance incentive.)

Budget Act

A constitutionally established, one-year statute for the state’s budget appropriations. It is the only bill allowed to have more than one appropriation. The state Constitution requires that it be passed by a simple majority of each chamber of the State Legislature and sent to the governor by June 15 each year. The governor may reduce or delete, but not increase, individual items. In California this is referred to as a “line item veto,” and is colloquially described as the governor using a “blue pencil” to make changes.

Building Fund

A fund that districts must use only for buildings. The money comes from sources such as bonds and the sale/rental of property.

Cafeteria Fund

A separate fund used by many districts to track the income and expenses related to food service.

California Alternate Assessments (CAAs)

Online tests for students with individualized education programs (IEPs) that designate the use of an alternate assessment to measure student progress on alternate achievement standards. These assessments are part of California’s Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System.

California Alternate Performance Assessment (CAPA)

NOTE: CAPA was replaced by the California Alternative Assessments (CAA) as part of the shift to the Common Core standards. CAPA was a test for students with severe disabilities who were unable to participate in the STAR program, even with accommodations. Rather than multiple-choice questions, CAPA was open-ended, with teachers assisting in recording the answers.

California Department of Education (CDE)

The CDE has several roles within the school finance system, including administering the numerous categorical programs created by both state and federal lawmakers and maintaining data related to the funding received by districts and county offices and the way those funds are spent. California’s elected superintendent of public instruction oversees the CDE and the State Board of Education acts as its policymaking body.

California Education Code

A collection of all the laws directly related to California K-12 public schools. Ed Code sections are created or changed by the governor and Legislature when they make laws. Local school boards and county offices of education are responsible for complying with these provisions. The Ed Code is permissive, which means that school districts are free to take any action not specifically prohibited. Additional regulations affecting education are contained in the California Administrative Code, Titles 5 and 8, the Government Code, and general statutes.

California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE)

From 2006 to 2015, CAHSEE was a two-part test, linked to academic content standards in English/language arts and math, that students were required to pass in order to graduate. However in 2015 the California Legislature eliminated CAHSEE as a graduation requirement and districts were instructed to retroactively issue high school diplomas to students who met every other graduation target but failed the exam.

California Physical Fitness Test

A mandated statewide physical performance test administered during the spring to students in grades 5, 7, and 9. The assessment evaluates students’ aerobic capacity, body composition, and muscular strength, endurance, and flexibility.

California School Dashboard

Part of the state’s new accountability system under the Local Control Funding Formula, the California School Dashboard is a multi-color system for grading the performance of schools, school districts and charter schools on a variety of measurements. The dashboard, which includes indicators for school climate and college and career readiness in addition to performance on state tests, offers a more comprehensive and nuanced look at a school than the previous system, the Academic Performance Index (API), which ranked schools by test scores.

California School Information Services (CSIS)

A voluntary data collection system created by California in 1997. Its goal is to enhance school districts’ ability to collect data, transmit information, and transfer individual student records from school to school.

California Standards for the Teaching Profession (CSTP)

Professional standards adopted by the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing in 1997 to guide teacher preparation programs and new teacher assessments. These standards are organized around six interrelated categories of teaching practice: 1) engaging and supporting all students in learning; 2) creating and maintaining effective environments for student learning; 3) understanding and organizing subject matter for student learning; 4) planning instruction and designing learning experiences for all students; 5) assessing student learning; and 6) developing as a professional educator.

California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS)

A retirement fund required by state law. Certificated employees and education agencies (such as school districts and county offices of education) contribute to CalSTRS. It is also referred to as State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS).

California State University (CSU) System

A four-year state university system. California operates three separate public systems for postsecondary education: two-year community colleges, the four-year California State University (CSU) system, and the most selective University of California (UC) system. There are 23 CSU campuses serving more than 400,000 students. CSU generally accepts the top one-third of high school graduates and all qualified community college transfers. Eligibility for high school seniors to enter either CSU or UC is based on the completion of 15 one-year college prep courses (referred to as a-g courses), high school grades, performance on college entrance exams, advanced coursework taken, and personal attributes.

Capital Outlay

Money spent for major physical changes to a school such as new buildings, renovations, reconstruction, or certain new equipment. These investments in the physical structure of a school are expected to last for a number of years.

Categorical Aid/Categorical Programs

Funds from the state or federal government granted to qualifying schools or districts for specific children with special needs, certain programs, or special purposes such as transportation. In general, schools or districts must spend the money for the specific purpose. This money is in addition to the funding schools receive for their general education program.


California Basic Educational Skills Test, which must be passed before a person can become a teacher or administrator in California.

Certificated/Credentialed Employees

Employees who are required by the state to hold some type of teaching credentials, including most administrators and full-time, part-time, substitute, and temporary teachers. The requirements for a fully credentialed teacher include having a bachelor’s degree, completing additional required coursework, and passing the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST). However, teachers who have not yet acquired a credential but have an emergency permit are allowed to teach in the classroom and are counted in this category.

Charter School

A public school operated independently under a performance agreement with a school district, a county office of education (COE), or the State Board of Education. Charter schools are funded on a per-pupil basis, freed from most state regulations that apply to school districts and COEs, usually able to hire their own teachers and other staff, and subject to closure if they fail to meet their promises for student outcomes. Charter schools were originally authorized in California in 1992 (Senate Bill 1448).


A term used to describe the right of parents to be able to choose where to send their children to school. Parents and others who support school choice have spawned the charter school, school voucher, and other school reform movements. In accordance with a 1993 state law, California public school districts have created intra- and interdistrict public school choice policies, whereby a student may choose to attend a participating school outside the student’s neighborhood if space permits. Under the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), school districts must allow students to transfer out of consistently low-performing or persistently dangerous schools, as defined by the state.

Civil Rights Act of 1964

Passed in 1964, legislation that prohibits discrimination on the basis of race or ethnicity by any program or activity that receives federal financial assistance. In years following, Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, the Age Discrimination Act of 1975, and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 included prohibitions on discrimination on the basis of gender, disability, and age.

Class Size Reduction (CSR)

A program initiated in the 1996-97 school year for kindergarten through third grade to reduce or maintain class sizes of no more than 20 students per teacher. A separate program supported smaller classes for core academic subjects in 9th grade. The program was phased out beginning in 2009, and was officially terminated in 2013. The state’s Local Control Funding Formula approved in 2013 includes financial incentives for school districts to reduce K-3 classes to 24 students, but districts can maintain larger class sizes if they reach agreement to do so with their teachers unions.

Classified Employees

School employees who are not required to hold teaching credentials, such as bus drivers, secretaries, custodians, instructional aides, and some management personnel.

Common Administration Districts

An elementary and high school district with the same administration, school board, and teachers’ organization. This common district files a joint financial report but separate demographic and attendance reports. There are currently five of these districts in California: Arena Union Elementary/Point Arena Joint Union High (Mendocino County), Modesto City Schools (Stanislaus County), Petaluma City Elementary/Joint Union High (Sonoma County), Santa Cruz City Elementary/High (Santa Cruz County), and City Of Santa Rosa Elementary-High (Sonoma County).

Common Core State Standards (CCSS)

The Common Core State Standards, often referred to as ‰”Common Core” are a set of educational standards that describe what students should know and be able to do in English language arts and math in each grade from kindergarten through 12th grade. California is among the more than 40 states that have adopted them in an effort to establish clear, consistent educational standards across state lines.

Community College

A two-year college, also referred to as a “junior college.” California operates three separate public systems for postsecondary education: two-year community colleges, the four-year California State University (CSU) system, and the most selective University of California (UC) system. In fall 2005, there were 109 community college campuses serving over 1,600,000 students. Anyone who is 18 years old or holds a high school diploma (or equivalent) is eligible to attend a community college. Students can transfer from community colleges to either the CSU or UC systems.

Con App (Consolidated Application)

The application county offices, school districts and direct-funded charter schools can use to apply for various state and federal programs. Most, if not all, districts use the “con app” to secure funding from at least some of the programs on the application. These programs tend to be on roughly the same timeline and are relatively straightforward to apply for, such as the federal Title I program.


The combining of two or more elementary or high school districts with adjoining borders to form a single district.

Consumer Price Index (CPI)

A measure of the average change over time in the prices paid by urban consumers (about 87% of the total U.S. population) for a market basket of consumer goods and services. Salary adjustments and other costs can be linked to the CPI, which is sometimes used as a factor to measure inflation.

Content Standards

Standards that describe what students should know and be able to do in core academic subjects at each grade level. California adopted the Common Core State Standards in English language arts and mathematics in 2010 and the Next Generation Science Standards in 2013.

Core Academic Standards

The basic academic standards that are assessed in the statewide testing system for K-12 public schools in California. They include English language arts, mathematics, science, and history/social science. The state’s public universities include foreign languages and visual/performing arts as well as the subjects listed above in their core entrance requirements.

County Office of Education (COE)

The agency that provides, in general, educational programs for certain students; business, administrative, and curriculum services to school districts; and financial oversight of districts. These services are affected by the size and type of districts within the county, the geographical location and size of the county, and the special needs of students that are not met by the districts. Each of California’s 58 counties has an office of education.

Credentialing/Teacher Preparation

A process, implemented by the state Commission on Teaching Credentialing (CTC), to certify that teachers are well prepared to enter the classroom. Most candidates must have earned a bachelor’s degree in a noneducation major, passed the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), and demonstrated subject-matter competence by either passing approved college courses or the state’s subject-matter exam. In addition, they must complete graduate coursework that includes classroom study and student teaching. At the end of this time, the candidate earns a Preliminary Credential, after which time the teacher has five years to earn the Professional Clear Credential by completing additional professional coursework. There are alternative routes to earning a credential, such as internship programs. (See emergency permit.)

Criterion-Referenced Test

A test that measures specific performance or content standards, often along a continuum from total lack of skill to excellence. These tests can also have cut scores that determine whether a test-taker has passed or failed the test or has basic, proficient, or advanced skills. Criterion-referenced tests, unlike norm-referenced assessments, are not primarily created to compare students to each other. The goal is typically to have everyone attain a passing mark.


The courses of study offered by a school or district. California has adopted a set of standards that are intended to guide curriculum and instruction and tests to measure student proficiency on those standards. The state also approves K-8 textbooks that reflect those standards. The ultimate decisions regarding school curriculum, however, are the responsibility of the local school board.

Curriculum Frameworks

The blueprint for schools to use to implement the state-adopted content standards. In California, State Curriculum Frameworks are developed by the Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission, an advisory group, and adopted by the State Board of Education.

Debt Service

Expenditures made to pay both principal and interest on borrowed funds, including bonds.

Deferred Maintenance

Major repairs or replacement of buildings and equipment. Declines in school funding over a number of years led many districts to delay preventive maintenance expenses in order to maintain education programs. As a result, some school facilities were left in a state of disrepair. The state provides some money to match local districts’ funds for deferred maintenance. If districts develop a maintenance plan and set aside up to one-half of 1% of their general fund for deferred maintenance, the state matches that money. The money must go into a separate accounting fund.

Deficit Factor

The percentage by which an expected allocation of funds to a school district or county office of education is reduced. The state may apply deficit factors to revenue limits and categorical programs when the appropriation is insufficient based on the funding formulas specified by law.

Developer Fees

A charge per square foot on residential and commercial construction within a school district. These fees, charged both to developers of new properties and to property owners who remodel, are based on the premise that new construction will lead to additional students. Individual school districts decide whether to levy the fees and at what rate up to the maximum allowed by law. The maximum, adjusted for inflation every two years, is higher for residential than for commercial construction. Districts are required to substantiate the financial impact of new development and show that they have used the revenues to address that impact. Proceeds may be used for building or renovating schools and for portable classrooms.

Direct Services

Services-including business, attendance, health, guidance, library, and supervision of instruction (K-8 only)-performed without cost by county offices of education for small districts, which are defined as fewer than 901 (elementary), 301 (high school), and (1,501) unified students based on ADA.

Direct Support Costs

Services necessary to maintain instructional programs, including curriculum development, library, pupil support, transportation, and maintenance. Most support costs not initially identified with a program may be accumulated and then transferred at a later date as a direct support cost.

Disaggregated Data

The presentation of data broken into segments, for example test scores for students from various ethnic groups instead of in the aggregate, for the entire student population. Often test data is broken into groups of students who are economically disadvantaged, from racial or ethnic minority groups, have disabilities, or have limited English fluency, thereby allowing parents and teachers to see how each student group is performing in a school.


A grade 7-12 student who left school prior to completing the school year and had not returned by Information Day (a day in October when students throughout the state and counted and enrollment is determined). Students are not considered dropouts if they receive a General Education Development (GED) or California High School Proficiency Examination (CHSPE) certificate, transfer to another high school or to a college, move out of the United States, are suspended or sick that day, or will be enrolling late.

Dropout Rate

The percentage of students that leave the 9-12 instructional system without a high school diploma, GED, or special education certificate of completion and do not remain enrolled after the end of the 4th year. The CDE began using student level data to report a 4-year-cohort dropout rate with the 2009-10 school year.

Early Assessment Program (EAP)

Begun in 2004, the Early Assessment Program (EAP) was developed through a partnership between the California State University (CSU), the California Department of Education, and the California State Board of Education to determine the college readiness of high school students. Students’ performance on the state’s Smarter Balanced tests can be used by the California State University and the California Community College system to exempt students from college placement tests or let students know that they need additional preparation during their senior year. All students participate in EAP by virtue of completing the Smarter Balanced Summative Assessments for English language arts/literacy and mathematics. Students must authorize the release of their CAASPP (i.e., Smarter Balanced Summative Assessment) results for each assessment to the CSU and CCC systems.

Economically Disadvantaged

Students whose parents do not have a high school diploma or who participate in the free/reduced price meal program because of low family income.

Education Article

The article in the state’s constitution that defines and describes the state’s responsibility to provide public education for its citizens.

Emergency Permit

In California, a one-year permit issued to people entering the teaching profession who have not completed some of the legal requirements for a credential. Generally the intent is that the person will enroll in and complete an approved teacher preparation program. Emergency permit holders must have a college degree, pass the California Basic Educational Skills Test (CBEST), and have some subject-matter knowledge. The permit allows the person to work only in the hiring district. (See credentialing/teacher preparation.)


The expenditure of a local education agency’s general-purpose funds for mandated special-purpose programs in which the cost of providing the programs exceeds the state or federal funding provided.


A count of the students enrolled in each school and district on a given day in October. This is different from Average Daily Attendance (ADA), which is the average number of students who attended school over the course of the year. The number of pupils enrolled in the school is usually larger than the ADA due to factors such as students moving, dropping out, or staying home because of illness.

Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution

A clause in the U.S. Constitution that says that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” This “equal protection clause” has been used to challenge California’s system of funding for public school students. For example, the Serrano v. Priest court case charged that a school finance system based on local property taxes did not provide children or taxpayers with equal protection under the law and was therefore unconstitutional.


The belief that state governments have an obligation to equalize students’ access to educational opportunities and thus life chances. During the 1970s and 1980s, many state courts found great disparities in base per-pupil spending between high and low property-wealth districts. They mandated that these funding disparities be eradicated. In placing districts on a level playing field, the courts often invoked equal protection clauses in state constitutions.


Without bias. A fair assessment is one that is without bias (such as socioeconomic or ethnic) and reflects what a child has been given a chance to learn. (See reliable and valid.)

Fees on New Development

A charge per square foot on residential and commercial construction within a school district. These fees, charged both to developers of new properties and to property owners who remodel, are based on the premise that new construction will lead to additional students. Individual school districts decide whether to levy the fees and at what rate up to the maximum allowed by law. The maximum, adjusted for inflation every two years, is higher for residential than for commercial construction. Districts are required to substantiate the financial impact of new development and show that they have used the revenues to address that impact. Proceeds may be used for building or renovating schools and for portable classrooms. Districts can tax a portion of their districts, often new housing developments, by establishing a Mello-Roos Community Facility District or a School Facility Improvement District (SFID).

Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team (FCMAT)

A state-funded agency that provides fiscal advice, management assistance, training, and other related school business services, with a particular emphasis on districts facing fiscal insolvency. FCMAT operates from the office of the Kern County Superintendent of Schools under contract with the California Department of Education and the governor’s office.

Formative Assessment

Any form of assessment used by an educator to evaluate students’ knowledge and understanding of particular content and then to adjust instructional practices accordingly toward improving student achievement in that area. (See assessment.)

Free/Reduced Price Meals

A federal program to provide food-typically lunch and/or breakfast-for students from low-income families. The number of students participating in the National School Lunch Program is increasingly being used as a way to measure the poverty level of a school or district population and is one of the factors used to determine funding under the state’s Local Control Funding Formula.

Gann Limit

A limit on the amount of tax money that state and local governments, including school districts, can legally spend. In November 1979, California voters approved the late Paul Gann’s Proposition 4, which is called the Gann Limit. Senate Bill 1342, the implementing legislation, defined school district Gann limits in a way that has thus far minimized their impact.

General Fund

The primary, legally-defined fund used by the state and school districts to differentiate general revenues and expenditures from those placed in other funds for specific uses.

General Obligation Bonds (G.O. Bonds)

A form of borrowing commonly used to fund school facilities. Local G.O. bonds, financed through an increase in local property taxes, can be used for renovating, reconstructing, and building new facilities and for acquiring certain new equipment. School districts can seek either two-thirds or 55% voter approval. If districts seek the 55% approval, they must meet additional accountability requirements. A simple majority of state voters can approve a state G.O. bond, which is repaid by state funds and has no impact on property tax rates. Although both state and local bonds are G.O. bonds, people often use the term “G.O. bond” to refer only to local bonds for school facilities.

Gifted and Talented Education Program (GATE)

A program that provides supplemental, differentiated, challenging curriculum and instruction to California public school students who are deemed by their districts to be intellectually gifted or especially talented in leadership or visual and performing arts.

Graduation Rate

The percentage of the students expected to graduate in four years who actually did graduate. Graduation rate is calculated by dividing the number of students in the 4-year adjusted cohort who graduate in four years or less with either a traditional high school diploma, an adult education high school diploma, or have passed the California High School Proficiency Exam (CHSPE) by the number of students who form the adjusted cohort for that graduating class. California began using cohort data to report graduation rates with the 2009-10 school year.

High-stakes tests

Any tests that result in some kind of consequence for those who score low, some kind of reward for those who score high, or both. For example, students who pass a high school exit exam typically receive a diploma, while students who fail do not.


The practice of placing students with disabilities in regular classrooms. Also known as mainstreaming.

Individualized Education Program (IEP)

A plan developed for a specific student that outlines what that student needs to learn in a specified period of time and what special services need to be provided based on the student’s ability. Special Education students have IEPs that sometimes require exemptions from tests or accommodations for testing such as an exam in Braille.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)

A reauthorization in 1977 of the federal Education For All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. This law guarantees children with exceptional needs a free and appropriate public education and requires that each child’s education be determined on an individual basis and designed to meet his or her unique needs in the least restrictive environment. It also establishes procedural rights for parents and children.

International Baccalaureate (IB) Program and Examinations

A rigorous, international program of study that originated in Switzerland. To be eligible for an IB exam, students must be enrolled in a school that has been accredited through the IB accreditation process and be taking the course for which they plan to take the exam. In the IB system, the exam will count for 75% of the course grade. Students can earn college credit from many universities for IB courses if their exam scores are high enough.

J-200, J-380

Financial (J-200) and program cost accounting (J-380) reports that school districts and county offices of education submit to the California Department of Education (CDE). When all districts converted to SACS (Standardized Account Code Structure). In 2003-04, CDE discontinued the J-200 and J-380 software.


An optional salary information report that most districts and county offices of education submit to the California Department of Education (CDE). The main focus is teachers’ salaries, but the J-90 also includes other certificated staff.

Joint Powers Agreement (JPA)

An agreement among local education agencies (LEAs) (and/or sometimes the California Department of Education) to share services or responsibilities. A joint powers board made up of representatives of the LEAs governs the JPA.


Kindergarten through community college.

Large-Scale Assessments

Tests, usually standardized, that are administered to a large population, such as all students within a state. The California Achievement Tests, Sixth Edition Survey (CAT/6), used in California, is an example of a large-scale assessment.

Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO)

A nonpartisan office within the state government that gives fiscal and policy advice to the California Legislature. The LAO provides analyses of proposed and adopted state budgets and also offers the public information about state initiatives and ballot propositions.

Local Control and Accountability Plan (LCAP)

A key accountability requirement of the state’s Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF), the LCAP is a three-year plan, which every district and charter school must create and update annually with input from the community. The LCAP is intended to explain how the district will use state funds to improve educational outcomes for all students based on eight state priorities, with special attention to high-needs students for whom the district received additional money. The State Board of Education approved a template for the LCAP in January 2014.

Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF)

Signed into law on July 1, 2013, the Local Control Funding Formula, also known as LCFF, overhauls California’s school finance system, replacing “revenue limits” and most “categorical funds” with a per-pupil base grant plus additional money for high-needs (low income, English learner, homeless and foster youth) students.

Local Education Agency (LEA)

A public board of education or other public authority within a state that maintains administrative control of public elementary or secondary schools in a city, county, township, school district, or other political subdivision of a state. School districts and county offices of education are both LEAs. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, charter schools are increasingly treated as LEAs.

Longitudinal Data

Data that are tracked over time, for example achievement data for a specific student or group of students. In education, the ability to track students as they progress through the school system is seen as important for evaluating the contribution schools, specific programs, and teachers make to student performance, and for accurately tracking the progress of specific subgroups of students.


Gambling games approved by California voters in November 1984. The minimum of 34% of lottery revenues distributed to public schools, colleges, and universities must be used for educational purposes. Half of any increase of lottery income to school districts and community colleges-as compared to funding in the 1998-99 school year-must be used only for instructional materials. Lottery income comprises less than 2% of K-12 education funding annually.


The practice of placing students with disabilities in regular classrooms. It is also known as “inclusion.”

Mandated Costs

School district expenditures that are required because of federal or state law, court decisions, administrator regulations, or initiative measures. Since the passage of Proposition 4 in 1979 (the Gann Limit), the California Constitution has required the repayment of mandated costs to school districts.

Mello-Roos Community Facility District

A portion of a school district, often a new housing development, that can be taxed if two-thirds of property owners vote to approve it. Under Mello-Roos (or the Community Facilities District Act), which was passed in 1982, property owners pay a special tax that is not based directly on the value of the property.

Migrant Education

Special federal funds for districts with students who are children of migrant workers.

Multi-tiered system of support (MTSS)

The multi-tiered system of support, or MTSS, is a framework of new and existing strategies used to identify students who need assistance, initiate a response plan, track progress and make improvements over time.

It relies on three levels, or tiers: 1) universal support for all students, 2) supplemental services for students who require more academic or behavioral assistance and 3) individualized help for those with the greatest needs.

Multiple Measures

An approach that relies on more than one indicator to measure a student’s academic strengths and weaknesses. Measures can include grades, teacher comments, collected samples of a student’s work, and standardized test scores. Similarly, multiple measures can be used to evaluate school and school district performance. These might include students’ standardized test scores, graduation rates, and dropout rates.

Multitrack, Year-round Education (MTYRE)

Schools with classes that take place throughout the calendar year. Individual students attend school for nine months, but on staggered schedules. Districts typically choose MTYRE to fully utilize school facilities. (A few districts have single-track, year-round education-in which students have shorter vacations spread throughout the year-for educational reasons.)

National Board Certification

A certificate, awarded by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, attesting that a teacher possesses the skills and knowledge of accomplished teaching and meets the National Board standards. To earn a certificate, the teacher must complete a rigorous two-part assessment. The candidate must build a portfolio that provides evidence of good teaching practice. Portfolios include videotapes of classroom teaching, lesson plans, student work samples, and self-evaluative essays. In addition, a candidate participates in a day-long evaluation of his or her knowledge of curriculum design, good teaching practice, assessment of student learning, and subject matter. The two-step process takes approximately one academic year, and most candidates spend about 120 hours on assessment activities.

National School Lunch Program

A federal program to provide food-typically lunch and/or breakfast-for students from low-income families. The number of students participating in this free/reduced price meal program is increasingly being used as a way to measure the poverty level of a school or district population. The number of children in this program can affect schools’ or districts’ eligibility for grants or other funding aimed at helping lower-income families.

Norm-Referenced Assessment

An assessment in which an individual or group’s performance is compared to a larger group. Usually the larger group is representative of the cross-section of all U.S. students.

Object Codes

In school district budgets, object codes are used to classify revenues and expenditures. For revenues, the object code identifies the general source and type of funds. For expenditures, it identifies the type of item or service being purchased.

Office of Public School Construction (OPSC)

The agency that implements and administers the School Facility Program and other programs of the State Allocation Board (SAB). OPSC also verifies that all school districts applying for state funding to modernize or build new facilities meet specific criteria based on the type of funding requested.

Parcel Tax

In California, an assessment on each parcel of property-not based on assessed value-that must be approved by two-thirds of the voters in a school district. When proposing parcel tax elections, districts indicate how the money will be used. Money from parcel tax elections is generally used for educational programs, not for school construction or renovation, which is normally financed through a general obligation bond measure.

Per Capita Personal Income

Total personal income from all sources prior to taxation, divided by the number of residents in, for example, a state.

Percentile Ranks

One way to compare a given child, class, school, or district to a national norm. Students in the first percentile are outranked by everyone who took the test. Students in the 99th percentile outrank everyone. Students at the 50th percentile are exactly in the middle.

Performance Assessment

A test that requires students to generate a response to a question rather than choose it from a set of possible answers provided for them. Examples of performance assessments (also sometimes referred to as alternative or authentic assessment) include essay questions, portfolios, and demonstrations. (See assessment.)

Performance Standards

Standards that describe how well or at what level students should be expected to master the content standards. For example, while content standards may say that all 8th graders should learn Algebra I, performance standards would say what level of mastery of Algebra I is necessary for promotion to the next grade (or for achievement with honors). (See Content Standards and Standards-Based Reform.)

Portfolio Assessment

A collection of various samples of a student’s work. A student portfolio assessment can include writing samples, examples of how the student solved mathematical problems, results of scientific experiments, etc. The evaluation of this work, typically done by a classroom teacher, can be conducted systematically based on established content and performance standards. (See assessment.)

Positive Behavioral Intervention & Supports (PBIS)

An approach for improving school climate that sets clear behavioral expectations for all students and rewards them for complying. It also establishes specific consequences for violations of that code of conduct that are applied equally to all. And it requires detailed data tracking and analysis of student behavior problems. For more information, see

Preliminary Credential

A credential that can be earned by both administrators and teachers after they complete a number of requirements. The Preliminary Credential is valid for five years, during which time the teacher or administrator is expected to pursue a Professional Clear Credential. Among other requirements for a Preliminary Credential, teachers must earn at least a bachelor’s degree, pass the CBEST, and complete an approved teacher-preparation program. Among other requirements for a Preliminary Credential, administrators must pass the CBEST, complete at least three successful years in teaching or pupil services, and complete an approved program of administrator preparation or internship. However, in 2002 the state offered administrators a fast-track alternative: the School Leaders Licensure Assessment (SLLA). In addition, administrative services interns can obtain a Preliminary Credential by participating in an approved, one-year in-service training program.

Principal Apportionment

Funding from the State School Fund for school districts, county offices of education, and charter schools. The Advance Principal Apportionment is certified by the Superintendent of Public Instruction in July of each school year, followed by the First Principal Apportionment (P1) in February, and the Second Principal Apportionment (P2) in June.

Principal Training Program

A program, created by California’s Principal Training Act (Assembly Bill 75), that provides districts with incentive funding to offer professional development for school site administrators using State Board of Education-approved providers. The Principal Training Program consists of three modules: Leadership & Support of Student Instructional Programs; Leadership & Management for Instructional Improvement; and Instructional Technology to Improve Pupil Performance.

Professional Clear Credential

A credential that can be completed after obtaining a Preliminary Credential. Teachers and administrators have five years to complete the requirements for a Professional Clear Credential. For teachers, those requirements include participation in a formal induction program. For administrators, those requirements include an individualized, approved course of advanced study and two full-time years as a California school administrator.

Professional Development

Programs that allow teachers or administrators to acquire the knowledge and skills they need to perform their jobs successfully. Often these programs are aimed at veteran teachers to help them update their skills and knowledge. Researchers have found that effective professional development focuses on academic content and requires adequate time, resources, and working conditions. Examples in California are the University of California (UC) Professional Development Institutes and Mathematics and Reading Professional Development Program. (See Principal Training Program.)

Professional Learning Community

A group of educators that meets regularly to discuss and analyze their teaching skills in an effort to improve professionally and to ensure their students are progressing academically.


Mastery or ability to do something at grade-level. In California, students take California Standards Tests (CSTs) and receive scores that range from “far below basic” to “advanced.” The state goal is for all students to score at “proficient” or “advanced.”

Property Tax

A tax on local residential and commercial property that is part of a school district’s income based on a formula set by the Legislature and signed by the governor in 1978. These taxes, which vary by district, are part of the district’s revenue limit income. (See Revenue Limit.)

Proposition 13

An amendment to the California Constitution passed by voter initiative in June 1978 that limits property taxes to no more than 1% of full assessed value (plus any additional rates approved by local voters, such as general obligation bonds). Annual increases in assessed value are capped at 2% or the percentage growth in the state’s Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less. For individual properties, the assessed value is also raised when new construction or the sale of property occurs (with a few exceptions). Proposition 13 and implementing legislation caused a shift in support for schools from local property taxes to state general funds. Local voters can levy a uniform dollar tax per parcel of land, but they cannot increase property taxes based on value with one exception. In 1986 authority for school districts to levy taxes for general obligation (G.O.) bonds for school construction or renovation was reinstituted. Because Proposition 13 drastically reduced property taxes, they are no longer the major source of school funding. Until 1978 property taxes furnished about two-thirds of education’s revenues. Proposition 13 caused a nearly exact flip-flop when the Legislature bailed out school districts with state funds. The governor and Legislature also took over the allocation of local property taxes to schools, cities, counties, and special districts.

Proposition 30

A California ballot measure approved by voters on November 6, 2012 by a margin of 55 to 45 percent, Prop. 30 helped prevent further cuts to education by temporarily raising the personal income tax for California residents with an annual income over $250,000 and increasing in the state sales tax by 0.25 percent. For more information, see our Prop. 30 infographic.

Proposition 39 (2000)

An amendment to the California Constitution passed by voter initiative in November 2000. It added the option of a lower voter-approval threshold (55% vs. two-thirds) for local school district general obligation (G.O.) bonds. If districts choose to seek 55% instead of two-thirds approval, they have added requirements involving financial and performance accountability.

Proposition 49

An amendment to the California Constitution passed by voter initiative in November 2002. It modified and expanded the existing state after-school programs. Beginning in 2004-05, any funding increases to the After School Education and Safety Program must come from outside of Proposition 98 funds. Without voter approval, lawmakers can only reduce funding to the program if they also reduce Proposition 98 funds by the same percentage.

Propositions 98 and 111

Voter-approved initiatives that amended the California Constitution in 1988 and 1990 to guarantee a minimum amount of funding from property and state taxes for K-14 (kindergarten through community college) education each year. This guarantee of a minimum funding level is unique in the nation. The propositions included formulas for calculating the guarantee under different economic conditions. Proposition 98 also mandated School Accountability Report Cards (SARC) that cover at least 13 required topics such as test scores, dropout rates, and teacher qualifications. (Other topics have since been added.)

Public Employees’ Retirement System (PERS)

A retirement fund required by state law. Classified employees and their employer (such as school districts and county offices of education) contribute. It is also referred to as California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS).

Public Employment Relations Board (PERB)

A five-person board appointed by the governor that regulates collective bargaining between public employees (including school district and county office of education employees) and employee organizations.

Pupil Weighting

A system of distributing funds-through the state to districts, county offices of education, or schools-that provides more or less money based upon the educational or social conditions of students in a school or district.

Pupil-Teacher Ratio

The total student enrollment divided by the number of full-time equivalent teachers. This ratio is usually smaller than average class size because some teachers, such as reading specialists, work outside the classroom. The pupil-teacher ratio is the most common statistic for comparing data across states.

Raw Score

The number of questions answered correctly on a test, particularly a multiple-choice test. Because the test questions are not equally difficult, this information is of limited use.

Regional Occupational Centers and Programs (ROCPs)

A center or program established by a school, district, group of districts, or county office of education that provides training for entry-level jobs, job-related counseling, and upgrading of skills for youths 16 and older and some adults. Collectively, they offer courses in more than 100 different career areas as diverse as forensic science, engineering, manufacturing, technology, automotive technology, graphic design, digital pre-press, and health care.

Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504)

A law that says that no qualified person shall, on the basis of a disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity that receives or benefits from federal financial assistance. The Office for Civil Rights of the Department of Education (OCR) enforces this law for all elementary, secondary, and postsecondary schools. The OCR prohibits specific discriminatory activities, such as the assignment of students with disabilities to segregated classes or facilities. (In elementary and secondary schools, students with disabilities may be assigned to separate facilities or courses only when such placement is necessary to provide them equal educational opportunity and when the separate facilities and services are comparable to other facilities and services.)


In testing, a measure of consistency. For example, if someone took the same test on two different days, scores on both tests should be similar. (See fair and valid.)


Funds set aside in a school district budget to provide for future expenditures, to offset future losses, for working capital, or for other purposes.


In the General Fund budget, the designation of a revenue or expenditure as being for specific (restricted) or general (unrestricted) purposes.


The act or policy of holding students back from advancing to the next grade level if they do not meet established performance standards. (See Social Promotion.)

Revenues Per Pupil

The total amount of revenues from all sources allocated to K-12 education, divided by the number of students as determined, most often, by average daily attendance (ADA). The formula for revenues per pupil is based on the amount budgeted by the state rather than on what is actually spent by districts and the state to provide services. (See Expenditures Per Pupil.)


In education research, administering a test to and analyzing the test results of a set of students who, as a group, represent the characteristics of the entire student population. Based on their analysis of the data of the representative sample, researchers, educators, and policymakers can infer important trends in the academic progress of an individual or group of students.


A test administered by the national College Board and widely used throughout the country as a college entrance examination. National and state averages of scores from the SAT I Reasoning Test (formerly called the Scholastic Aptitude Test) are published annually. In California, the University of California system uses an index of SAT I and SAT II (math, English, and a third subject that a student chooses) test scores plus a student’s grade point average for admission to its campuses for freshmen. The SAT I is also required for some students seeking admission to the California State University System.

Scaled Score

An adjustment of raw scores that differentiates among the test items by, for example, giving more weight to hard questions and less weight to easy questions across all grade levels. Unlike other types of scores, the scaled score has the same meaning in terms of achievement for each grade, making it the best indicator of a student’s growth from one year to the next.

School Assistance and Intervention Team (SAIT)

A group of people knowledgeable in school leadership and curriculum assigned to work with a school that has not made an acceptable level of academic progress while in the Immediate Intervention/Underperforming Schools Program (II/USP)or under the High Priority Schools Grant Program (HPSGP).

School Board

A locally elected group, usually between three and seven members, who set fiscal, personnel, instructional, and student-related policies. The number of board members relates to the size of the district. A school district governing board also provides direction for the district, hires and fires the district superintendent, and approves the budget and contracts with employee unions. By law, every school district in California is governed by a locally elected school board.

School District

A local education agency directed by an elected local board of education that exists primarily to operate public schools. In California, there are three types of school districts: elementary, high school, and unified. An elementary district is generally kindergarten through eighth grade (K-8); high school is generally grades 9 through 12; unified is kindergarten through 12th grade (K-12).

School Facility Improvement District (SFID)

A portion of a school district that is taxed through a general obligation (G.O.) bond based on the value of the property and approved by the voters in that portion of the district being taxed. When SFIDs were created in 1998, they required two-thirds voter approval. In July 2001, the Legislature added the option of a 55% voter approval threshold with the additional accountability provisions of Proposition 39. Typically, SFIDs involve new housing developments that create additional facility needs for the school district.

School Foundation

A tax-exempt organization-also referred to as an education foundation-established to raise funds and receive gifts and grants in support of a school district or an individual school.

School Site Council

Parents, students (high schools only), teachers, and other staff selected by their peers to prepare a school improvement plan and to assist in seeing that the planned activities are carried out and evaluated. Such a council is required when a school receives funding for a School Improvement Program (SIP) or through Title I.

Schoolwide Programs

A program that uses Title I money to support comprehensive school improvement efforts and to help all students, particularly low-achieving and at-risk students, meet state standards at particular schools. To qualify as a Title I schoolwide program, at least 40% of a school’s students must be considered low income. Schoolwide programs can provide Title I services and support to all of the children in the school, regardless of income level. Schoolwide programs have more flexibility than targeted assistance programs (TAPs) when using Title I funds. For example, schools operating schoolwide programs can combine Title I funds with other federal, state, and local funding to finance a more comprehensive approach to improving student achievement.

Scientifically Based Research

Research that involves the application of rigorous, systemic, and objective procedures to obtain reliable and valid knowledge relevant to educational activities and programs.

Scope of Bargaining

The range of subjects negotiated between school districts and employee organizations during collective bargaining. In California, scope includes matters relating to wages, hours, and working conditions. The Public Employment Relations Board (PERB) is responsible for interpreting disputes about scope.

Section 504

A section of the federal Rehabilitation Act of 1973 that protects “handicapped” individuals from discrimination based on their handicap by employers, educational institutions, or programs that receive federal funds. Section 504 defines an “individual with a handicap” more broadly than the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA) and in some circumstances provides additional rights not available under IDEA. (See Rehabilitation Act of 1973.)


A statutory system for protecting the job security of employees with the longest periods of service in a district or county office of education. With few exceptions, the seniority list is used to determine which employees will be the first to be laid off or rehired.

Serrano v. Priest

A California court case-begun in 1968 and settled in the mid-1970s-that challenged the inequities created by the U.S. tradition of using property taxes as the principal source of revenue for public schools, saying the wide discrepancies in school funding because of differences in district wealth represented a denial of equal opportunity. In response, legislators passed Senate Bill 90 in 1972, creating the revenue limit system that put a ceiling on the amount of general-purpose money each district could receive.


An insufficient allocation of money, requiring an additional appropriation or resulting in a deficit.

Smarter Balanced Assessments

The Smarter Balanced assessments are computer based tests that measure student knowledge of California’s English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics standards. These new assessments replace the former paper-based, multiple-choice assessments for students in grades three through eight and grade eleven. The first statewide administration of these assessments took place in 2015. These tests are part of the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) System.

Social Promotion

The policy of promoting students from one grade to the next with their age group rather than based on the student’s performance. (See Retention.)

Special Education

Programs to identify and meet the educational needs of children with emotional, learning, or physical disabilities. Federal law requires that all children with disabilities be provided a free and appropriate education according to an Individualized Education Program (IEP) from infancy until 21 years of age.

Special Education Local Plan Area (SELPA)

A regional group formed for purposes of administering Special Education services effectively and efficiently. Districts are organized into SELPAs; some are countywide, a single large district, or part of a district; and some combine several smaller districts.

Specialist Credential

A credential required for those who teach reading, Special Education, or instruction of English learners.

Split Roll

A system of taxing business and industrial property at a different rate from residential property.

Standardized Account Code Structure (SACS)

A comprehensive system of accounting for and reporting school district revenues and expenditures. As of 2003-04, all school districts use SACS, which gives them a variety of ways to track and report financial information, including by specific programs and functions.

Standardized Test

A test that is in the same format for all takers. It often relies heavily or exclusively on multiple-choice questions. The testing conditions-including instructions, time limits, and scoring rubrics-are the same for all students, though sometimes accommodations on time limits and instructions are made for disabled students. Reporting of scores to parents, students, or schools is the same. The procedures used for creating the test and analyzing the test results are standardized.


Degrees or levels of achievement. The “standards movement” began as an informal effort grown out of a concern that American students were not learning enough and that American schools did not have a rigorous curriculum. The U.S. Congress adopted this concept more formally with its 1994 reauthorization of the federal Title I program. See also Content Standards and Performance Standards.

Standards-Based Reform

A recent shift in education policy and school reform toward reaching consensus on and establishing standards for what students need to know and be able to do at each grade or developmental level. While the momentum for standards-based education is well on its way, tension still exists over how much influence national, state, or local policy makers should have over setting the standards. Although a strong backlash to national control continues, a growing number of states are taking on this responsibility, including California.

State Allocation Board (SAB)

A regulatory agency that controls most state-aided capital outlay and deferred maintenance projects and distributes funds for them.

State Education Agency (SEA)

The agency primarily responsible for the supervision of a state’s public elementary and secondary schools, such as the California Department of Education (CDE).

State Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI)

Elected on a statewide, non-partisan ballot, the Superintendent of Public Instruction (also called the state superintendent) is in charge of running the California Department of Education. County offices of education are required to inform the state superintendent of approval or disapproval of all school district budgets.

State Teachers’ Retirement System (STRS)

A retirement fund required by state law. Certificated employees and education agencies (such as school districts and county offices of education) contribute to STRS. It is also referred to as California State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS).


The termination of statutes and regulations (but not necessarily the funding) for a categorical program. A schedule for the Legislature to consider the sunset of most state programs is part of the laws that created the programs.

Supplemental Grants

Under the Local Control Funding Forumula, additional funds given to districts for low-income, English learner, homeless or foster youth students.

Teacher Peer Assistance and Review Program (PAR)

A law, enacted in March 1999, that encourages designated consulting teachers to assist as well as be involved in the performance evaluation of their peers. Each district develops implementation details of the program through their collective bargaining process. The local program is overseen by a joint teacher-administrator peer review panel, which selects consulting teachers for the program and makes recommendations to the school board about participants in the program.


A system of due process and employment guarantee for teachers. After serving a two-year probationary period, teachers are assured continued employment in the school district unless carefully defined procedures for dismissal or layoff are successfully followed.

TIMSS (Third International Mathematics and Science Study)

A third attempt by educators to compare achievement in mathematics and science across nations. Although criticized by some as lacking reliability, it is the largest, most recent, and best-controlled study of its sort. TIMSS administered tests to students in 26 countries at grade 4 and 41 countries at grade 8. Depending on the specific test, it was administered to up to 21 countries at the Final Year of Secondary School. (It is called the Final Year because, in many instances, it does not respond to 12th grade in the United States.)

TRANs (Tax Revenue Anticipation Notes)

Short-term loans that school districts can use to address a cash flow problem created when expenditures must be incurred before tax revenues are received.

Transitional Bilingual Education

A teaching approach that uses the child’s native language only to the extent necessary to help him or her learn English and subject matter. Bilingualism is not a goal, and little or no effort is made to develop or maintain the child’s home language.

Tuition Tax Credit

A reduction in state or federal income tax to offset a specified amount of money for private education tuition.


Joining together of all or part of an elementary school district (grades K-8) and high school district (grades 9-12) to form a new unified school district (grades K-12) with a single governing board.


Joining together of two or more elementary or high school districts to form a single elementary (grades K-8) or high school district (grades 9-12).

University of California (UC) System

The most selective of three public systems for postsecondary education in California. Those three systems include: two-year community colleges, the four-year California State University (CSU) system, and the most selective University of California (UC) system. In 2006 UC had ten campuses with an enrollment of more than 208,000. UC traditionally accepts the top 12.5% of high school students and qualified community college transfers. Eligibility for high school students to enter is based on the completion of 15 one-year college prep courses (referred to as a-g courses), high school grades, performance on college admissions exams, advanced coursework taken, and personal attributes. Beginning in fall 2001, the top 4% of students in the graduating class of every high school are eligible for UC if they have completed 11 specific college prep courses by the end of their junior year. Under this program, called Eligibility in the Local Context, students are admitted to a specific campus, though not necessarily their campus of choice. Beginning in fall 2003, the Dual Admissions policy gives students who rank between 4% and 12.5% at their high schools provisional admission to a specific UC campus after first attending a community college. The student must also have completed any nine college prep courses by the end of 11th grade. These two policies are meant to encourage students who have excelled academically in disadvantaged high schools to attend UC.


An adjective that describes the efficacy of a test. Tests can have content validity, criterion validity, construct validity, consequential validity, and face validity. A test has content validity if it measures what it says it is measuring. Criterion validity, also called predictive validity, occurs if a test predicts something that the test administrators are interested in predicting. For example, the SAT is meant to predict freshman grades in college. Construct validity is used to measure psychological constructs such as intelligence, anxiety, or self-esteem. If a test measures these constructs as it says it is measuring them, it has construct validity. Consequential validity refers to the consequences of a test or inferences made from the test. For example, the consequence of a number of students failing a test may be that teachers change their curriculum. A test has face validity if it appears appropriate or relevant to the test-taker. If a test does not have face validity, the test is compromised and that can affect other kinds of validity as well. (See fair and reliable.)

Value-added systems of accountability

Models that attempt to measure the value added by an individual teacher or school to students’ performance over time. Usually this is done through data analysis comparing a student’s test scores to the same student’s scores from the previous year. The improvement in the score over what would normally be expected is considered to be the value added by the school or teacher.

Vergara v. California

In 2012, a non-profit organization Students Matter filed Vergara v. California, a lawsuit claiming five teacher employment laws disproportionately hurt poor and minority children by forcing on them the state‰’s worst-performing teachers. In June 2014, a California judge struck down all five laws, including a permanent employment statute, informally known as tenure, giving teachers due-process rights after two years of probation; three statutes that outline complex procedures to dismiss teachers; and the layoff statute, known as LIFO for Last In, First Out, mandating layoffs by seniority with some exceptions for teachers with hard-to-find expertise. The State and the state‰’s two largest teachers unions plan to appeal the decision.


A promise of payment from the state for all or part of a student’s education expenses at a school of the student’s choice. This term is generally used for the certificates or promises that governments provide public school students so they can attend private schools of their choice.


Permission from the State Board of Education (SBE) to set aside the requirements of an Education Code provision or administrative regulations upon the request of a school district. The code specifies which laws can be waived.

Williams v. California

A lawsuit, filed in 2000, that became a class action lawsuit in 2001. The plaintiffs in Williams argued that the state has a constitutional duty to ensure basic educational equality and contended that California has failed in that duty by not providing thousands of students in public schools with “bare minimum necessities,” defined as textbooks, trained teachers, and safe, clean, uncrowded facilities. The lawsuit further argued that low-income students and students of color are the most likely to bear the burden of inadequate resources. In August 2004 a tentative settlement was reached that included accountability measures (such as empowering county superintendents to intervene in the lowest-performing schools) and about $1.2 billion to make facilities repairs, buy textbooks, create a statewide facilities inventory, and continue the High Priority Schools Grant Program for low-performing schools. Legislation enacted in September 2004 provided the programmatic details and funding necessary to implement the settlement.