Research Terms

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A concept picture of a woman confused by all the words she has to understand.October 2010

NICHCY is pleased to provide this handy reference page to research terminology, and hope it helps our readers quickly connect with the meaning of pivotal words and phrases in the field.

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Ability Grouping | The practice of arranging students in groups based on similar ability. Ability grouping is grounded in the belief that this arrangement allows each group to receive the level of instructional challenge and support most appropriate to the group’s needs.

Academic intervention | Instructional approach focusing on the specific techniques and materials used to teach a given subject.

Aggression | Hostile actions or behaviors that are intended to harm the aggressor’s target.

Antisocial| A description for behavior that violates accepted norms, rules, standards, or understandings of society, or a person who exhibits such behavior.

Anxiety | An emotional state marked by a combination of feelings including fear, apprehension, and worry.

At Risk | A term used to describe children who either have, or are considered likely to develop, a problem (physical, mental, developmental, educational, etc.) that requires monitoring, evaluation and/or intervention to prevent or lessen future difficulties or developmental delays.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) | Learning and/or behavioral difficulties characterized by noticable inattention or distraction, excessive physical movement (hyperactivity), and/or impulsivity. AD/HD usually manifests in early childhood and is apparent in two or more settings (such as home and school). This disorder exerts a negative impact on a person’s ability to sit still, control behavior, and/or focus attention.

Attrition | Refers to the loss of subjects before a research study has been completed. High study attrition rates can affect the reliability of results, even from studies utilizing high quality research designs.

Autism | A disorder, usually present before the age of 3, marked by persistent and pervasive difficulties in the areas of social interaction, communication, and behavior. People with autism often engage in repetitive activities, resist changes to their environment or daily routines, and exhibit unusual responses to sensory experiences.

Average (a.k.a. Mean) | A measure of central tendency, calculated by dividing the sum total of a set of numbers by the number of figures in the set (i.e. in the set 5, 6, 8, 10, the average is 7.25-derived by: 5+6+8+10=29, 29 divided by 4= 7.25).

 
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More, You Say?

Behavior | A person’s observable responses to internal and external stimuli.

Behavior Disorders (BD) | A term used for children who have severe, persistent difficulties with social interactions and inappropriate behavior.

Behavior Therapy | A method of modifying or changing behavior through the use of conditioning techniques such as reinforcement.

Best-evidence synthesis | A research method that combines a meta-analytical approach to sythesizing quantitative findings with a narrative review of related qualititative studies.

Between Groups Design (a.k.a. Between Subjects Design) | A research design in which the values of one group of subjects (e.g.: scores on a reading fluency test of students receiving whole word instruction) is compared to the values of a separate group of subjects (e.g.: scores of students receiving phonics instruction).

Between Subjects Design (a.k.a. Between Groups Design) | A research design in which the values of one group of subjects (e.g.: scores on a reading fluency test of students receiving whole word instruction) is compared to the values of a separate group of subjects (e.g.: scores of students receiving phonics instruction).

Between-Class Ability Grouping | A school-level practice where classrooms are formed so that students of similar ability are placed together.

Bilingual | The ability to speak and/or write in two languages.

Bilingual Education Program | An educational program for non-native speakers of English in which a considerable amount of instruction is provided in the native language. It is important to note that the majority of bilingual programs in the U.S. are Spanish-based. There are now over 5 million English language learners in the U.S. with nearly 80% coming from a Spanish-speaking background.

 
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Lots of “Cs” and “Ds”

Cerebral Palsy | A condition caused by injury to the parts of the brain that control our ability to use our muscles and bodies. Cerebral means having to do with the brain. Palsy means weakness or problems with using the muscles. Often the injury happens before birth, sometimes during delivery, or soon after being born. CP can be mild, moderate, or severe. Sometimes children with CP can also have learning problems, problems with hearing or seeing (called sensory problems), or intellectual disabilities. Usually, the greater the injury to the brain, the more severe the CP. However, CP doesn’t get worse over time, and most children with CP have a normal life span.

Co-Teaching | When a general education teacher and the special education service provider (either a special education teacher or related service provider) participate in lesson or activity planning together and work together in the same classroom to instruct both students with and without disabilities.

Cognitive Strategy Instruction | A method of teaching students how to learn by teaching them the tools and techniques that efficient learners use to understand and learn new material or skills; integrate this new information with what is already know in a way that makes sense; and recall the information or skill later, even in a different situation or place. Strategies can be simple or complex, unconsciously applied or used with great awareness and deliberation.

Cognitive-Behavioral Interventions (CBIs) | CBI is a broad term that encompasses Cognitive-behavioral Modification – CBM and Cognitive-behavioral Therapy – CBT. It is a behavior modification approach that promotes self-control skills and reflective problem-solving strategies. Interventions combine elements of behavior therapy (modeling, feedback, reinforcement) with cognitive approaches (problem solving, self-monitoring, self-instruction, communication skill building, relaxation, and situational self-awareness training) to teach individuals to recognize difficult situations, think of possible solutions, and select the most appropriate response.

Comprehension | The ability to understand information, usually in written or verbal form.

Computer Assisted Instruction | Instructional use of a computer to present material, practice skills, monitor student learning, and assess individual learner needs and progress.

Computer-Managed Instruction (CMI)/Integrated Learning System (ILS) | The use of computers and software programs to present a sequence of lessons over an extended period of time while monitoring student progress.

Conduct Disorder | Often a precursor to anti-social personality disorder, conduct disorder is a diagnosis given to children and adolescents whose behaviors violate society’s norms (e.g. aggression towards people or animals, destruction of property, theft).

Contingency management | A behavior modification approach that combines positive reinforcement for desired behaviors with punishment to reduce unwanted behaviors.

Decoding (Reading) | Acquisition of meaning from written symbols by analyzing and deconstructing words into understandable and recognizable parts.

Dependent Variable or Dependent Measure | The outcome variable; the variable the study is designed to measure. In experimental research, the dependent variable is acted upon by the independent variable(s).

Developmental Delay | A term used to describe a child who has a gap between their developmental or mental age and their chronological age. Some serious and persistent delays may be diagnosed as specific developmental disabilities. However, children with minor delays may catch up with their typically developing peers over time.

Deviant or Deviancy | Used to describe behavior that violates recognized social norms, or a person who engages in deviant behavior.

Differential Reinforcement | In this approach, reinforcement is based on a predetermined low level or absence of disruptive behavior during a specified time period. Consequences for behavior may be positive, negative, or combined.

Direct Instruction (DI) | A systematic, scripted form of instruction emphasizing lessons which are fast paced, sequenced, and focused.

Down syndrome | The most common and readily identifiable chromosomal condition associated with intellectual disabilities. It is caused by a chromosomal abnormality: for some unexplained reason, an accident in cell development results in 47 instead of the usual 46 chromosomes. This extra chromosome changes the orderly development of the body and brain.

 
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And Now the E-F-G-H Crowd

Effect Size (ES or d) | A statistical calculation, often represented as ES or d, that measures the impact of an intervention. An effect size below d = 0.20 suggests that a treatment did not have a significant effect. An effect size of d = 0.20 is considered small or low; an effect size of d = 0.50 is considered moderate; an effect size of d = 0.80 or above is large.

Emotional /Behavioral Disorders (EBD) or Emotional Disturbance | Serious and persistent emotional difficulties and any associated behavior problems.

Ethnicity | A socially constructed label indicating identification with a particular group that is often descended from common ancestors. In the United States, it usually refers to a subset of people within the culture who share one of more of the following characteristics: race, nationality, religion, ancestry, or language.

Fidelity of Implementation (a.k.a. Treatment Integrity) | The extent to which the administration of an intervention complies with that intended in original design.

Fluency | The ability to read with speed, accuracy, and proper expression.

Generalize | (1) The ability to transfer knowledge or skills to different settings, tasks, or time. (2) In research, the degree to which findings from a research sample can be applied to other settings or to the population as a whole.

Graphic Organizers | Displays of information, structure, and key conceptual relationships using visual and spatial arrangements or maps. Graphic organizers often involve lines, arrows, text boxes or bubbles, pictures, and other visual depictions to represent ideas, facts, and concepts. Graphic organizers provide a framework for students to connect existing knowledge to new information and discover previously unseen relationships. Some of the most commonly known graphic organizers include semantic maps, semantic feature analysis, cognitive maps, story maps, framed outlines, and Venn diagrams.

Group Contingencies | These are similar to token economies; however, in group contingencies, the group as a whole earns and receives the reinforcement.

Guided Repeated Oral Reading | An instructional practice in which students read and reread a text until they reach some level of proficiency.

Head Start | A federal program aimed at providing preschool programs for children ages three to five from low-income families. A percentage of Head Start enrollments are required to be available for children with disabilities.

Hearing Impairments | Impairment in hearing, ranging from mild to total hearing loss, which causes adverse affects on a child’s language development or educational performance.

Heterogeneous Group | A set of people who have diverse attributes or traits.

Homogeneous Group | A set of people who have been put together because they share similar traits.

Hyperactivity | A condition marked by consistent, excessive activity, movement, or disruptive behavior.

 
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I through M

Immersion Program | An English-only approach to instruction in which a child’s native language is rarely used, if at all, in daily lessons. In such approaches children may be placed immediately in mainstreamed, English-only classrooms, or in a separate classroom with other English language learners until they are ready to be mainstreamed.

Impulsivity | Acting on impulse; acting or speaking quickly without thinking about the consequences.

Intellectual/Developmental Disability | Intellectual disability is a disability characterized by a person’s significantly below average intellectual functioning (an IQ of approximately 70 or below on an individually administered IQ test) and limitations in the ability to conduct normal activities of daily living such as, communication, self-care, social/interpersonal skills, functional academic skills, work, and leisure. This condition is typically present from birth or early infancy.  Intellectual/developmental disability is now used instead of the term “mental retardation” and refers to the same population of individuals. 

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) | A standardized index of an individual’s cognitive ability in certain areas, such as verbal expression or problem-solving, in relation to their age. In most standardized IQ tests the mean is 100 and the standard deviation is 15. Therefore, the normal IQ range spans from 15 points below to 15 points above the mean of 100, or 85 to 115.

Intelligence Quotient (IQ) Tests | Assessments used to determine an individual’s cognitive ability in certain selected areas, such as verbal expression or problem-solving, in relation to their age. In most standardized IQ tests the mean is 100 and the standard deviation is 15. Therefore, the normal IQ range spans from 15 points below to 15 points above the mean of 100, or 85 to 115.

Joint Book Reading | A concept to promote early literacy skills by having adult family members read to their young children.

Learning Disabilities | A term that refers to a group of disorders, any one of which can cause difficulty with learning and interfere with a person’s skills and achievement. A learning disability is a neurobiological disorder that affects how the brain works to receive, process, store, respond to, or produce information. It can affect a person’s ability to read, write, speak, spell, compute math, or reason. It can also affect a person’s attention, memory, coordination, social skills, and emotional maturity.

Learning Style | An individual’s typical mode of processing information, perceiving, thinking, remembering, and problem solving.

Learning Style Theory | The belief that people learn best when taught using their preferred modality (e.g. visual, auditory, or kinesthetic) and that teaching should be designed around students’ learning style preferences.

Low Vision | A severe visual impairment, not necessarily limited to distance vision. Low vision applies to all individuals with sight who are unable to read the newspaper at a normal viewing distance, even with the aid of eyeglasses or contact lenses.

Mean (a.k.a. Average) | A measure of central tendency, calculated by dividing the sum total of a set of numbers by the number of figures in the set (i.e. of the set 5, 6, 8, 10, the average is 7.25-derived by: 5+6+8+10=29, 29 divided by 4= 7.25).

Median | The middle number in an ordered set of numbers, above and below which there is an equal amount of numbers (i.e. of the numbers 2,5,7,12,19, the median is 7).

Mental Retardation (MR) | This term has fallen into disuse and has been replaced with use of the term intellectual or developmental disability. See the definition of Intellectual/Developmental Disability, above.)

Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which 1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; 2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; 3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

Metacognitive Awareness | One’s awareness of the learning process and what it takes to achieve good results in a specific learning task.

Mild Mental Retardation | This term has fallen into disuse and been replaced by the term mild intellectual/developmental disability, which is used when a person has an IQ score two to three standard deviations below the average (50-55 to 70) and limitations in daily living skills. (See Intellectual/Developmental Disability,  above.)

Mnemonics | A device or technique for improving one’s memory through the use of artificial aids such as rhymes, rules, phrases, diagrams, or acronyms.

Modality Teaching Theory | The belief that people learn best when taught using their preferred modality (e.g. visual, auditory, or kinesthetic), and that teaching should be designed around students’ learning style preferences.

Modeling | The demonstration of a behavior or skill for an observer with the intention that the observer will imitate the model and acquire the skill.

Moderate Mental Retardation |This term has fallen into disuse and been replaced by the term moderate intellectual/developmental disability, which is used when a person has an IQ score three to four standard deviations below the average (35-40 to 50-55) and limitations in daily living skills. (See Intellectual/Developmental Disability, above.)

Monomodal | A program that only focuses on one aspect of the subject being studied (e.g. a social skills training which focuses exclusively on self-control interventions).

Multimodal | A program that incorporates several aspects of the subject being studied (e.g. a social skills training which incorporates elements of behavioral interventions, social problem solving, perspective-taking, or self-control interventions).

 
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Mind Your O-P-Qs

Oppositional Defiant Disorder | A psychological diagnosis given to children and adolescents who engage in patterns of excessive hostile, deviant, or disobedient behavior for 6 months or more.

Orthopedic Impairment | A disorder affecting one’s bones, muscles, joints, ligaments and/or tissue, that adversely affects the one’s development, mobility, and/or educational performance.

Partially Sighted | A term that indicates some type of visual problem has resulted in a need for special education.

Peer Tutoring | Interventions involving students taking on an instructional role with classmates or other students.

Peer-Mediated Intervention | Interventions involving students taking on an instructional role with classmates or other students. Different techniques fall under this term including peer modeling, peer monitoring, peer network strategies, peer tutoring, and cross-age tutoring, among others.

Percentage of Non-Overlapping Data (PND) | A measure of effectiveness. A PND between 50% and 70% is considered to show that a treatment’s effectiveness is questionable. A PND of 70% is considered the lower limit for a reliable treatment.

Pervasive Developmental Disorder (PDD) | A disorder, usually present before the age of 3, marked by persistent and pervasive difficulties in the areas of social interaction, communication, and behavior. People with PDD often engage in repetitive activities, resist changes to their environment or daily routines, and exhibit unusual responses to sensory experiences.

Phoneme | The smallest unit of meaningful sound in spoken language. Sometimes a phoneme is a single letter, such as ’t’ or ’s.’ Other times a phoneme is a combination of letters that make a distinct sound, such as ’th’ or ’sh.’

Phonemic Awareness | Ability to hear, recognize, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. Phonemic awareness is a narrower concept within the broader concept of phonological awareness.

Phonics | The study of relationships between the sounds of spoken language and the letters of written language, and the use of this knowledge in recognizing and pronouncing words, reading and spelling.

Phonological Awareness | The ability to understand and manipulate the smallest units of meaningful sound (phonemes) as well as the combination of those sounds to form larger units such as syllables, and whole words.

Progress Monitoring | Progress monitoring is a systemic approach to student assessment. To implement progress monitoring, the student’s current levels of performance are determined and goals are identified for learning that will take place over time. The student’s academic performance is measured on a regular basis (weekly or monthly). Progress toward meeting the student’s goals is measured by comparing expected and actual rates of learning. Based on these measurements, teaching is adjusted as needed. Thus, the student’s progression of achievement is monitored and instructional techniques are adjusted to meet the individual students learning needs. (Center for Progress Monitoring)

Prosocial Behavior | Valued or positive actions which are helpful or supportive of others within the existing social context.

 
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Nearing the Home Stretch

Reading Comprehension | The ability to understand what one has read.

Rehearsal | The act of repeating information verbally or mentally in order to retain it better.

Reliability | The degree to which an assessment or intervention is consistent, dependable, and stable over repeated trials.

Repeated-Measures Design (a.k.a. Within-Subjects Design; Single-Group Design) | Research design in which each subject participates in all experimental conditions.

Research Synthesis | Precise definitions vary – NICHCY defines a ’Research Synthesis’ as a research method in which 1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; 2)clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis. Research syntheses, defined in this way, represent a level of evidence below that of meta-analytical reviews in which results of included studies are then statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

Role Playing | Acting out the functions, reactions, or tasks expected of or performed by individuals, groups, or things.

Self-Concept | One’s beliefs or ideas about oneself; one’s view of one’s own attributes and abilities.

Self-Determination | A person’s ability to engage in self-managed, goal-focused, independent, behavior.

Self-Enhancement Approach | A method which focuses on changing students’ self-perceptions using techniques such as cognitive therapy. This approach also teaches students to eliminate self-defeating thoughts and behaviors that are believed to interfere with academic success.

Self-Evaluation | The ability to stand back from one’s work, evaluate it objectively, and make corrections and revisions based upon that analysis.

Self-Management Strategies | In these interventions, students learn to monitor and evaluate their own behavior and use self-reinforcement techniques.

Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD) | A method of writing instruction designed to help students learn, use, and eventually adopt as their own the strategies used by skilled writers. SRSD promotes self-regulation skills, content knowledge, and motivation.

Severe Disabilities | People with severe disabilities are those who traditionally have been labeled as having severe to profound intellectual/developmental disabilities. People with severe disabilities require ongoing, extensive support in more than one major life activity in order to participate in integrated community settings and enjoy the quality of life available to people with fewer or no disabilities. They frequently have additional disabilities, including movement difficulties, sensory losses, and behavior problems.

Sight Word | A word that one can immediately recognize while reading without aid of phonics or other word-attack skills.

Single-Group Design (a.k.a. Repeated-Measures Design; Within-Subjects Design) | Research design in which each subject participates in all experimental conditions.

Single-Subject Design | Research design that uses only a single participant or single unit of observation (e.g., a single family or a single organization) for measuring interventions.

Skill Development Approach | A method which focuses on building a child’s skills in a particular academic area. Those who support the use of skill development interventions believe that improving a student’s academic ability in an area such as reading will not only improve the student’s self-perceptions in that subject area, but also will give the student an expectation of future academic success.

Social Competence Training (SCT) | Broader than the more commonly used term “social skills training.” SCT uses situational, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive components to develop prosocial behaviors in children and youth.

Social Skills | Valued or positive social actions used to interact or communicate with others within the existing social system.

Social Skills Training or Interventions | Instruction designed to teach and promote positive interaction and communication with others.

Socioeconomic Status (SES) | A measure or ranking based on factors such as income, education, and occupation.

Speech and Language Disorders | Problems in communication and related areas such as oral motor function. These delays and disorders range from simple sound substitutions to the inability to understand or use language or use the oral-motor mechanism for functional speech and feeding.

Standard Deviation (SD) | A measure of the variability of a set of scores from their mean; the average difference of a set of data points from their mean.

Strategy Instruction | A method of teaching students how to learn by teaching them the tools and techniques that efficient learners use to understand and learn new material or skills, integrate this new information with what is already known in a way that makes sense, and recall the information or skill later, even in a different situation or place. Strategies can be simple or complex, unconsciously applied or used with great awareness and deliberation.

 
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The Last in the List

Title I | The first part of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), Title I programs are aimed at America’s most disadvantaged students. Title I provides assistance to improve the education of children in high-poverty schools and to help children meet their State academic content and performance standards.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) | An injury to the brain caused by the head being hit by something or shaken violently. This injury can change how the person acts, moves, and thinks. A traumatic brain injury can also change how a student learns and acts in school. The term TBI is used for head injuries that can cause changes in one or more areas, such as: (a) thinking and reasoning, (b) understanding words, (c) remembering things, (d) paying attention, (e) solving problems, (f) thinking abstractly, (g) talking, (h) behaving, (j) walking and other physical activities, (k) seeing and/or hearing, and (l) learning.

Treatment Generalization | The ability to extend a set of findings observed in one research setting to other situations and/or groups.

Treatment Integrity (a.k.a. Fidelity of Implementation) | The extent to which the administration of an intervention complies with that intended in original design.

Unbiased Estimates of Effect (UEE) | A UEE is a weighted estimator of effect using d and the sample size for each individual study.

Unweighted-Mean | The average of all scores taken together equally. This method of calculating a mean stands in contrast to that of a “weighted mean” where greater or less significance is placed on some scores based on a predetermined sliding scale. Example: Often a weighted mean is calculated in meta-analytical research where findings across a number of individual studies are combined. The results of a study with fewer subjects would receive less weight than a study basing results on a larger number of subjects.

Validity | The extent to which something measures what it is intended to measure.

Video Modeling | An intervention technique often used for social skills training which involves participants watching a video of someone modeling a desired behavior and then imitating the behavior of the person in the video.

Video Self-Modeling (VSM) | An intervention technique often used for social skills training which involves participants watching a video of themselves successfully performing a desired behavior and then imitating the target behavior demonstrated in the video.

Weighted-Mean | A method of calculating a mean score where greater or less significance is placed on some scores based on a predetermined sliding scale as opposed to combining all scores equally. Example: Often a weighted mean is calculated in meta-analytical research where findings across a number of individual studies are combined. The results of a study with fewer subjects would receive less weight than a study basing results on a larger number of subjects.

Whole Language | A theoretical perspective regarding how children best learn to read and how reading should be taught. Whole language is often discussed in comparison to phonics, because unlike phonics, whole language teachers avoid the segmentation of language into component parts for specific skill instruction. Instead, the use of engaging stories and strategies taught in meaningful contexts are emphasized.

Within-Class Grouping | A classroom-level practice where the teacher groups students of similar ability together within a single class.

Within-Subjects Design (a.k.a. Repeated-Measures Design; Single-Group Design) | Research design in which each subject participates in all experimental conditions.

Word Recognition | Remembering and recognizing a word that has been known, seen, or experienced before.

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