Have you ever sat in the international terminal at the airport and just listened to the mix of voices around you, all of them speaking in a language you don’t understand?

Or have you traveled abroad with your trusty translation dictionary in hand as you ask for directions or order an exotic meal and hope you haven’t just asked for something like boiled brains or sautéed cat?

If you’re a parent with little ones just starting school or older ones moving on to the upper grades, you might be wishing you had a translation dictionary in your pocket. You won’t have to worry about understanding the lunch menus — fruit is fruit and pizza is pizza — but other terms from Educationland may need some interpretation.

Let us be your guide. We’ve put together a list of a few terms and phrases you may hear.

Common Core Standards. This is a national effort to have students across the country learn the same knowledge in math and English language arts. In a nutshell — and this may be oversimplifying it — these standards emphasize critical thinking over the rote learning of facts. Arizona adopted the common core standards in June 2010, along with all but a handful of states.

And eventually, these will be the standards that your children are tested on when they take the PARCC test in 2015, which leads us to …

PARCC. The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers is designing a national test (with Arizona educators taking part) that should be in place by the 2014-15 school year. More than 20 states have signed on at some level. It will examine student skills in math and English language arts. Until then, Arizona students still have the AIMS test to contend with.

AIMS. This stands for Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards, a test that students start taking in third grade and seniors must pass to receive a high school diploma (there are a few exceptions). Starting in spring 2014, students in third grade will be required to pass the reading portion of AIMS in order to advance to fourth grade.

STEM. This acronym, which stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math, is the buzzword these days as classes in these four academic areas are emphasized in our public schools. You will hear about STEM curriculum, STEM classes, STEM workshops, STEM camps and more. State leaders and the business community view STEM as critical to the future of Arizona. Some districts are even making a STEM diploma available for high schoolers who take more — and higher levels — of these classes.

Blended learning. Another buzz-term making the round is blended learning. What it means varies, depending on the school. For the most part, it means students are receiving instruction from a teacher, while also using technology to add to that learning. It could be in the form of computer-generated software to focus on a skill or collaborating with classmates using iPads or computers.

Race to the Top. The Obama Administration created this multi-billion-dollar competitive grant program to strike up new ideas and innovations in education. States can apply for any number of divisions — from Race to the Top Assessment program to the original Race to the Top program to the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. The newest is the Race to the Top district competition, with a deadline of Dec. 31. Arizona received funding in phase three of the program, which was announced in 2011.

Virtual. Who says you have to go to school to, well, go to school? There are many opportunities in Arizona for students to take their classes online through virtual academies and classrooms without ever leaving their homes.

AP. To us journalists, AP means Associated Press. But in high schools, it stands for Advanced Placement, rigorous coursework that’s at a higher level and can often be taken for college credit. If you don’t want to take AP, how about ….

IB. International Baccalaureate programs exist in several East Valley district and charter schools. To offer this globally-recognized learning program to students, a school must be accepted through an inspection and application process. Teachers then receive training. IB learning focuses on creating “world citizens,” with an emphasis on inquiry. High school students who score well on IB tests may receive an IB diploma, in addition to their school diploma.

CTE. For many students, Career Technical Education is the preferred path. Think vo-tech classes like you took in high school, but more academic, more high-tech, and covering way more fields — firefighting, radio, nursing, cosmetology, culinary arts, and massage therapy, just to name a few.

STO. In Arizona, taxpayers can donate to a School Tuition Organization and receive a tax credit in return. The donations are used to provide scholarships for students to attend private schools.

ESA. A voucher-like program, the Education Savings Account is open to students who currently attend a public school and fall into these areas: are identified as having special needs, are children of active military parents, attend a failing school, or are in foster care. The program gives qualifying students up to 90 percent of the funding a public school would have received that can then be used to pay private school tuition, home-school curriculum or educational services. Students are required to withdraw from public school in order to receive the funding. Applications for fall have already been processed.

Charter schools. These are privately-operated schools that provide tuition-free public education.

Modified Year-Round. Not all of our schools operate on the same schedule. As Horizon Community Learning Center and Chandler parents are well aware, the modified year-round calendar starts earlier and ends later than the traditional school year with three longer breaks during the year.

IEP. An IEP is an individualized education plan for a student with special needs. The parents, the teacher and other specialists create this plan. It may address additional learning for a student (such as speech therapies), accommodations in the classroom or special environments required for testing.

This is just some of the “educatorese” you can expect to hear this school year. If a teacher or principal or superintendent uses a term you don’t understand, just say, “I’m not from Educationland,” and we’re sure they’ll be happy to translate for you.

Just don’t get lost in the translation.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-6820 or ctodd@evtrib.com

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