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Speaking the same language

September 20, 2004|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

If it sometimes seems as if educators are talking in a different language, you are not alone, but officials with Tri-State school districts say they are trying to do a better job of translating some of the jargon they use into conversational English.

"We are getting better and better every day at communicating in plain language," Washington County Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Morgan said.

Morgan encourages school system employees to speak in plain language when dealing with the public and when she sees someone not doing that, she will remind them about it, she said.

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"Some people do it unconsciously. They don't mean to exclude people from conversations," Morgan said.

She makes a point of ensuring acronyms and terms are explained in the projects she is involved in, including documents and radio and video programs, she said.

"I don't think educators have any more jargon than lawyers, doctors, engineers or computer people," Morgan said.

But it is important that parents understand the terms and concepts educators use, so efforts are being made - such as including a glossary in some documents - to make that possible, she said.

North Hagerstown High School Principal Robert "Bo" Myers said he always tries to remember that most parents and community leaders he deals with are unfamiliar with education jargon. He explains the terms to them and while they may not understand immediately, they usually do after he uses it a few times, he said.

"We need to avoid using that jargon with our parents. We only confuse them," Myers said. Educators need to do a better job using common English with parents, he said.

He thinks that throughout society, more acronyms and jargon are being used, he said.

Myers and Washington County Board of Education President Edward Forrest said it is easy for people involved in education to use this terminology and forget that others may not understand the meaning.

"Basically, once you get into that culture, whether you are on the board or part of the system, you assimilate it as part of your vocabulary," Forrest said. "It is just like in the medical profession. Once you learn that, it becomes part of the vocabulary."

System spokeswoman Carol Mowen said, "We definitely want to speak clearly to all the different audiences so we can be good communicators."

"Education language is really no different from those types of career-related jargon," Mowen said. "Some of the jargon is driven by federal or state legislation, especially in the area of special education."

Scott Nicewarner, president of the Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations, called the idea of educating all parents about the terms used in education, a "daunting," but important goal

"I think the Washington County Board of Education is making some strides through their Web site, video programs and student take-homes to help out in better defining these terms and providing simplified explanations to this issues. The Washington County Board of Education also is caught in a Catch-22 on this as the vast majority of these terms are trickled down to them and left up to them to explain," Nicewarner said.

"The Washington County Council of Parent-Teacher Associations will be providing our local PTAs some assistance through the school year to help educate their parent populations on these issues, especially when it relates to No Child Left Behind and the overall county budget process," he said.

The problem is by no means unique to Washington County.

"Education, like so many other professions, has its own language," said Eric Michael, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction for the Chambersburg (Pa.) Area School District.

Much of the jargon revolves around programs and services for special education students, he said.

In conferences with families of those students, the district makes a point of explaining the meaning of acronyms and other terms, he said.

Additionally, informational letters sent home usually include a glossary, he said.

When officials with Jefferson County Schools use acronyms when talking to parents, they try to always explain what they means, said Rob Perks, the district's television/Web page analyst.

He thinks district employees do a good job of communicating clearly, he said.

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