Could you spell that out for me?

Teachers spend a good deal of time encouraging students to write in a way that communicates – if not everything, at least something. No news in the fact that they don't always succeed – witness all the "they said what?!" blooper lists circulating on the Internet.

But given what one assumes is teachers' special appreciation for the declarative sentence and recognized vocabulary, it can be puzzling to read some of the memos emerging from the very places where our hopes for the future are soaking up the meaning of clarity.

Educators have long had a soft spot for jargon. Tests, for example, are norm-referenced or standards-referenced. Say what? Parents can be forgiven if they mistake the ITBS for the CTBS, and they might be surprised to find a child taking the SAT – the Stanford Achievement Test, that is, not the College Board exam. It's enough to make you think you're at the party with Alice and the Duchess.

I, for one, have long assumed this phenomenon was connected with the American love of shorthand. But it turns out that this is also a problem in the land of the Queen's English. A survey by the British Department of Education found that one-quarter of parents were puzzled by the jargon in state school communiqués. One-third, for example, didn't know what a home-school agreement was – a fact the report found "somewhat concerning, given that all parents should have been invited to sign [one]." Another term, "baseline assessment," flew right past nearly half of parents.

Still, 72 percent wanted to be more involved in activities at their children's schools. Who knows? Maybe that percentage would be even higher if parents were sure exactly what they were signing up for.

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