There are a lot of words that get thrown around in the special education world. Two of the most frequently used, and least understood, are modifications and accommodations.
Every child on an IEP has both of these. Every child on a 504 plan has one of these. Actually, teachers make adjustments for every child in their class, every single day. So what’s the big deal?
In legal terms, the difference between an accommodation and a modification is a HUGE deal!
What’s a Modification?
All children with IEPs have modifications. It changes WHAT a child learns.
Individual Education Plans (IEP) essentially remove a student from the general curriculum in whole or in part. They introduce a different curriculum with different expectations, benchmarks, and materials.
For example, students who have an IEP for reading would be held to different standards and perhaps pulled out by the special education teacher for instruction during reading. The standards would align with grade level expectations, just at the current academic level of the child.
If your child doesn’t need the core content, the what, of their learning changed, they might not be considered a candidate for an IEP. Having the content modified due to disability is the whole point of an IEP.
To be very specific, “modification” is used when the expectations are changed because a child is significantly behind their same age peers. While Gifted and Talented programs DO change the content of the curriculum, these are not the type of modifications meant in this article.
Examples of Modifications
There are as many modifications as the year is long, but they fall into just a few categories: classroom instruction, classroom assessment, standardized assessment, non-core content classes (PE, art, music, etc.).
For classroom instruction, students might have shorter or easier assignments. During reading, they would be assigned different assignments and passages to read. In math, they might have less examples to solve, or a completely different set of problems. Their instruction might be in class, yet substantially different, or out of class. The changes would be similar in non-core content courses, too.
For in class tests, students might also be given a shorter or completely different test. Their tests would align to the student’s expectations, NOT the grade level expectations.
Standardized tests might be the alternate test offered by the state or district. The student might also be granted additional time, read aloud directions, small group, or pull out setting.
What is an Accommodation?
An accommodation changes the HOW of learning. Students with IEPs and 504 Plans will likely both have accommodations. Students in an English language learning program often have accommodations written into their language plans. Teachers might also create unwritten accommodations for many students in their classroom based on data and observation without the student having an IEP/504 Plan.
Students with accommodations are held to the same grade level expectations as their peers, but the delivery of the content might be different.
Examples of Accommodations
Accommodations are all generally pretty all-encompassing, but fall into the same general categories as modifications.
For classroom and non-core content instruction, the way materials are delivered might change or extra time might be allowed or extra supports provided. Reading assignments might be delivered by audio recording instead of having the student read silently. In writing, students might be given sentence starters or be allowed to use a computer or a spell checker. In math, addition and multiplication charts or other memory aides could be used to assist with assignments.
For both standardized tests and classroom tests, accommodations might include a smaller testing group, a quiet setting, or extended time. Another modification might be to take a test using a computer or speech to text program. Generally, classroom tests and standardized tests should have the same accommodations.
Why the Confusion?
Often, in practice, accommodations and modifications can look very similar. When you see a child listening to the assigned reading instead of looking at the book, it might appear that the curriculum is being changed. Or if you happen to notice that a child has significantly less or different math problems than their classmates, it might look like an accommodation.
However, knowing the different between these two is vital in terms of ensuring that your child’s educational services are being delivered appropriately. For teachers, knowing this difference allows us to make sure that each child is getting the education they so richly deserve.
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