By Mike Piersak
W-M SPED Director
Having attended, conducted participated in hundreds of special education IEP (individual education planning) meetings, it is often interesting to listen to discussions specific to the accommodations and modifications being suggested for the individual student. Being able to provide ample opportunities for success to all students requires a clear understanding of the needs of the individual student. Every student has a unique learning style, and some students require more help the others, thus the discussion re: accommodations and modifications.
It is not uncommon for these terms to be misused interchangeably. So, what is the difference between providing a modification and an accommodation?
One way to remember the difference between the two is to think of an accommodation as leveling the playing field for students by changing “how” they work through the general education curriculum. Modifications go beyond that, and alter the field (game) entirely. Modifications change “what” is learned and therefore changes the content of the grade specific curriculum.
Modification = change, and are generally connected to instruction and assessment in the regular education setting. A student is given a test that looks different then the majority of his peers due to the addition of a word bank, or a reduction in the number of short answer/essay type questions. This is a modification.
A few examples:
• Reduction of homework, reduction of class work.
• Omitting story problems, using specialized/alternative curricula written at lower level, simplified vocabulary and concepts, alternative reading books at independent reading level
• Tests are written at lower level of understanding, preview tests provided as study guide, picture supports are provided, use of calculator
• Grading based on pass/fail, grading based on work completion
An Accommodation = change, which helps the individual student overcome or work around his/her disability. These changes are typically physical or environmental changes. Allowing a student who has trouble writing to give his/her answers orally is an example of an accommodation. This sort of accommodation extends across assignments and content areas.
A few examples:
• The classroom teacher provides notes/outlines, provides a peer note taker, and provides highlighted text.
• “Apps”, word-predications programs, spell-check software systems.
• Preferential seating, per buddy, behavior support systems.
• Extended time on assignments, shortened assignments, and tests read to the student.
Accommodations and Modifications can be so vital to helping children with disabilities access the general curriculum, participate in school (including extracurricular and nonacademic activities), and be educated alongside their peers without disabilities. The wealth of experience that the special education field has gained over the years since IDEA was first passed by Congress is the very resource parents and guardians want to tap for more information on what accommodations and modifications are appropriate for their children.
Finally, as discussions specific to modifications and accommodations evolve consideration must be given to ensure that the “target skills” or the core content of what is being taught is not significantly altered. If the core content is no longer addressed due to the significant impact of the modification, the individual student will lose access to the “skill” and what is actually being taught is fundamentally being changed. If we hold all students to the same performance expectations while providing access to the content, through the use of accommodations, then we are maintaining similar expectations for all students. Consider accommodations as the first discussion points prior to modifications. Accommodations hold all students to the same performance expectations, while providing access to the core content.