Accommodations vs. Modifications
Updated: Mar 5
This will be a fairly short entry since I’ll only be discussing the differences between modifications and accommodations. However, it is an important distinction, especially when you get into differences between 504 and Special Education (more about this in a post soon!).
Basically, the accommodations will change HOW the students learn the material, and modifications change WHAT they are learning. If a student is on a 504 plan for ADD or ADHD for example, they may just need a few accommodations such as, extra time for tests, scheduled breaks, small group testing, and maybe access to fidgets. These commonly are used for students who are on level or just need a minute amount of help to get there.
Modifications are a little bit more involved. Usually, when learners are further behind than most of their peers, the learners may need shortened assignments or lower levels of reading. This may involve them needing an altered curriculum that has been modified to fit the learner or needing a specific program for which they may qualify.
If a learner has qualified for Special Education, odds are they should be receiving both accommodations and modifications. This will all be outlined in their IEP paperwork, and you should be able to refer to it for clarification. A few examples that you may find in said paperwork might be: extra time on projects/tests/assignments, fill in the blank notes provided by a teacher, fewer answer choices, or even fewer questions on an assignment/test.
Both modifications and accommodations should be used on testing materials if the student is required to have them in the classroom, with some exceptions. Extra time will frequently carry over. However, if a learner typically uses a calculator for larger numbers (hundreds or thousands), it may not be appropriate for them to use it on a timed multiplication test or basic addition.
Testing for students that have qualified for Special Education will definitely need their accommodations, but there is also an alternative test called STAAR, the modified version of the state test. If a student qualifies for STAAR, this will still test on the same basic principles (read grade-level curriculum), but a much shorter test, with larger font, and simplified vocabulary and sentence structure, etc.
Keep in mind, this is based on my experience in Texas. Each district is unique and can offer different modifications and accommodations, and sometimes, the same thing is just perhaps worded differently. If you are in a different state, go to your state’s (or district’s) governing body of education, and search for their list of accommodations and modifications. If you can’t find it, someone that’s a part of your IEP/ARD committee should be able to help you. Here are a few lists for some examples of accommodations from the Texas Education Agency website and Region 10’s Dyslexia accommodations:
Again, modifications will probably be a curriculum-based change, so you should check your learner’s IEP paperwork for that information, there is usually a designated spot that lists all accommodations and modifications. Please, please, please, be the advocate your learner needs! If you can’t, that’s OK. You can definitely find someone who can help! But this includes just asking the teacher to provide examples of how they are using the accommodations and/or modifications required is a huge accountability factor. Remember this is a legal document, the teacher is legally required to follow it as well as document the things they are doing.