Accommodations and modifications each serve a unique purpose and if understood and used correctly can greatly impact the success of a student's educational program.
What are accommodations?
Accommodations are changes to the instructional materials, procedures, or techniques that allow a student with a disability to participate meaningfully in grade level instruction. Accommodations are intended to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a student’s disability, but do not reduce learning expectations or the standards the student is expected to master. Accommodations change HOW the content is taught, made accessible, and/or assessed.
For example, in science, a student who currently reads at an independent level below their enrolled grade level may be given an instructional text at their reading level. This would be an accommodation as it allows access to the science curriculum. The accommodation changes how the student accesses the content. Other examples include extended time, preferential seating, calculator, and large print/Braille text.
What are modifications?
Modifications are changes to the level of instruction provided or tested. Modifications create a different standard as compared to the grade level standard for the student receiving the modifications. They are practices and procedures that change the nature of the task or target skill. Modifications change WHAT the student is expected to master.
For example, in math, the grade level TEKS require students to multiply 3 digit numbers by 2 digit numbers. If a student is expected to multiply 2 digit numbers by 1 digit numbers only, this would be a modification because it changes what the student is expected to master in relation to state standards. Another example would be providing a student simplified vocabulary and reading materials when reading comprehension and/or fluency is the learning target.
Where do I find information about a student's accommodations and modifications?
Accommodations and modifications are part of the specially designed instruction (SDI) that allows the student to access and make progress in the general curriculum. SDI is the instruction provided to a student with a disability who has an Individualized Education Program (IEP). The purpose of SDI is to help the student master their IEP goals/objectives. Accommodations and modifications should be implemented according to how they are detailed in the student’s IEP. For more information about SDI check out Specially Designed Instruction: A Resource for Teachers.
What about testing?
There are some accommodations that are necessary to enable a student to access classroom instruction, but are not appropriate or allowed on state assessments. This is because they may affect the validity of the content and compromise the security of the state assessment. For more information on accommodations and testing see the TEA Educator Guide to Accessibility within the STAAR Program. The Accommodation Resources page on the TEA website includes a list of accessibility features and designated supports allowed on the STAAR tests. Decisions about testing accommodations are made by the appropriate committee or team and should consider the needs of the student as well as if the student is using the accommodation routinely, independently, and effectively in the classroom.
What else do I need to know?
The needs of a student can change depending on the learning environment and the subject being taught. Therefore, it is important to consider the content and context in which the accommodation or modification will be used. What is the state standard? What is the learning goal designated by the state standard? Answers to these questions help determine whether a support functions as an accommodation or a modification. For example, the use of spell check software may be an accommodation when the objective of the assignment is proper sentence structure, but the software would be a modification when the objective is learning spelling rules.