The discussion comes up a lot about the difference between modifications and accommodations in the classroom. In the shortest terms, a modification is a significant change to the curriculum for students who are far below grade level expectations. It is changing WHAT kids are learning. An accommodation is a support or tweak to the environment or instruction. It is changing HOW kids are learning.
Accommodations keep the academic expectations the same while giving a boost to help kids get there. On the other hand, modifications actually alter the academic expectations themselves. Here are a few examples:
Situation #1 – Reading
- Samantha has a reading disability and is reading significantly below grade level. While working on a reading unit, the teacher gives her a lower grade level text to read on the same topic as the class. That would be a modification because it is changing the actual content and learning.
- Trey is in reading intervention, as he is a year below grade level. He has been making good progress in his intervention class, though. During the same reading unit, the teacher gives Trey a shortened version of the class text so he does not fatigue while reading the grade-level assignment. That would be an accommodation because he is still expected to read the same grade-level material, just shortened a bit.
Situation #2 – Math
- Larissa has an intellectual disability. She joins the regular education class for group activities, science, social studies, centers, and breaks. When it is time for math, Larissa goes with the special education teacher to work 1:1 with basic foundational math skills. This is while the rest of her class learns fractions. That would be a modification because Larissa is working on a completely different modified math curriculum with unique expectations.
- Jimmy has ADHD and struggles to pay attention during math class. His teacher gives him a daily point sheet where he earns points for every time he completes a problem correctly in math. This would be an accommodation because Jimmy is still expected to complete the same math concepts, but he is given supports to help him focus.
Situation #3 – Testing
- Omar has an autism spectrum disorder. His class is taking an assessment on weather. Omar’s specific test is altered with more basic information about weather to allow him to be successful. This would be a modification because the expectations about Omar’s understanding of weather are changed.
- Amelia has an auditory processing disorder and gets frequently distracted by outside noises. This is challenging for her during tests and quizzes, so the teacher allows her to take assessments in a more quieter resource room. This would be an accommodation because she is taking the same test as everyone else, but needs a quieter setting to help her get through it.
Sometimes understanding the differences between modifications and accommodations can be very confusing. This is especially true when you are working with a variety of children at all different levels. Some students might need small accommodations to their assessments (such as word banks or reduced number of problems) while others need a significant modification to the content (such as a completely altered assessment or assignment). When in doubt, just ask yourself: “Am I changing WHAT the student is learning or HOW the student is learning it?” If you are changing the WHAT, that means it is a modification and if you are changing the HOW, then it is an accommodation.
To special educators looking for more resources, take a peek at this Special Education Teacher Binder. It is a huge complication of materials focused all on special education. Materials focus on everything including IEPs, team meetings, progress monitoring, accommodations and modifications, lesson planning, writing goals, building a classroom community, and more.