Accommodations vs. Modifications: Which Is Best For Your Student?


In the world of special education and special services, it is not unusual to hear the terms accommodations and modifications used to support content learning in the general education classroom. But how do you know which one is best for your student and which one to use? In this blog, we will discuss the similarities and differences between these two terms, how to decide which ones are best for each student’s needs, specific accommodations and modifications that could be used for various learning disabilities, and how accommodations/modifications can be used beyond the formal schooling years.

Accommodations and modifications are not interchangeable terms, so let’s start by defining the two terms.

Accommodations are the levels of support offered to help the student identified with a learning disability. It is how the student learns the same material or content as their grade-level peers. Accommodations can be formal, for example, as outlined in a 504 or IEP, or informal. Teachers can accommodate students in any way they feel can support the student. 

Accommodations can be broken into four different categories:

  • Variations in time: adapting the time allotted for learning, task completion, or testing
  • Variation of input (presentation): adapting the way instruction is delivered
  • Variation of output (student response): adapting how a student can respond to instruction
  • Variation of setting: location or conditions of the environment

Some examples of accommodations as suggested by The International Dyslexia Association could include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Verbal instructions
  • Repetition of instructions
  • Text/Instructions in audio-format
  • Calculator
  • Speech-to-Text software
  • Text-to-Speech software
  • Spelling checker
  • Dictate to scribe or record oral responses on audio-recorder
  • Type (keyboard) response.
  • Individual or small group
  • Reduce visual and/or auditory distractions (separate desk or location within the classroom)
  • Distraction-free setting (separate room)
  • Alternative furniture arrangement (e.g., facing the teacher).
  • Extended time
  • Allowing for more frequent breaks (as appropriate)

Modifications change what the student learns. Modifications change the instructional content and/or level, and/or performance criteria. These are typically for students who are further behind their typically functioning peers and require an IEP (Individual Educational Plan). Modifications change what the student is to learn, based on their individual needs.

Accommodations vs. Modifications

The way to best remember the difference is to
accommodate the student, but modify the content.

According to Smart Kids with LD, some examples of modifications could include, but are not limited to the following:

  • Allow outlining, instead of writing for an essay or major project
  • Use of alternative books or materials on the topic being studied
  • Computerized spell-check support
  • Word bank of choices for answers to test questions
  • Provision of calculator and/or number line for math tests
  • Film or video supplements in place of reading text
  • Reworded questions in simpler language
  • Projects instead of written reports
  • Highlighting important words or phrases in reading assignments
  • Modified workload or length of assignments/tests
  • Modified time demands
  • Pass/no pass option
  • Modified grades based on IEP

Both accommodations and modifications can support any of the areas in general education, including  classroom instruction, class tests, standardized testing, and various elective coursework (art, PE, etc.) Modifications change instructional content and knowledge and their assessment; accommodations do not. A student’s IEP team is responsible for making formal decisions related to accommodations and modifications.

The way to best remember the difference is to accommodate the student, but modify the content.

How can a 504/IEP team decide if a student needs accommodations, modifications, or both? The team should ask this question: Can the student participate in the activity in the same way as their same-grade peers? If the answer is “no”, it is up to the 504/IEP team to decide the level of support the student needs. Does the teacher need to accommodate the student within the setting, or does the content need modification?

Testing Accommodations:

Testing accommodations are those accommodations that the student has in their day-to-day school life that could apply to test-taking situations. According to the Americans With Disabilities Act, “Individuals with disabilities have the opportunity to fairly compete for and pursue such opportunities by requiring testing entities to offer exams in a manner accessible to persons with disabilities. When needed testing accommodations are provided, test-takers can demonstrate their true aptitude.” Under the ADA, an individual with a disability is a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as seeing, hearing, learning, reading, concentrating, or thinking, or a major bodily function such as the neurological, endocrine, or digestive system. Testing accommodations can apply to the private/public school setting, as well as standardized testing, college entrance exams, exams for professional schools, and licensing exams.

This is because a person with a history of academic success through academic accommodations may still be a person with a disability who is entitled to testing accommodations through the ADA. Documentation of this history is required. Documentation that is accepted includes recommendations of qualified professionals, proof of past testing accommodations, observations by educators, results of psycho-educational or other professional evaluations, an applicant’s history of diagnosis, or a statement of his or her history regarding testing accommodations

Points to Remember:

  • Accommodations support how the student learns the same material as their grade-level peers.
  • Modifications change the instructional content, level, and/or performance criteria. 
  • Accommodations could be made through a formal meeting such as a 504 or IEP, but accommodations could be made at any time it supports the student’s learning.
  • Modifications must be made during an IEP meeting.
  • Both accommodations and modifications are specific to the student.
  • Accommodations can go beyond the classroom wall and provide life-long support in an individual’s professional life.

What do you think? Have you witnessed the effect accommodations and modifications have had on the student identified with a learning disability? How do you think this levels the playing field for our students? Continue the conversation- reach out to one of our experts at Amplio and see how we can further support your students.

Aimee Rodenroth

Aimee Rodenroth

Aimee Rodenroth is the Subject Matter Expert on Dyslexia for Amplio. She has 30 years of experience in public education in Texas, 27 of those years were spent in some form of dyslexia education. She received her CALT (Certified Academic Language Therapist) certification in 2006 from LEAD, and later obtained her QI (Qualified Instructor) certification in 2018 from Southern Methodist University. Aimee is trained in multiple dyslexia curricula.

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