By Erica M. Zollman, M.Ed., CCC-SLP
Oftentimes, students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) receive
classroom and/or testing accommodations or modifications. We hear these terms used
interchangeably; however, they have very different meanings and serve two distinct
purposes. An IEP team carefully chooses accommodations and modifications that are
unique to each student.
What is the difference between accommodations and modifications?
Accommodations alter how a student learns. They do not change what the
student is expected to learn. Accommodations describe an alteration of the environment,
curriculum format, or equipment that allows an individual with a disability to
pursue a regular course of study and/or complete assigned tasks. Within a classroom,
accommodations take the form of physical or environmental changes, such as changing
the timing, setting, formatting, response, or presentation of material. For example,
the teacher may seat a student easily overwhelmed or distracted from noisy parts of a
classroom; or a student having difficulty reading may listen to an audio recording of the
text. Other classroom accommodations may include:
- Providing a student with extra time to complete assignments.
- Having breaks during instruction.
- Using large print books and worksheets.
- Having sign language interpreters.
- Using specialized keyboards.
Formal or standardized testing situations may also include accommodations,
depending upon the needs of the student. Ideally, a student’s testing accommodations
are similar to the accommodations provided in the classroom. Accommodations do not
allow altering the scoring of a standardized test or content of the information presented.
Modifications describe very fundamental changes in the curriculum. They may
include altering the standard expectations for a course or assessment, as the student
may be unable to learn all of the material, or particular portions of the material
presented. Within the classroom, modifications can include shortening assignments
or providing texts that are easier to read. For an elementary student with cognative
imparments in a general education class, assignments might be reduced in number or
modified signifcantly. When applied to standardized testing, modifications do impact
the interpretation of the test results. Additionally, modifications may take the form of an
“alternate assessment,” in which a test may not cover the same material as the standard
It is important for parents, teachers, and administrators to be aware of the
differences between accommodations and modifications when creating educational
programs for students. With appropriate accommodations and modifications in place,
IEP teams can help set students up for success.