Special Education Accommodations, Modifications and Supports/Services: All three of those are a huge concern for parents. I know this because it’s often one of the first sections you turn to when you are handed a new draft IEP.

But what are accommodations vs modifications? Do you know? You should! Not knowing could cost your child a diploma!

IEP accommodations modifications

On most IEPs, you will find this section after the IEP goals section.

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On my document, it is listed as: SPECIAL EDUCATION / RELATED SERVICES / SUPPLEMENTARY AIDS AND SERVICES / PROGRAM MODIFICATIONS. Yes, I copied and pasted that from K’s actual IEP, which is why it’s in all caps.

What are Supplementary Aids and Services on the IEP?

From IDEA: Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes, other education-related settings, and in extracurricular and nonacademic settings, to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate in accordance with §§300.114 through 300.116.

Supplementary aids and services means aids, services, and other supports to enable students with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled students to the maximum extent appropriate in the least restrictive environment.

Examples include a note-taker, or assignment of paraprofessional staff (or a one-to-one teacher aide or assistant) or study guide outlines of key concepts.

Modifications vs Accommodations

IEP modifications and accommodations both aim to support students with special needs in accessing the curriculum and achieving their educational goals, but they differ in scope and implementation:

  1. IEP Accommodations:
    • Accommodations are changes made to the environment, instruction, or assessment that do not fundamentally alter the curriculum or content.
    • They are typically designed to “level the playing field” for students with disabilities, providing them with equal access to learning opportunities.
    • Accommodations do not change what the student is expected to learn or demonstrate; instead, they change how the student learns or demonstrates their knowledge.
    • Examples of accommodations include extended time on tests, preferential seating, use of assistive technology, and providing a quiet space for tests or assignments.
  2. IEP Modifications:
    • Modifications involve changes to the curriculum, instructional materials, or assessments that alter what the student is expected to learn or demonstrate.
    • Unlike accommodations, modifications adjust the content, complexity, or expectations of the curriculum to better suit the student’s needs and abilities.
    • Modifications may involve reducing the workload, simplifying assignments, using alternative assignments, or adjusting grading criteria.
    • These changes are typically more significant than accommodations and may be necessary for students who are significantly below grade level or have significant cognitive or learning disabilities.

IEP Modifications

An Individualized Education Program (IEP) modification refers to a change made to the curriculum or instructional practices to help a student with special needs access the educational content.

These modifications are documented in the student’s IEP, which is a legally binding document that outlines the specific educational goals, services, and accommodations tailored to the individual student’s needs.

IEP modifications can include various adjustments, such as:

  1. Curriculum adjustments: Modifying the content, complexity, or pace of the curriculum to match the student’s abilities and learning style.
  2. Instructional adjustments: Changing the teaching methods, materials, or strategies to accommodate the student’s learning needs. This might involve using visual aids, hands-on activities, or assistive technology.
  3. Assessment modifications: Adapting how the student is assessed to accurately measure their progress and achievements. This could involve alternative forms of testing, extended time on tests, or reducing the number of questions.
  4. Environmental modifications: Altering the learning environment to minimize distractions or sensory overload, such as providing a quiet space or preferential seating.
  5. Behavioral modifications: Implementing strategies to address challenging behaviors or support positive behavior development. This might involve a behavior intervention plan or specific behavioral supports.

Program modifications may be used to describe a change in the curriculum or measurement of learning. A modification should not alter content knowledge. Instead, it creates a learning environment for that specific student.

Modifying a curriculum means changing the core program by using a parallel curriculum that does not include all grade-level standards. It should have the same content and quality, it may not be the same quantity. *This might matter for getting a diploma!

Modifications, on the other hand, are changes made to what a student is taught or expected to learn. Students who receive modifications may take an easier test or be tested on a different standard.

Modification Examples

  • lower-level reading and worksheets
  • simplified language and vocabulary
  • Modified grading (remember, grades are subjective, not objective)
  • The student learns the same theme/unit but is provided with different tasks and expectations. BUT IT CAN STILL BE THE SAME CONTENT, and therefore qualify them for a diploma.

Deciding on a Modified Curriculum

Parents should read this paragraph several times. Because here’s the thing, and it’s a problem that I see repeatedly. Do you think that with the proper supports and services, your child CAN learn the same curriculum as their peers?

Then I would continue to push for that. Too often, I see schools offering to modify the curriculum instead of adding more needed supports and services. Many schools would prefer to reduce expectations instead of presuming competence.

Despite whatever specific learning disability your child has, they have a right to perform at their maximum level of achievement.

If you think that your child needs modifications, you should take your time and research it properly. Modifying curriculum may put your child on an alternate diploma or life skills track. You should ask all of these questions during IEP meetings.

Do you know what your IEP rights are?
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Or, have a separate meeting with just an administrator (likely someone who handles curriculum or pupil services) to explain what your state requires for diplomas and what alternates are available.

Obviously, the decision whether or not to pursue a high school diploma or certificate of completion is a serious one. You should also read your state’s Department . of Education website regarding this.

Alternately, you could possibly choose a modified curriculum, and your school district just “passes him through” and gives your child a diploma.

Then, they could find themselves in college or vocational training and be unprepared. I have a podcast episode about this concept, and I interviewed an expert in post-secondary opportunities for our kids.

IEP Accommodations

IEP Accommodations are adjustments to the environment, instruction or materials that allow a student with a disability to access the content or complete assigned tasks. Accommodations do not alter what is being taught.

Examples include instructional materials in an alternative format such as large print or Braille, fewer items on each page or extra time to complete tasks.

It is important to note that accommodations do not count against a student in state testing. Students can receive every listed accommodation and still have their state test score treated the same as other students’ scores.

However, modifications may count against students in state testing and it may affect what credits they receive toward a regular high school diploma.

Their scores come with an asterisk, and in many places, the scores of students who tested with modifications are not grouped with the scores of other students.

Hopefully, after reading this paragraph and the one above it, it makes more sense.

Accommodations and modifications are typically spelled out in two to three places on an IEP. The first is the testing accommodations section, where all accommodations a student needs for assessments are checked or written in.

Any accommodation or modification listed for state testing must also be offered for classroom testing. The second section is the Services and Supplemental Aids section, where all non-testing accommodations and modifications are listed. This section includes graphic organizers or visual schedules, among others.

The third section is the IEP Special Factors section, where any assistive technology accommodations are listed.

Making the Decision-IEP or 504?

Once you understand the differences between these three things, you can better decide if your child needs an IEP or a 504. If your child only needs accommodations, then a 504 is likely appropriate.

However, as an advocate, I am finding that 504s are being overused when an IEP is warranted. And the school talks the parent into “trying a 504” instead of evaluating the child. A year or two or more of just accommodations, and without the other services and modifications, the child has fallen further behind.

I’ve also heard some odd secondhand information from parents that 504 Accommodations cannot be put on an IEP. They can. I’m not sure why anyone would want to have to monitor two separate documents.

Except for the fact that 504s do not carry procedural safeguards, thus parents have fewer options if they are not followed.

Ok, there you go. IEP Modifications, Accommodations and Supplementary Aids and Services. Hopefully, you have a better understanding.

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