Accommodations and Modifications: Enabling or Disabling?
By Katie Egan, Nicole Mikulski, Anjali Petersen, and Tasha Rasmussen

I. Introduction

Students who qualify for Special Education and Related Services oftentimes qualify for accommodations and modifications in order to succeed within the curriculum. Accommodations and modifications are intended to enable the student to increase independence and achieve success while being held to high standards. In order to create effective accommodations and modifications, it is critical to understand the difference between these two types of supports.
  • Accommodations are changes to the delivery of instruction as a means of allowing students to complete the same assignments and learn the same material as peers within the general education classroom. Student mastery of material can be presented in a variety of ways as long as students are held accountable to the same material as peers. Accommodations lessen the effects of a person's disability while maintaining high expectations of achievement.
  • Modifications are changes to the material that the student is learning, to the work the student is completing, and what assessments are measuring. Modifications change or reduce learning expectations.

Accommodations and modifications can enable or disable students depending on how effectively these supports are designed and implemented. An accommodation or modification enables a student when it allows the student to succeed in their educational environment through increased independence. An accommodation or modification disables a student when the student becomes increasingly dependent on supports without making progress towards academic, social, emotional, and behavioral goals.

Accommodations and modifications, (particularly those pertaining to assessment), can be grouped into the following sub-catergories:

  1. Presentation (bold fonts, step-by-step directions, large font, uncluttered worksheets/tests, etc.)
  2. Equipment and materials (calculator, manipulatives, amplification systems, tape recorders, etc.)
  3. Response (student dictates while scribe writes, oral testing, etc.)
  4. Setting (separate room, silence, music in background, etc.)
  5. Timing/ scheduling (time extension, projects and assessments given in segments, extended or shortened periods, etc.)

II. Historical Perspectiveexternal image history.gif

Discussion of accommodations and modifications for students who receive special education services can be found in two laws: the Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 (Section 504) and Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973
Section 504 is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of disability for any program that receives federal assistance (McKinley, 2008). This law requires school districts to provide a free appropriate education (FAPE) to any student that qualifies (Duncan & Ali, 2010). In order to qualify for services under Section 504, students must:
  • have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, AND
  • the student must have a record of this impairment, OR
  • be regarded as having this impairment ("Section 504," n.d.).

Specifically, under Section 504 a student with a disability will receive appropriate services designed to meet his or her individual needs to the same extent that the needs of students without disabilities are met (McKinley). Therefore, under Section 504, accommodations may be provided to a student, but modifications do not need to be provided, unless modifications are provided to students without disabilities as well. Section 504 will provide a student with accommodations based on his or her disability, but unlike IDEA, it does not require improvement in academics ("What is the difference?," n.d.).

Below is a video about a boy who qualified for Section 504 because of his ADHD diagnosis.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act
Prior to IDEA and PL 94-142, many students with disabilities were denied the opportunity to attend public schools and be educated. For example, in 1970 only one in five children with disabilities was educated in a public school. Many children with disabilities also lived in institutions. In 1975 Public Law 94-142, or the Education for All Handicapped Children's Act (EHA) was enacted. The four purposes of this act were:
  • to ensure all students with disabilities have a FAPE available to them with services to meet their unique needs,
  • to ensure the rights of students with disabilities and their parents are protected,
  • to help states and local education agencies educate all students with disabilities, and
  • to assure and assess the effectiveness of the education provided to students with disabilities. (History, 2007)

The 1990 amendments to the EHA changed the name to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (History). IDEA now requires schools to provide FAPE in the least restrictive environment (LRE) for all students with disabilities between the ages of 3 and 21 (Russo, 2005). Schools must promote the involvement of students with disabilities within the general education curriculum as well as provide students the opportunities to progress within the general education curriculum (Lee, 2010). The policies and practices that promote involvement and encourage progress include providing supplementary aides and services (accommodations and modifications), as well as special education services to students with disabilities (Lee).

Under IDEA, each student with a disability will receive his or her own IEP, or Individualized Education Program. An IEP is a written statement that documents the student’s disability and how it affects the student’s learning. The student’s IEP must include:
  • the student’s current levels of performance
  • measurable annual goals, both academic and functional
  • a description of how the student’s progress toward meeting the annual goals will be measured
  • when reports on progress will be provided
  • the special education and related services and supplementary aides and services to be provided to the student
  • any appropriate accommodations necessary to measure academic achievement and functional performance on state and district-wide assessments
  • if appropriate, a statement of why the student cannot participate in the regular state or district-wide assessment, and why a particular alternate assessment is appropriate (IEP, 2006)

external image assessments.gifAccommodations and modifications for assessments

IDEA mandates that all students participate in large-scale assessments (Hollenbeck, 1998). Some students may use accommodations so that they may participate in the assessment, so long as the accommodations do not invalidate the assessment. For other students, the test administration must be modified, or students must take an alternate form (Hollenbeck). Under IDEA, for a state-wide assessment, the state must identify the accommodations for each of their assessments that will not invalidate the score, and IEP teams must select from only those accommodations. For a district-wide assessment, the district must make such decisions (Sec. 612(a)(16)).

Some common accommodations for Connecticut Mastery Tests, CMT include:
  • A reader, who may read directions only, or directions and test items
  • Typing responses using a word processor or computer
  • Circling items in the test booklet
  • A bubbler
  • Time extension
  • A change in test setting
(CT State Dept of Education)

Some students may also be eligible to take the Modified Assessment System, or MAS, a modified version of the CMT. The decision to have a student take the MAS needs to be made at the student’s PPT meeting. Here is a worksheet provided by Connecticut for making this decision.

III: Perspective I: Accommodations and Modifications Enable Students

Accommodations and modifications can enable students who receive special education services to gain independence and reach success in their educational environment. These supports ought to be implemented in a way that allows individual students access to the curriculum and educational environment. When implemented with fidelity, these personalized changes can help students attain an increased degree of self-sufficiency. Accommodations and modifications can “level the playing field” between students who have disabilities and their non-disabled peers by allowing all students an opportunity for success. (National center on educational outcomes, 2009)

All students should be held to high standards regardless of their individual needs. Differentiated instruction and learning should be used in order for students to demonstrate mastery of a skill or topic and attain high levels of accomplishment. If a student is given an accommodation or modification, s/he should still be expected to master the material, but may demonstrate mastery in a different way, which allows for students with diverse needs to succeed in their learning environment.

Accommodations and modifications should occur at appropriate times and in appropriate settings in order to enable the learner, which means that all accommodations and modifications should occur in the Least Restrictive Environment for the individual. The supports that students need varies based on the individual, but must be constantly monitored and adjusted to ensure that the student is making progress, and increasing autonomy in their environment.

Accommodations and modifications are most effective when they are created and implemented for an individual learner using a collaborative, problem-solving approach. The team should view the student as an individual, and together, ideally with the student, discuss the student's strengths and weaknesses. The team should suggest and test accommodations and modifications that may be appropriate in order for the student to reach their full potential. (National center on educational outcomes, 2009)

This flow chart shows the steps a team should take to determine and assess appropriate accommodations and modifications
This flow chart shows the steps a team should take to determine and assess appropriate accommodations and modifications
This flow chart shows the steps a team should take to determine and assess appropriate accommodations and modifications

IV: Perspective II: Accommodations and Modifications Disable Students

external image groeningcartoon.jpg

Accommodations and modifications can be disabling when they provide so much support, or inappropriate support, that the student cannot make progress towards realistic goals. If a student becomes too dependent on a specialized program that has been designed to assist them in accessing and participating in the curriculum, then accommodations and modifications can be debilitating and in some cases can deny that the disability exists. Additionally when students are given so many supports, without their validity and effectiveness under constant assessment by the team, students can lose their independence and thus the accommodation and modification becomes detrimental.

Furthermore when students receive intense and frequent accommodations and/or modifications they can stand out in front of their peers, oftentimes with negative attention drawn upon them, which causes a social stigma. Students who are receptive to the support mandated by their special education plans (IEP or 504 plan), and are not embarrassed, are also in danger of becoming disabled by their daily adaptations. If students become too dependent on their supports or individually designed programs, they are unlikely to wean off of them and may be dependent for the remainder of their educational career and beyond.

In some cases students, parents, and teachers can take advantage of accommodations and modifications. The article, Enabling or Disabling? Observations on Changes in Special Education discusses extreme cases where support has been abused and has in turn disabled the student and put staff in uncomfortable positions. For example, a student who was labeled as having an emotional disturbance refused to do work or keep a planner in his resource classroom. When confronted by his special education teacher, a PPT was called and at that meeting it was decided that the student would not be required to keep a planner, and that he would not have to speak to his teacher unless he wanted to. When the teacher heard this she suggested that he be placed in a study hall instead, the team refused her request stating that the student “needed resource”. In this case, the team approach was not truly utilized, and in turn the student’s behavior and lack of effort was only further supported rather than remediated. (Kauffman, McGee, & Brigham, 2004)

In the same article, a student who has Asperger’s Syndrome is discussed. Although his grades reflected A and B work, with only one C, his mother did not feel his accommodations were appropriate, and requested a PPT. In the meeting she demanded that her son receive an accommodation that would exclude him from completing homework. The teachers were not satisfied with this accommodation, but in the end the mother got her way. Oftentimes students are placed inappropriately in order to please parents or progress towards graduation; this can lead to students being held less accountable, which in the end disables the student. (Kauffman, McGee, & Brigham, 2004)

V: Future Research and Directions for Schools

Designing and implementing effective accommodations and modifications is a common goal of educators nationwide. There are new ideas and initiatives that are happening nationwide to help schools achieve high standards. This section will look at:
  • Working effectively with paraprofessionals
  • Scientific Research Based Interventions (SRBI)
  • Universal Design for Learning (UDL)

Working effectively with paraprofessionals to maintain effectiveness of accommodations and modifications
What is the role of the paraprofessional? external image teacher-helping-students-write1.jpg
By the Connecticut State Department of Education’s definition, a paraprofessional “works under the supervision of the teacher” assisting “teachers and/or other professional educators or therapists in the delivery of instructional and related services to students.” While inclusive practices continue to grow and paraprofessionals play an important role in improving students’ learning environment, schools continue to seek out paraprofessional support to achieve the right balance between helping a student without causing too much dependence on the paraprofessional (SERC Spring/Summer 2010).

How does a paraprofessional contribute to a high quality education program?
The Summer/Spring 2010 LRE News, published by the State Education Resource Center (SERC), highlights West Hartford Schools for their approach in working effectively with paraprofessionals to ensure that supports and interventions are benefitting (not disabling) the students. Some strategies highlighted include:
  • Paraprofessionals are assigned to classrooms to work with several students, and students are assigned to work with several paraprofessionals throughout
their school day. This decreases a student’s dependence on one paraprofessional.
  • Good communication between teachers and paraprofessionals is emphasized, and time is provided for paraprofessionals to debrief. Paraprofessionals
must provide teachers with key information about students, and parents must discuss their child with the teacher, not the paraprofessional.
  • Professional development is provided for paraprofessionals

  • A district handbook outlines expectations, roles, and responsibilities for paraprofessionals, including fostering student independence, allowing students to
have “space to make their own decisions, successes, and mistakes, and to become responsible for his/her own learning,” and to be “viewed as
assistant to the teacher and classroom, not the individual student” (SERC Spring/Summer 2010).
  • Lastly, the West Hartford District is creating a formal evaluation plan for paraprofessionals.

How can a paraprofessional’s role and performance affect student learning?
A common misunderstanding of parents is that their child will be assigned to one paraprofessional and that this one-to-one ratio will benefit their child. General education teachers often support this arrangement due to heavy workloads, and schools will “justify the need for 1-to-1 paraprofessionals so more of them will be funded.” However, not all students benefit from this one-to-one ratio (SERC Spring/Summer 2010).

Why is it so critical that the paraprofessional’s role is clearly established and a one-to-one ratio is not relied on?
One reason that the paraprofessional's role needs to be cleraly established is that it is difficult for teachers and parents to monitor a child’s progress if the child is dependent on the paraprofessional. Secondly, over-dependence on the help of a paraprofessional may interfere with the child’s access to a free appropriate public education (FAPE), which is required by law. Ask this question: Does the student receive their instruction from the highly-qualified class instructor or directly from the paraprofessional? Often it is inappropriately expected that paraprofessionals be highly-qualified across disciplines, but it is critical that instruction is delivered by the certified general education teacher. Teachers, as well as paraprofessionals, need to remember that all students need the attention of the classroom teacher (SERC Spring/Summer 2010).

How do we determine if one-to-one paraprofessional support is enabling or disabling?
According to Michael Giangreco, a professor at the University of Vermont, there are concerns when there is one-to-one paraprofessional support for students with disabilities, specifically “separation from classmates and unnecessary dependence”. The Planning and Placement Team (PPT) should consider the following:
  • How will one-to-one paraprofessional support affect the student’s learning opportunities overall?
  • How will one-to-one paraprofessional support affect the student’s access to the general education curriculum?
  • How will one-to-one paraprofessional support affect the student’s independence?

A resource called the “Examining Impact Tool”, developed and available at the State Education Resource Center (SERC) and the Connecticut State Department of Education, can help guide educators through the decision of appropriate paraprofessional support. For example, SERC states that it may be determined that one-to-one paraprofessional supports are necessary in certain situations (i.e. regarding mobility), but not in other situations (i.e., class work) (SERC, Spring/Summer 2010).

What is the role of paraprofessionals in Scientific Research-Based Interventions (SRBI)?
SRBI, Connecticut’s version of Response to Intervention (RTI), provides schools with a plan to design, implement, and evaluate student interventions. SRBI provides positive academic and behavior supports for all students and identifies students’ needs early (SERC, Spring/Summer 2010).

SRBI interventions and supports are organized into tiers. Tier I provides all students with high-quality curriculum and instruction, quality school climate, and a system of social-emotional learning and behavior supports in a general education setting. Common assessments are given and assist in early identification of students who are in need of extra help. Tier II provides additional methods to help students be successful to those students not responding to Tier I. Tier III interventions provide individualized instruction for students not responding to Tier I and II (CSDE, 2010).

Here are a few examples of how a paraprofessional can be a part of SRBI initiatives:
  • Assist teachers with screening
  • Assist teachers with establishing benchmarks and monitoring progress
  • Record observations of the effects of academic and behavior strategies and interventions
  • Record assessment data
  • Serve on an intervention team
  • Collaborate with teachers regarding student support and implementation of interventions
  • Participate in professional development (SERC, Spring/Summer 2010)

Paraprofessionals as Partners Initiative is a State Education Resource Center (SERC) project dedicated to providing improving the skills of paraprofessionals, providing timely articles and professional development opportunities.

Scientific Research Based Intervention (SRBI)

external image SRBI.png

An Up-Close Look at SRBI
Responsiveness to Intervention (RTI) addresses academic and social behavior and is defined as “the practice of providing high-quality instruction and interventions matched to student need, monitoring progress frequently to make decisions about changes in instruction or goals, and applying child response data to important educational decisions” (Batsche et al., 2005, Essentially, RTI is a continuum of instructional and positive behavior supports implemented school-wide.

SRBI is Connecticut’s version of RTI (Sugai, 2009). SRBI introduces appropriate and effective interventions within general education classes that serve to improve student learning for all students without creating the need for dependence on special education services. Note that SRBI initiatives take place in general education; SRBI is not a special education program. However, SRBI holds implications for students of varying needs and who will respond to a variety of accommodations.

There are three tiers of supports – primary, secondary, and tertiary:
  • Primary level supports are school-wide and classroom interventions designed to reach all students and staff in all settings. These preventive and proactive interventions are aimed at approximately 80% of students. Examples: differentiated instruction; whole group re-teach; school-wide expectations; proactive school-wide discipline; effective instruction/curriculum; parent involvement; active supervision.
  • Secondary level supports are targeted group interventions designed for students with at-risk behavior. These efficient and rapid-response interventions are aimed at approximately 15% of students. Examples: supplemental small group instruction; peer-based tutoring; behavioral contracts.
  • Tertiary level supports are intensive interventions for individual students with high-risk behavior. These intensive and assessment-based interventions are aimed at approximately 5% of students. Examples include: intensive small group or individualized instruction; person-centered planning; and function-based support (Sugai 2009; SDE 2009; SWPBS Workbook 2008).

What is an “intervention”?
Interventions, as outlined in the three-tier SRBI model, are “strategic, purposeful adult actions that prevent learning difficulties and accelerate, and/or enrich student learning” (Cappello, et. al. 2008 per SDE 2009). Interventions are “specific activities and procedures designed to reduce significantly the difference between what a student can currently do and what he or she is expected to do” (Brown-Chidsey & Steege, 2005 per SDE 2009). Implementing inverventions within the general education classroom will help educators identify students' individual needs and at-risk students early on. In order to do so, it is critical that educators monitor the effects of SRBI interventions. Measuring student growth and performance will allow educators to determine if the interventions are working (Currie, 2010). Students who do not respond to these interventions within the classroom setting may qualify for special education services and thereby receive accommodations and modifications.

What is SWPBS? How does it connect to SRBI?
Positive Behavioral Supports (PBS) is sometimes called Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS). When applied school-wide, PBS is referred to as SWPBS. Used to implement SRBI and RTI (Sugai 2009 and OSEP,, SWPBS focuses on behavioral expectations aiming to prevent inappropriate behavior by reinforcing positive behavior (Batsche et al. 2005, The question is “Why should we focus on behavior when attempting to improve student learning?”

“SW-PBS Logic: Successful individual student behavior support is linked to host environments or school climates that are effective, efficient, relevant, and durable” (Sugai 2008). For example, student may display a specific behavior in a specific environment to work. The usual disciplinary action may be an out-of-school suspension. The student is learning to continue this specific undesired behavior in order to avoid work. Educators can apply SWPBS initiatives in this case by asking: What would be an alternative to the usual disciplinary action (out-of-school suspension) that will increase opportunities for student learning? (Lehr and McComas).

  • Integrating academic and behavior initiatives
  • Improving school and classroom climate
  • Decreasing reactive management
  • Increasing academic achievement
  • Improving supports for students with emotional/behavioral disorders (Sugai 2008)

How can implementing SRBI and SWPBS evidence-based practices and interventions ensure effective accommodations?
SRBI and SWPBS initiatives aim to increase effective classroom supports in order to improve student achievement, increase student independence, and lower a student’s dependence on special education services. Appropriate interventions and supports within the classroom will allow for more students to be successful in regular education classes and avoid unnecessary dependence on special education programming.

It is important to remember that interventions are adjustments within the instructional methods, not modifications or accommodations to the existing curriculum. A 2009 CSDE presentation titled Using Scientific Research-Based Interventions to Improve Outcomes for All Students provides examples of effective interventions. Notice that the language of these interventions is the same as many common accommodations and modifications; however, consider how these interventions would be beneficial and improve student learning for all students without creating the need for dependence on special education services.

Effective interventions:
  • Cue organizational skills
  • Enforce appropriate work habits
  • Explicitly instruct for concepts and skills
  • Conduct mini lessons addressing skill deficits
  • Differentiate instruction
  • Pay attention to appropriate pacing of instruction
  • Utilize a variety of task presentation
  • Adjust instructional time
  • Adjust time for guided practice
  • Adjust time for independent practice
  • Provide a variety of corrective feedback

Since SRBI interventions are implemented in general education settings and targeted at students who are not enrolled in special education programs, the following list contains inappropriate interventions, which would be considered disabling:
  • Providing preferential seating
  • Shortening tasks
  • Establishing lower expectations
  • Suspending students (CSDE 2009)

Universal Design for Learning (UDL)
As schools are implementing - or preparing to implement - SRBI interventions, it is normal for educators to feel overwhelmed. It helps to know that there is an approach to lesson planning, instruction, and assessment that helps teachers reach a maximum number of diverse students: Universal Design For Learning.

Brief History of UDL
The IDEA Amendments of 1997 requires that all students with disabilities have access to general education curriculum. When traditionally adapting curriculum to meet the needs of individual students, educators come across challenges, namely that some adaptations are time-consuming, ineffective, and at times “significantly change or water down the concepts and skills of the curriculum” (Bremer, Clapper, Hitchcock, Hall, and Kachgal, 2002). The idea behind Universal Design is to proactively design the school environment and curriculum with flexibility so that all students have access to general education and opportunity to achieve common content standards. By proactively designing learning environments and opportunities, the burden is not on the learner. The original idea of Universal Design has its roots in architecture in the early 1980’s inspired by the “inappropriateness of placing the burden of adaptation on individuals” with disabilities” (Bremer, et. al., 2002). While Universal Design applied in architecture creates spaces that are accessible to all users, Universal Design for Learning (UDL) applies the same concept to education. The goal is to support all learners by making content and material accessible to all.

Why Use UDL?
The Center For Applied Special Technology (CAST) defines UDL as a “set of principles for curriculum development that give all individuals equal opportunities to learn” (CAST, 2002). CAST establishes three UDL guiding principles:
  1. Multiple means of representing content. Ask: "How can content be presented in different ways?"
  2. Multiple means of students’ expression of content. Ask: "What different ways can students use to demonstrate their knowledge?"
  3. Flexible means of engagement as students learn. Ask: "In what ways can students be engaged in learning the content?" (Lenz and Deshler, 2003).

Why is UDL Necessary? (CAST) describes why educators should look toward UDL. Essentially, all learners have different skills, interests, and needs as they come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, learning needs, and abilities. An effective teacher will appreciate this diversity, and even more, understand that people’s brains work differently.

Here is how the three different brain functions relate directly to UDL guiding principles:
  1. Recognition Brain Network: The “what” of learning varies for individuals, i.e. categorizing facts; recognizing words. Therefore, teachers should present the content in different ways.
  2. Strategic Brain Network: The “how” of learning varies for individuals, i.e. performing tasks; organizing ideas. Therefore, teachers should differentiate ways that students can express what they know.
  3. Affective Brain Network: The “why” of learning varies for individuals, i.e. staying motivated; being excited to learn. Therefore, teachers should provide multiple ways for students to be engaged with the content.

UDL in the Classroom
The National Center on Universal Design for Learning provides an online tool that outlines and provides concrete examples of how educators can implement UDL strategies.

By expecting diversity among students and applying the guiding principles of UDL, a teacher can accomplish multiple tasks:
  • Reduce the need for some individual accommodations and special services.
  • Identify students who need specialized individual interventions and services when students are not responding and not having success with a variety of the UDL accommodations.
  • Challenge and motivate high achieving students by using strategies, such as peer teaching, that help all learners reach a deeper more personal understanding of the course content. (CSU,

Benefits of UDL
In the Colorado State University’s Best Practices through Universal Design video, teachers and students discuss the benefits of UDL.

VI: Teachers and Schools: Creating Accommodations and Modifications that Enable Student Learning

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As an educator, you will have the responsibility of creating and implementing accommodations and modifications that enable students with special needs to access their learning alongside general education peers to the greatest extent possible. Under IDEA, students with special needs have the right to a FAPE (free appropriate public education) in the LRE (least restrictive environment). This means that if a student is able to be involved in and make progress within the general education environment, provided the help of supplementary aids and services, then the supports needed to enable that student to access his or her education within that environment must be provided (Turnbull, Stowe, & Huerta, 2007 p.99). The goal when using accommodations and modifications is to create a learning support system that is individualized to the student, whereby supports are increased, decreased, and altered as needed.
When providing accommodations and modifications to students, it is important to distinguish between the two types of supports so as to create and implement the most effective and appropriate education plan for each student.
  • Accommodations are changes to supports that help the student to demonstrate his or her learning. This means that the content of instruction is not changed, though the means by which the student presents his/her understanding may be altered to allow the student to demonstrate knowledge (National dissemination center for children with disabilities, 2010).
    • For example, a student who has fine-motor related struggles may have an accommodation that allows him/her to type responses on a test.
    • Examples of accommodations include:
      • Additional time
      • Oral tests
      • Access to a keyboard
      • Preferred seating
      • Books on tape
    • Who has access to accommodations?
      • Students with 504 Plans
      • Students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)

  • Modifications are changes to “what is being taught to or expected from the student” (National dissemination center for children with disabilities, 2010). This means that the content of instruction will be changed on an individual basis for students whom the curricular expectations exceed the students’ level of ability.
    • For example, a student who has memory retention issues as a result of his or her disability may be provided a modified vocabulary test with only 4 words that the student needs to define instead of the standard 20.
    • Examples of modifications include:
      • Involving students in same activity provided individualized expectations and rules
      • Exempting student from completion of certain activities
      • Providing students objective tests
      • Pre-teaching and re-teaching content
      • Provide notes/outlines to students.
    • Who has access to modifications?
      • Students with an IEP (Individualized Education Plan)
* Click to see a comprehensive list of external image pdf.png Frequently Used Accommodations and Modifications.pdf

In order to create Accommodations and Modifications that enhance the learning of students, it is critical that supports are created with the intent to make life better, not necessarily easier for the student. This means the accommodations and modifications must be:
  • Individualized to the needs of the student
  • Implemented with fidelity by all teachers and paraprofessionals that provide the student instruction
  • Frequently monitored for effectiveness and sustainability within the student’s learning schedule
  • Evaluated frequently at pre-determined checkpoints to see if accommodations and modifications need to be increased, decreased, or altered to better support the student’s needs.

In order to help teachers and schools create and implement accommodations and modifications, as listed within students’ IEP and 504 Plans, in an effective manner, follow this list of recommendations:
  • Have a qualified individual within the IEP team determine the specific accommodations and modifications provided to the student.

  • The accommodations/modifications must be individualized to meet the student’s needs.
    • Ask, in what ways is this specific accommodation/modification supporting this individual student to access his or her learning?
    • Is this accommodation or modification enabling the student to take part in extracurricular and non-academic activities alongside his/her general education peers?
    • Don’t generalize accommodations/modifications across disabilities.
    • Don’t generalize accommodations/modifications to all special education students.

  • Ask the student in what ways s/he learns best. Is this accommodation or modification enabling the student to learn?
    • It is critical that the student feels socially comfortable using provided accommodations and modifications.
    • It is also critical that the student feels that the accommodation or modification allows the student to express their knowledge in a more effective and efficient manner.
    • The accommodation or modification must help the student to make progress toward attaining his or her goals.
    • It is critical for the student to be as actively involved in the learning process as possible, as "children learn by doing, and not allowing them to do something because they might fail is denying them the opportunity to succeed" (Kauffman, McGee, & Brigham, 2004).

  • Provide an explicit explanation to each educator or paraprofessional who will be involved in educating the student of how the accommodation/modification is to be provided to the student.
    • For example, if a student is provided a scribe for note-taking, the scribe should understand that they are to write only what the student dictates.
    • For extended time on tests, ensure that extended time is provided in a continuous manner if possible.

  • Provide training workshops and supervision for educations who require support in understanding appropriate ways to implement accommodations/modifications within their instruction (VanSciver & Conover, 2009)
  • Provide a chart to teachers which explicitly states specific accommodations and modifications that need to be provided to individual students within their classroom. This will help teachers to adhere to supports provided within students' IEPs with fidelity, and will ensure an accurate measure of the effectiveness of supports.
    • Monitor effectiveness of accommodations/modifications on student learning.
      • How frequently is the accommodation/modification used?
      • What results does the student obtain with the accommodation?
      • Is the student increasing competence?
      • Is the student increasing independence?

Remember, the ultimate goal in providing students with accommodations and modifications is to enable students to access and demonstrate their learning in the least restrictive environment possible. Educators must seek to increase student capability and independence as they support students through the learning process. It is critical to continually assess whether accommodations and modifications are enabling students to succeed in their academic, social, emotional, and physical goals.

  • VII: Resources

Common Accommodations and Modifications:
Working Effectively with Paraprofessionals to Maintain Effectiveness of Accommodations and Modifications:

Connecticut State Department of Education Bureau of Accountability and Improvement. (April 2010). Paraprofessionals and SRBI, Volume 1 (Issue 1)
Connecticut State Department of Education. Paraprofessional Information and Resources.
State Education Resource Center (SERC). Paraprofessionals as Partners Initiative.
//The Rhode Island Technical Assistance Project (RITAP). (February 2010).// Effective Use of Teacher Assistants (TA’s) – What is the Research Saying?

Scientific Research based Interventions (SRBI) and School Wide Positive Behavior Supports (SWPBS):

Connecticut State Department of Education (2009). Using //Scientific Research-Based Interventions to Improve Outcomes// [PowerPoint Slides].
Currie, J. (2010). Connecticut's LD Guidelines in a World of SRBI: How Do They Come Together? [Lecture Notes]
Lehr, C. and McComas, J. Students with Emotional/Behavioral Disorders: Promoting Positive Outcomes.
//National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and the// //U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.// Positive Behavior Supports and the Law.
//National Technical Assistance Center on Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education Programs.// SWPBS For Beginners.

Universal Design For Learning:

Access to Post Secondary Education through Universal Design For Learning, Colorado State University. The History and Philosophy of UDL.
The Center for Applied Special Technology (CAST). (2010) Universal Design for Learning.
Council For Exceptional Children. (August 2008). Improving Executive Function Skills—An Innovative Strategy that May Enhance Learning for All Children.
Lenz, B., Deshler, D., Kissam, B. (2003). Teaching Content to All: Evidence-Based Inclusive Practices in Middle and Secondary Schools.
National Center on Universal Design for Learning. UDL Guidelines, Version 1.0.
University of Connecticut. Universal Design for Instruction in Postsecondary Education.
Universal Design Principles
Universal Design for Learning - OSEP

Resources for Teachers: Implementing Effective Accommodations and Modifications:
external image pdf.png Frequently Used Accommodations and Modifications.pdf
National Dissemination Center for Students with Disabilities
Turnbull III, HR., Stowe, MJ., & Huerta, NE. (2007). Free appropriate public education. The law and children with disabilities.
VanSciver, J. and Conover V. (2009). Making Accommodations Work for Students in the Special Education Setting.

VIII: References

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VanSciver, J.H. & Conover, V.A. (2009). Making accommodations work for students in the special education setting. TEACHING exceptional children plus, 6(2) Article 2. Retrieved from

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