Modifications for Special Education Students: Definition & Checklist

Instructor: Esther Bouchillon

Esther has taught middle school and has a master's degree in gifted education.

This lesson explains the difference between accommodations and modifications. A list of modifications is also provided. A short quiz follows the lesson.

Accommodations vs. Modifications

Imagine someone who hasn't exercised in years is told to run a marathon in a month. Even being allowed to walk portions of it instead of running probably wouldn't make them capable of accomplishing the task. Trying to do so would probably leave them discouraged and very sore. However, being told that they can participate in a 5k instead would be much more manageable. Both involve exercise, but the goal changed - run a 5k instead of a marathon. The goal was modified to reflect the person's ability.

Sometimes the words 'accommodation' and 'modification' are used interchangeably, but they are in fact different things and have different effects on student learning. An accommodation changes the way a student receives information or is tested on the information without changing the learning goal or standard. Another way of thinking about accommodations is that they change how a student learns but not what they learn. An example of an accommodation is allowing a student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to take breaks during a test. They are still taking the same test with the same objectives, but how they accomplish the task is different.

A modification changes the learning goal or objective. This goes beyond changing how the student learns or is tested and effectively changes what they are actually learning. A modification could change the instructional level, the content or curriculum covered, the performance criteria (objective), or the assignment structure. An example of a modification would be reducing the amount of spelling words a student is required to learn or changing an essay assignment into a poster project.

Generally, it is better for a teacher to make accommodations rather than modifications to assignments. It is important to try accommodations first before modifying curriculum since modifications change the actual learning goals, which usually results in students learning on a lower level. This doesn't mean, however, that modifications should never be used. Like in the opening illustration, the accommodation of walking alone wouldn't be enough to complete the goal of running a marathon, a modified goal was needed. If a student cannot achieve success at the targeted level, using modifications to make the material more manageable for the student is an important part of teaching. Modifications allow the student to learn at their present level rather than failing to comprehend information above their understanding.

Making Modifications

When making modifications it is important to first create a new goal or objective that the student is realistically capable of achieving. The new objective for the student guides what modifications will be used, which direct the teacher's instruction. Modifications should help the student master key concepts while avoiding tasks and information that may be unnecessary for grasping the most essential points. It is important to document when and how modifications are used to avoid confusion about what the child has mastered. For example, seeing an A in the gradebook on a multiplication test without knowing that the test was modified to allow the use of a calculator could cause confusion about the student's true level of understanding.

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