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Accommodations and Modifications for Students with Special Needs

Andrea Morales, Esther Bouchillon
  • Author
    Andrea Morales

    Andrea Morales has taught secondary Science, Social Studies, Speech, and debate for over 14 years. She has a Bachelor's Degree in Bilingual Education from the University of Texas in El Paso and currently working on her MEd in Instruction Technology and Innovation. She holds multiple teaching certifications across all grade levels.

  • Instructor
    Esther Bouchillon

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

Learn all about special education modifications and accommodations. Understand the meaning of special education and see how to modify lesson plans for special needs. Updated: 12/30/2021

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Special Education Meaning

The definition of special education (also commonly referred to as the amalgamation sped or special needs education) is the education of children and young adults who have special requirements in order for them to learn content and curriculum in a public school setting. These special requirements are determined by diagnosticians, teachers, and other specialists in the field of special education. It has been proven for many years that adjusting the learning environment for special needs students will allow them to learn better than they otherwise would in an environment without those needs being met. Special education helps students who have cognitive, emotional, behavioral, or intellectual conditions. It can also serve those who have disabilities, such as hearing, vision, speech, or other physical conditions. Special education is also assigned to gifted children with advanced abilities and other types of learners who are not considered neurotypical.

Special education programs serve a wide variety of learners who would otherwise have difficulty learning, as other children do, in a traditional classroom setting. Some special ed services are provided within the traditional school classroom and other services are provided in a smaller setting with a special education teacher. When a child is tested and found to be eligible for special education services, their unique needs are met at no cost to the parents of the child. Special education benefits children by making the general school curriculum accessible so that they can meet the educational standards set by the country, state, or district. By addressing the unique needs of the eligible child, the content and skills of the curriculum can be delivered in a way that is regulated by law and accessible to the student.

Another benefit of special education is eligible students are protected by laws that dictate that their needs must be met in the school setting by all teachers and co-teachers who are directly involved within their learning environment. The laws that protect students with special needs come from the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

After a student is tested and found to be eligible for special education, they will have either a Section 504 Plan or a plan within an Individualized Education Program (IEP). These plans are created by a committee that includes teachers, diagnosticians, administrators, counselors, and of course the parent(s) of the child. These plans address the child's special requirements, academic strengths and weaknesses, and goals for the student. The 504 Plan or the IEP Plan also includes accommodations and/or modifications that will be employed and followed by everyone in the educational setting of the child.

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Accommodations in Special Education

Accommodations in education are methods and strategies that affect how a student receives information and learns curriculum. Accommodations do not change the concepts or material being taught to the student, but rather change the process of learning, the speed of instruction, types of materials, or the physical environment in the classroom. The purpose of accommodations is to allow the student to have access to the same curriculum and have the same course of study as all students, with the goal of completing the assignments and tasks that every other child in the class is expected to complete. An example of an accommodation would be for a student who is hard of hearing to use specialized audio equipment for listening to a lesson. Here are some other common examples of accommodations:

  • Students can sit closer to their teacher.
  • Students can listen to a recording of the text while they read.
  • Students can have extended time on assignments.
  • Students can take mental breaks as needed throughout the day.
  • Students can use speech-to-text in order to complete a writing assignment.
  • Larger print books can be made available for learners with visual conditions.
  • Students with dyslexia can have special transparencies to help them with their reading.
  • Teachers will not penalize a student for spelling errors.

It's important to note that accommodations have the purpose of allowing the learner to complete the same tasks and cover the same content as their peers. A student who receives accommodations in the classroom is required to master the same concepts as their peers. The curriculum is not watered down and the assignments are not simplified or shortened to make it easier for the student. The content is simply made more accessible by varying the time allotted, method of delivery instruction, or physical setting for the student. Students with dyslexia might get to listen to an audiobook, but it is the same text as the rest of the class. A student with ADHD will have to sit by the teacher or have frequent reminders to focus, but they must still complete the same assignments as the rest of the class.


Teacher might use visuals or illustrations to help students understand a concept better.


Modifications in Special Education

Modifications for students in education are alterations made to the curriculum that change what the child is expected to learn. Special education modifications change the expectations for the student's learning and requirements for their work, usually by making the assignment easier, shorter, or different altogether. Changing what is being taught or expected of the student is a controversial topic because it can affect the child's chances of ever being academically successful. The purpose of modifications is to help the student who is really struggling academically so that they will not fall further behind in assignments and learning by reducing their workload and content standards. For example, a student with a modification can have their work graded based on what they did complete, even if they only did a small fraction of the assignment that was expected of other students. A teacher or committee can measure the learning progress of a student by only focusing on the completion of certain objectives, rather than all the objectives that everyone else is expected to complete. The following are other examples of modifications:

  • Reducing classwork or eliminating homework.
  • Reducing assignments or only requiring students to "do what they can".
  • Changing tests to a lower level.
  • Allowing students to use notes, visuals, or other supports such as a calculator on exams.
  • Grading assignments based on perceived effort.
  • Providing a student with easier reading material or alternative reading assignments from the rest of the class.
  • Lowering the instructional level of the content.
  • Having the option to pull the student out of class to have material read to them by the special education teacher.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are examples of modifications in special education?

Examples of modifications in education include any changes in the curriculum they are learning. For example, a child may be given an easier book to read than their peers, they might have fewer questions to complete on an assignment, or there may be fewer answer choices on a multiple-choice exam.

What are special education modifications?

Special education modifications are methods that change what the student is expected to learn in school. The content can be modified by making it shorter, easier, or adapted to the level of the student.

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