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Accommodations & Modifications: Keys to Successful Inclusion

Accommodations & Modifications: Keys to Successful Inclusion

Your child or student with a disability has been placed in the general education classroom. You may have concerns or hesitations about their learning and progress in this setting. How do we set them up for success? How do we make this work all day, in every subject, and in extracurricular activities? 

First, let’s review the concept of placement in IDEA (the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) which emphasizes that children with disabilities are to be educated to the maximum extent appropriate in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) with appropriate supports and services (IDEA §300). Why is this important? What about specialized programs my child’s school district offers with people specifically trained to help my child with their unique needs? 

Placement in the general education setting is extremely important to ensure children grow up to be contributing and accepted members of our communities. Over 30 years of research has shown us that inclusive education contributes to better outcomes for students with and without disabilities. There is NO data or research that shows secluded or “specialized” settings benefit children with disabilities. Children with disabilities have the right to be educated alongside children without disabilities - to grow up together, develop friendships, learn about one another’s strengths and needs, and appreciate the diversity that each individual brings to our communities. This does not happen in segregated educational settings. 

Children that grow up in “specialized,” secluded, or segregated settings often have limited experiences that limit skills when they make their transition into adulthood. Many go on to live in group homes or other segregated living spaces, get employment at sheltered workshops earning subminimum wages, or attend day programs and have few, if any, friends of their choosing with most of the people in their lives are individuals that are paid to be with them. In short, they are not prepared for life outside of a secluded setting. If we want children to be out in the world together, with appropriate support as adults, they must learn to be together as children, where we can teach them acceptance and appreciation of diversity; belonging will then ensue.

Appropriate accommodations are not only ensured under IDEA. Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires students with disabilities (who meet the criteria for a 504 plan, but not an IEP) be provided accommodations. Additionally, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990 prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. 

Back to the nuts and bolts of accommodations and modifications, accommodations and modifications are how we position each individual student for success and meet their unique needs in the classroom and any other school sponsored event. They are an entitlement and are a legally binding aspect of the IEP and 504 - your child’s teachers, both general and special education, must implement them in each of their classes.

So what’s the difference between accommodations and modifications? This is confusing to many people. One way to think of it is that accommodations change HOW a student accesses or expresses their learning, while modifications change WHAT the student is learning. 

Examples of accommodations can be taking tests orally or having written material read aloud to the student, extended time on tests and assignments, notes provided in lieu of class note-taking, the use of a calculator, adaptive locks for lockers, organizational tools, the support of a peer, and more. Accommodations can also include instructional approaches -  something as subtle as a teacher using a gentle or kind voice, or location - a change in seating or testing location. Modifications, on the other hand, change the content of what the student learns while the content of the subject remains the same. For example, a student may be given a word bank to answer test questions, they may be given symbols or pictures to communicate knowledge on tests, or they may be given alternate books that are on the same topic the rest of the class is using.

Universal Design for Learning (UDL) is one method teachers are beginning to utilize to plan for the ever growing diversity that exists in today’s classrooms. In utilizing UDL your child’s teacher will be planning for various ways for students to learn and express how they learn best. Many teachers struggle with implementing accommodations and modifications because they feel they have to create instruction specifically for one student. UDL plans for many different types of learners and helps diminish the work to individualize as much because difference is acknowledged in the forefront of planning, rather than teaching to the center. Differentiated Instruction is another flexible way to meet the multiple learning needs in today’s classrooms. Ask your child’s teachers about UDL and Differentiated Instruction and advocate for their use in their classes. 

In summation, the use of appropriate accommodations and modifications removes barriers to learning and allows all students to demonstrate mastery. Accommodations keep standards of learning the same while changing the learning approach and modifications change the level of instruction. In either case, we keep expectations high and presume competence. We live in a world of interdependence - each of our successes hinge on support we rely on others to give us. None of us can do everything on our own. With the right supports, a lot can be accomplished. There will be failures, but with them comes the opportunity to learn and grow.

For more in-depth information, attend a PEAK  workshop or webinar on accommodations and modifications or other related topics, or choose to view our recorded webinars here. If you have specific questions or need advising for your child or student, please contact a parent advisor at 719-531-9400 or email parentadvisor@peakparent.org.