ELI5 The Difference Between Accommodations And Modifications

The necessity for quality education for the coming generation which is supposed to be our future long ago has been recognized. But it wasn’t until recently that attention was paid to making this education equitable and accessible to all. 

To meet these goals and the specific needs of those with learning differences, several provisions have been designed and implemented. Special attention from policy and lawmakers also introduced several innovations like the Multi-tiered System of Support that greatly helped the cause.

Whether it be legal structures of support or at the school or individual level, all of them talk about making accommodations and modifications to make education more accessible. Accommodations and modifications, while terms often used interchangeably, take different approaches to make education more accessible and beneficial for all. This blog will look into the meanings of both accommodations and modifications and highlight the differences between them.

Accommodations vs Modifications: What do they mean?

Accommodations refer to alterations in the environment that help the student in getting the most out of what is being taught. Here changes are made in how the student is taught about a concept and then assessed on it. 

Here the student who is struggling is helped by providing different tools and techniques like text-to-speech software, educational games, textbooks with extra large fonts, etc., to help them learn the same material as their peers. Accommodations in assessments are also provided, which help the students in applying what they have learned and also performing the same on tests as their peers.

The end goal of accommodations is to ensure that every student in the class learns and performs at the same level of proficiency.

Modifications, on the other hand, refer to alterations in the curriculum to better match the learning level and developmental needs of the student. Here changes are made in what concepts the student is taught and how it is assessed.

A student who might be struggling can benefit from modifications as different tools and techniques are also employed here, but the learning expectations and outcomes are different. This doesn’t, in most cases, imply that the student will learn concepts from a grade lower than their peers. Students who receive modifications continue to attend the same classes as their peers; just their curriculum is strategically adopted to best suit their current level of learning. 

The goals of both the concepts delivered and the assessments taken are adapted to best suit and facilitate the student’s learning.

Basic differences that give a clear picture

MotiveTo help every student meet the same level of educational goalsTo match educational goals with the needs and level of the student
ImpactsHow the student learnsWhat the student learns
InvolvesUse of different tools and techniques to match their mode of instruction with their learning styles Developing a different curriculum that is at the level of learning the student is ready for

Examples to better comprehend both the terms

1. Meet Mary  

Mary is a 13-year-old student with dyslexia. While she has worked hard by taking extra classes to achieve the same level of English language understanding as her peers, she still struggles while reading the assigned books, papers, study material, etc., for each class.

As an accommodation, she requested her teachers to provide her with the study material that can be fed to text-to-speech software. Using this tool, she is able to understand the concepts and keep up with the pace of the rest of her class.

Taking extra classes to come on par with her peers and using tools like speech-to-text software helps Mary in achieving the same educational goals as her peers. There are no changes in what she is expected to learn but in how she will learn it. This is an example of how accommodations work.

2. Meet Jacob 

Jacob is an 8-year-old student with dyslexia. He struggles with various language skills like reading, spelling, and comprehension. His class is now beginning the chapter on how to write sentences and various parts of speech used in a sentence. 

He is struggling with the class because he still isn’t clear on how to spell and does not have a vocabulary expansive enough to start writing his own sentences. This is why his teacher changes the motive of the chapter for him. Instead of learning how to correctly build and write sentences, his focus is on learning the spellings of various words used in them.

Here Jacob’s teacher modified the curriculum to better suit his developmental level and learning requirements. While he will still be attending the same class as his peers, his takeaways from it will be different. This is an example of how modifications are helpful in meeting students where they are.

3. Meet Rose

Rose is an 11-year-old student. She was diagnosed with developmental dyscalculia when she was five years old. Since then, she has employed various alternative methods of learning to understand whatever was taught in her math class.

As her grade is advancing, the concepts being taught in class are getting tougher. She is taking the extra classes recommended by her Individualised Education Plan and does understand the material but has trouble answering test questions under the stipulated amount of time. The added pressure of a deadline, along with the stress she already feels while doing math, makes it hard for her to even attempt the questions she knows quite well.

To help with this issue, Rose’s math teacher decided to do away with any deadlines or time limits for her during exams. She also told her that she could sit in a separate room, which would further minimize distractions and allow her to focus on her work. This is another example of how accommodations can help students with learning concerns learn and perform on par with their peers.

4. Luke with Dyscalculia

Luke is a 13-year-old student with dyscalculia. His class is recently being introduced to this new concept of algebra. His knowledge and understanding of foundational concepts required to perform algebraic functions are quite average.

But having to perform multiple mathematical functions like multiplication, division, and addition all at once, that too in the form of algebraic equations feels overwhelming for him. To help with this, Luke’s teacher makes different assessments for him. He tries to keep the number of functions needed to solve a question to a maximum of two and gives him a smaller number of questions with a lower level of difficulty as compared to his classmates. 

This modification in Luke’s assessment is another example of how changes in the curriculum can help in matching the student’s learning requirements, ensuring that they benefit from what is being taught.

Verdict: Which one is more helpful for struggling students

Modifications and accommodations, while sometimes used interchangeably, are different routes to the same goal of making education more accessible and beneficial.

Accommodations employ changes to how something is taught while modifications refer to the changes in what is taught. If employed judiciously, keeping in mind the needs of the student, both modifications and accommodations can be instrumental in promoting educational success. 

Hence, the most helpful strategy to help students who might be struggling due to learning concerns like dyslexia, dyscalculia, etc. can be to assess their needs, current learning level, and styles and accordingly adopt modifications, accommodations, or a mix of both to help make education more accessible and beneficial for them.

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