What is the difference between accommodations and modifications in school? How do you know what is best?  These are terms that are thrown around in parent/teacher conferences every day but do parents really understand what the difference is?

An accommodation changes how your student learns while a modification changes what your student learns. 

Accommodations help students learn the same information as their peers and allow them meet the same expectations for learning.  Accommodations just change how the learning takes place. This means that a student with dyslexia may have an audiobook instead of reading the textbook or a student with vision issues may get their work in a larger font or with less information on the page.  Accommodations can be made to classroom instruction, tests, including standardized tests, and in classes like PE, music, or art.  

Modifications change the curriculum and learning expectation for a student and are typically used when a student is far behind the level of their peers. They change 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 can change the instructional level, the content or curriculum covered, or the performance criteria or objectives. Some examples of modifications include things like: reducing the number of spelling words a student is required to learn, changing an essay assignment to a poster project, reducing the number of choices on a multiple choice test or allowing a student to work on single digit multiplication while the class moves on to multi-digit problems.  

Generally, it’s better for a student to have accommodations rather than modifications to assignments. It’s important to try accommodations first before modifying a 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. 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 students to learn at their present level rather than failing to comprehend information above their understanding.