Both accommodation and modification seem like they are interchangeable words and to make things even more confusing, are often discussed in the same context. There are important differences between the two, and for some, their consequences can be long term for their education.
Before jumping into detail about what accommodations and modifications are, it is important to understand why such words need to exist in the first place. Generally speaking, in public education on a national level there has begun an implementation of a common, consistent, and standard curriculum. This means that an eighth grader in an urban middle school in Florida is being taught the same math curriculum as an eighth grader a small rural town in Kansas. At least, this is the ideal goal. However, not all students are able to, for a variety of reasons, learn a subject at the same speed or in the same way as the majority of students in the country, or even in their own school.
For this reason, fancy words like accommodations and modifications have entered common speak in education and especially in special education. It’s difficult to find an Individualized Education Program (IEP) that does not include one of these words. Accommodations are changes to the student’s environment that alters how the student either receives or communicates information, but the student still is taught the exact same curriculum as his or her peers. Common accommodations are large print texts, allowing some extra time on exams, and providing oral responses in place of written ones. If any changes are made to the curriculum, for example, covering only half the material or eliminating the student from the responsibility of knowing parts of the content, then these are modifications.
Accommodations have a reputation, and under the management of skilled teachers, are fairly easy to implement in a classroom. This is why a lot of students needing accommodations often are in regular general education classes. After all, such students are still learning the exact same curriculum as the rest of their same age peers. Modifications come with some consequences and some students needing to learn in a modified curriculum might spend some time of their day separated from the regular education environment. Assumptions are also made about what a student knows on a lot less data since often fewer test questions are used to assess their learning. For some students, modifications are the best thing for them, their well-being, and their education when looking at the big picture. It’s just important to keep in mind that both accommodations and modifications open doors for students, but for different reasons and with different objectives.
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