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What are academic modifications?

By Andrew M.I. Lee, JD

At a Glance

  • An academic modification is a change to what a student is taught or expected to do in school.

  • An example of a modification is less homework or easier assignments.

  • Before using a modification, it’s often better to try changing how a child learns, or try using a different teaching strategy.

School can be a challenge for kids with and . And when they struggle, one possible response is to give them less schoolwork or simpler assignments. This is called an academic modification. A modification is a change to what a student is taught or expected to do in school.

While modifications can make school easier for kids, they can have serious drawbacks. Watch an expert explain more about modifications.

All public schools have academic standards  for what kids are expected to learn in each grade. These apply to reading, math, and other subjects. For instance, third graders are usually expected to learn multiplication.

Modifications change these expectations. They’re typically used when a child has trouble keeping up in school.

Take a third grader with math challenges who hasn’t mastered addition. A school may offer a modification that keeps the child working on addition, while the rest of the class moves on to multiplication. Or the child could have fewer test questions or less homework. (See other examples of modifications .)

Modifications are controversial. It’s true that they can make school less of a struggle for students, including kids who learn and think differently. But the result may be that kids learn less than their peers. They may fall behind on important skills. Over time, this can put them at a big disadvantage.

Dive deeper

Deciding whether to use a modification

It’s important to be aware of the consequences of using a modification.

Some states require a high school exit exam to graduate. A student who has had modified coursework won’t be in a good position to pass this exam. Another drawback is that in some states, kids who get modifications may not be eligible for a high school diploma . This can limit their career or future education options.

At the same time, some kids may need modifications in specific academic areas. For example, kids with can have trouble with spelling. An IEP team may decide that spending a lot of time learning spelling isn’t a good use of the student’s time. The team may create a modification that allows the student to learn fewer spelling words and use spellcheck instead .

Kids who are far behind and can’t yet work at grade level may also need modifications. For example, if a child is reading several grades below grade level, the child’s IEP may include modifications for reading. But the IEP should still have goals to help the child catch up and make progress toward the grade-level standard.

Find out how to tell if a child’s IEP goals are SMART .

Alternatives to modifications

Because of the downsides, it’s best to try other things before using a modification. 

Many kids just need to be taught in a different way. A better teaching strategy may help a child learn and keep up with peers.

Another way to help is to change how the child learns or accesses the curriculum. This is called an accommodation . The term sounds like a modification, but it’s different. An accommodation doesn’t change what a child is taught or expected to do in school.

Here’s an example. A third-grade class is expected to read a chapter book. But a student with dyslexia in the class is struggling to read the book at the same pace as the rest of the class. An accommodation may be to have the child use audiobooks or text-to-speech to read the book aloud. The student can keep up with the rest of the class, and read and learn about the whole book.

On the other hand, a modification might be to only read part of the book. Or to read a simpler book.

See a chart that compares modifications and accommodations . And learn what to do if a child with an IEP isn’t making enough progress

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  • Coming soonGoogle Classroom