The difference between accommodations and modifications

When a student has an (IEP) or a , you’ll likely hear the word accommodation. You may also hear school staff members say modification. While the two words sound similar, they mean different things.

An accommodation changes how a student learns the material. A modification changes what a student is taught or expected to learn. Here is a chart that explains the differences.

Classroom instruction

Accommodations can help kids learn the same material as their peers. This allows them to meet the same expectations.

A student with dyslexia, for example, might listen to an audio version of a book. But it’s still the same book that the rest of the class is reading. Likewise, a student who has trouble focusing might get seated next to the teacher, but still has to do all the regular class assignments.

Kids who are far behind their peers may need changes to the curriculum they’re learning. These are called modifications.

For example, a student could be assigned shorter or easier reading assignments, or homework that’s different from the rest of the class. Kids who receive modifications are not expected to learn the same material as their classmates.

Classroom tests

Accommodations for testing can be different from those used for teaching.

For example, using spellcheck might help a student with writing difficulties take notes during class. However, it wouldn’t be appropriate during a weekly spelling test. At the same time, this student might benefit from having extra time to complete the spelling test or using a keyboard if the physical act of writing is difficult.

Modifications in testing often mean that a student covers less material — or material that is less complex.

For example, a spelling test may require the class to study 20 words. However, a student with modifications might only have to study 10 of them. Or there might be two different lists of spelling words. With a modification, what the student is tested on is different.

Standardized testing

Statewide tests allow some accommodations like extra time or taking a test on a computer. It’s best if these are the same accommodations a child uses to take class tests.

Some students take what’s called an alternate assessment. This state test includes modifications to the regular test. Questions might be fewer or not cover the same material as the standard exams. Also, the results are interpreted differently. Before you agree to an alternate assessment, find out what the impact will be on your child’s academic and work future.

PE, music, and art class

Accommodations for “special” classes like PE, music, and art can be helpful for some kids.

These are similar to accommodations in the classroom. Kids might get extra time to learn to play an instrument. Or they may be allowed to complete an art project in a different format.

Sometimes, an assignment in a class like PE, music, or art is unreasonable for your child. When this happens, a modification may be made.

For example, the PE teacher might reduce the number of laps a student needs to run. The music teacher might not require a child to learn how to read music.

See a list of common accommodations and modifications. And keep in mind that accommodations don’t always have to be formalized in an IEP or a 504 plan. Sometimes teachers can provide support on their own. If a student doesn’t have an IEP or a 504 plan, here are some examples of informal supports that families can request.

To learn more, watch as an expert explains the difference between accommodations and modifications.

About the author

About the author

The Understood Team is made up of passionate writers and editors. Many of them have kids who learn and think differently.

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Donna Volpitta, EdD is the founder of Pathways to Empower. Her work draws on the latest research in neuroscience, psychology, and education.


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