The difference between interventions and accommodations

By Amanda Morin

Expert reviewed by Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT

If you have a child who struggles in school, it can be hard to make sense of all the different supports and services available. Kids get help in all sorts of ways and settings.

Some spend all day in the general education classroom and use accommodations. Some receive specialized instruction (). Still others leave the classroom to take part in response to intervention (RTI) programs. And some may do all these things.

Intervention and accommodation are both types of support. But they aren’t the same thing, and they’re not designed to help in the same way. Here are the key differences.

What they are

Targeted instruction to improve a specific skill.

Interventions are based on a child’s needs. They:

  • Supplement the general education program
  • Use evidence-based strategies and techniques
  • Help students improve a skill or learn to apply existing skills to new situations

A change to teaching or testing that removes barriers and provides equal access to learning. Unlike a modification, it doesn’t change what a child is learning. It changes how a child is learning.

Academic expectations aren’t lowered. A child with writing issues might be allowed to say the answers for a test instead of writing them. But the end result of the work is equal to that of kids without accommodations.

Circumstances in which they are used

Interventions are used to teach the skills kids need to improve a specific area of weakness. Once those skills are gained, interventions typically end.

Those weaknesses could be deficits in academic skills, like reading or writing. But there are also interventions for behavior problems (PBIS) that help kids better manage self-regulation, or learn more appropriate ways to interact with other kids.

Students with an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan have formal accommodations included in their plans. They may or may not continue to get those supports throughout their school years.

Struggling students who don’t have an IEP or a 504 plan may be able to get informal supports that enable them to show what they know.

What they should include

Interventions should include targeted assessments to measure the development of a child’s skills.

Instruction should be planned carefully and provided regularly. It should include data collection (or progress monitoring) to track growth and help shape decisions about next steps.

Accommodations allow a child to get around a specific barrier or challenge. They should represent a change in one or more of the following:

  • Presentation (the way information is presented)
  • Response (the way assignments or tests are completed)
  • Setting (where your child learns)
  • Timing and scheduling (the time your child has to do the task)
Examples may include
  • A system of scaffolding showing kids that what they already know can help improve their understanding of a topic (“We’re going to read a story about dogs. Before we do, think about what you already know about dogs that may be useful as we read.”)
  • Multisensory reading programs
  • Schoolwide PBIS programs that explicitly teach behavior that is acceptable in the school environment
  • Social Thinking®


  • Preferred seating away from distractions
  • Use of a formula sheet or number line for math tests
  • Small group testing
  • Extended time for assignments or tests
  • An extra set of textbooks for home
  • Audiobooks or text-to-speech technology
  • The freedom to work or take a test in a different setting, such as a quiet room with few distractions

Learn more about what instructional interventions are and what they aren’t. Explore common accommodations you may see in the classroom. And download a toolkit of resources that can help you advocate for teacher training on the use of a multi-tiered system of supports (MTSS) — interventions that can help the school better support your child.

About the author

About the author

Amanda Morin is the author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education” and the former director of thought leadership at Understood. As an expert and writer, she helped build Understood from its earliest days. 

Reviewed by

Reviewed by

Jenn Osen-Foss, MAT is an instructional coach, supporting teachers in using differentiated instruction, interventions, and co-planning.