If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or a 504 plan to address learning or attention issues, you may be considering modifications. Modifications change what or how much a child is taught. The goal is to gear the curriculum to the child’s capability. Here’s what you need to know about modifications.
What Modifications Are
Modifications are changes to what’s taught to or expected from a student. In some cases, a skill that would normally be taught at a certain grade level is changed, eliminated or postponed.
Imagine a fifth grader who hasn’t mastered her multiplication facts. She could continue to work on multiplication and division problems while other kids in the class move on to fractions. In language arts, a student might use books written at a lower reading level. A student who has problems with spelling might be expected to learn fewer new spelling words each week.
What Modifications Are For
Students with an IEP or 504 plan might need modifications. It depends on the extent of their learning and attention issues and their ability to work at grade level. The goal is to create a situation in which a student can succeed.
How Modifications Work
Modifications often change what a student is expected to learn and by what grade level. Modifications are also used to change:
- How things are graded: Some teachers use pass/not pass instead of letter grades.
- How tests are handled: A practice test might help the student prepare for the real deal. Or there may be two rather than four answer choices on a multiple-choice test.
- How things are taught: The teacher might use more prompting and cueing to help the student determine the right answers. Class material may be written at an easier level of understanding.
- Homework and classwork: Sometimes students who work at a slower pace will be given fewer or shorter class assignments and less homework.
What to Watch Out For
A child with learning or attention issues might need modifications or accommodations—or both. Or neither. Work with your child’s IEP team to determine what’s appropriate for your child. Make sure that all agreed-upon modifications are clearly noted in the IEP.
Once your child’s IEP or 504 plan is in place, keep an eye on whether the modifications are being used. Pay attention to whether they seem to be helping. Even if modifications are useful now, your child might outgrow the need for them as she matures and develops new skills. Also, as the workload becomes more challenging in higher grade levels, she may need new or different modifications.
Keep in mind that Common Core State Standards may eventually require some changes to how and when modifications can be used.
A Word of Caution on Modifications
Lindy Crawford, Ph.D., a member of the Professional Advisory Board for the National Center for Learning Disabilities, says it’s important to know the difference between accommodations and modifications. She says that allowing students to use modifications can end up lowering what’s expected of them and what they have a chance to learn.
She also notes that if a student uses modifications on a state standardized test, the test score could be invalidated. In some states, a child who has received modified instruction and classwork might not be eligible for a standard diploma upon graduation from high school. Some states offer a modified diploma. The military, colleges and employers often don’t recognize modified diplomas.
There are pros and cons to using modifications. Be sure to gather as much information as you can before moving forward. Talking to teachers and others involved in your child’s education can help you make good choices for your child.