For kids with learning and attention issues, school can be challenging. If a child is struggling, one possible strategy is giving him less schoolwork or simpler assignments. This is called a modification. It’s not the same as an accommodation. While modifications can make school easier for kids, they can have serious drawbacks, too.
Here’s what you need to know about academic modifications.
What Modifications Are
Most 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 dyscalculia who hasn’t mastered addition. A school may offer a modification where the child keeps working on addition, while his peers move on to multiplication. Or he may learn multiplication, but only with basic problems. Or he could have fewer test questions or less homework.
See more examples of modifications.
Keep in mind that only students with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or 504 plans can have modifications. The IEP team or the school will decide if modifications are right for the child.
Watch as an expert explains more about modifications.
Modifications vs. Accommodations
Along with modifications, you may also hear the term accommodations. They’re not the same as modifications.
Modifications change what a child is taught or expected to do in school. Accommodations change how a child learns or accesses the curriculum.
Here’s an example to help explain the difference. Imagine a third-grade class is expected to read Kate DiCamillo’s chapter book, Because of Winn-Dixie. However, Bret, a student with dyslexia, is struggling to read the book at the same pace as the rest of the class.
An accommodation could be to let Bret use text-to-speech (TTS) technology to read the book aloud. TTS, like other dyslexia accommodations, can help Bret keep up with the rest of class as they read and learn about the whole book.
On the other hand, a modification could be that Bret only has to read part of the book. Or, he may be assigned a simpler book to read.
See a chart that compares modifications and accommodations.
Pros and Cons of Modifications
Modifications are controversial among schools, teachers and parents.
It’s true that modifications can make school less of a struggle for students, including kids with learning and attention issues. But the result of modifications can be that a child learns less than his peers. He might fall behind on important skills. Over time, this can put a child at a big disadvantage.
For example, some states require a high school exit exam to graduate. A student that’s had modified coursework won’t be in a good position to pass this exam. Also, in some states, a child who’s received modifications may not be eligible for a high school diploma. This will limit the child’s future career and education options.
Of course, some kids with learning and attention issues need modifications in specific academic areas. For instance, kids with dyslexia can have trouble with spelling. An IEP team may decide that spending a lot of time learning spelling isn’t a good use of a particular student’s time. So the team may create a modification that allows the student to learn fewer spelling words and use spell-check 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, his IEP may include modifications for reading. However, the IEP must still have ambitious goals to help the child make progress toward the grade-level standard.
Because of the downsides, experts recommend parents try accommodations before modifications. Another alternative to modifications is to use different teaching strategies to help kids keep up.
See more examples of classroom accommodations for kids with learning and attention issues. Find out how to tell if your child’s accommodations are working. And learn what to do if you’re concerned your child with an IEP isn’t making enough progress.