Modifications and Accomodations


Modifications and Accommodations

Why Should We?

Michelle Fattig-Smith, Ed.S.

School Psychologist, Author of Parent Rights Handbook,

Parent Advocate, Mother of Special Needs Child, Person with Disabilities

Accommodation and Modification

" I have too many students in my class to follow the I.E.P. and make special accommodations for your child !”

"It's not my job to read and follow the I.E.P.

That's only for the special ed teacher" !

These types of comments are unlawful and violate a student’s rights.

Awareness, Empathy, and Skills

Over the last 17 years, I've had many children and teens with hidden disabilities tell me, "It would be easier for me if I was in a wheelchair or blind. At least then my teachers and classmates might be more understanding.” Retrieved 10/13/06 from:

But it’s not fair!

Accommodations and modifications are sometimes treated as requests not mandates in the IEP especially at the high school level. My blood pressure surely rises when a special education director tells me he or she can not make the teacher follow the mandated accommodations such as no bubble sheets or untimed tests etc., or modifications to the curricular expectations. These items are frequently the product of preprinted checklists without sufficient thought, as to the exact way that this child will need and use the accommodation or modification. (comments by parent advocate)

Don’t use the F word!

I recently have had several calls from parents of high schoolers who have suffered dearly for the fact that this section of the IEP was overlooked. In one instance, the child did not get his accommodation of “tests read aloud" and he failed 2 classes. With some timely assistance and advice from me, he was able to retake some tests and get other grades reversed. The other instance did not work out as well. The child failed one class since he was forced to take written tests. He fell into a depression. To boost his feelings about himself he took up his old hobby of playing with knives at home. He also has memory and attentional issues, and he inadvertently forgot he had a knife in his backpack when he went to school. Of course, it was discovered and all manner of disciplinary process began against him. While it may seem tenuous, the first step on this road began with the school personnel not implementing the accommodations on his IEP.

Don’t use the F word!

• We want young people to succeed in the future by maximizing their potential today. We want them to be involved in their communities, to have friends, and to become contributing adult members of the wider community. These goals do not change because of the color of the child's skin, the ethnic or cultural background of the child, the ability of the child, or the presence of a disability. The school's mission statement should reflect the importance of diversity within the school community.

Each child's school career is a journey with a beginning and a destination.

• Academic

• Employment

• Civic

• Physical

• Cultural

• Social

The vehicles for reaching this destination include schools that emphasize the lifelong skills and knowledge necessary

• Develop lasting friendships

• Continue learning

• Solve problems

• Use information and technology effectively

• Enjoy productive employment

• Meet their obligations as citizens

• Interact with others successfully

Fueled by knowledge of the young person's gifts, talents, unrecognized abilities, and learning styles

• Learning from the important people in the young person's life;

• Observing the young person outside of school, as well as in school; and

• Determining what does and does not work with her.

The IEP and Section 504 plans are the educational road maps for the young person with a disability. :

• All children belong to the community where they live and the responsibility for their education rests with the school districts within that community;

• The goal of education is to enhance the pursuit of a meaningful life;

• The family is the foundation of lifelong planning for and with the child;

• The success of children is built, in part, on the natural support systems developed to encourage lasting friendships in educational and community settings;

The IEP and Section 504 plans are the educational road maps for the young person with a disability.

• Teams working through collaborative relationships are essential to ensuring that each child's educational experience is a success;

• Planning by teams needs to be based on trust and respect for each person's experience, which, in turn, supports flexibility or roles;

• the use of problem-solving methods and interventionbased services will support the accomplishment of longterm goal planning for children; and

• Special education is a series of individually designed services and supports; it is not a place to which children are assigned.

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• (

7) "Free appropriate public education" means special education and related services that are provided at public expense and under public supervision and direction, meet the standards of the department, include an appropriate preschool, elementary or secondary school education and are provided in conformity with an individualized education program.

• (15) "Special education" means specially designed instruction, regardless of where the instruction is conducted, that is provided at no cost to the child or the child's parents, to meet the unique needs of a child with a disability, including instruction in physical education.

"Supplementary aids and services"

• " means aids, services and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable a child with a disability to be educated with nondisabled children to the maximum extent appropriate.


A statement of the special education and related services and supplementary aids and services to be provided to the child, or on behalf of the child, and a statement of the program modifications or supports for school personnel that will be provided for the child * * *.

(b) Implementation of IEPs . Each public agency shall ensure that-

(2) The child's IEP is accessible to each regular education teacher, special education teacher, related service provider, and other service provider who is responsible for its implementation; and

(3) Each teacher and provider described in paragraph (b)(2) of this section is informed of--

(i) His or her specific responsibilities related to implementing the child's IEP; and

(ii) The specific accommodations, modifications, and supports that must be provided for the child in accordance with the IEP.

34 CFR 300, Appendix A, Question 31


• A local educational agency (LEA) must provide each child with a disability a free appropriate public education

(FAPE). An LEA meets its obligation to provide FAPE to a child in part by providing special education, related services, and supplementary aids and services and program modifications or supports for school personnel in conformity with an IEP. The services provided must be stated in the IEP so that the level of the agency's commitment of resources will be clear to parents and other IEP team members. An LEA must ensure that a student is provided with all services required in the child's


Office of Civil Rights

• The U.S. Department of Education (ED) enforces

Section 504 in programs and activities that receive financial assistance from ED. Recipients of this assistance include public school districts, institutions of higher education, and other state and local education agencies. ED maintains an

Office for Civil Rights (OCR), with ten regional offices and a headquarters office in Washington,

D.C., to enforce Section 504 and other civil rights laws that pertain to recipients of ED funds.

Legal Protection and Mandate

• "No otherwise qualified individual with handicaps in the United States . . . shall, solely by reason of her or his handicap, be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving

Federal financial assistance....“

Otherwise Qualified Individuals

• A “qualified individual with a disability” is one who “with or without reasonable modifications to rules, policies, or practices; the removal of architectural, communication, or transportation barriers; or the provision of auxiliary aids and services, meets the essential eligibility requirements for the receipt of services or the participation in programs or activities provided.

• Persons with disabilities are entitled to access programs, services, and activities in the most integrated setting feasible . Programs designed specifically for persons with disabilities are permissible, but cannot preempt their right to participate – with full accommodation – in any regular activity

Repercussions of Refusal

• Regular classroom teachers employed by a school district will have very limited liability exposure in special education so long as the duties assigned to them regarding implementation of the IEP are executed in a legal and appropriate manner.

• Failure to implement the IEP as specified could result in disciplinary action, criminal charges, and civil lawsuits that could result in personal liability exposure.

Repercussion of Refusal

• Accommodations, modifications, behavior intervention plans, and supplementary aids and services are examples of IEP items that are typically the responsibility of the regular classroom teacher.

• IF a parent believes these items have not been implemented, they may file a complaint with the state department of education alleging noncompliance with the IEP.

Repercussion of Refusal

• The state department will launch an inquiry and possible investigation. Typically, if the school district is found to be in noncompliance, a corrective action plan will be developed and the matter is resolved.

• If, however, the parent elects to pursue a due process hearing, one will be held to determine if the district did, in fact, fail to implement the agreed-upon IEP and denied the special education student the entitlement to a "free, appropriate public education" (FAPE).

Costly Repercussions

• If the hearing officer decides that the school district denied the student FAPE, the district will be required to implement the IEP as written, pay attorney's fees and other costs the parent may have incurred and may be required to pay the cost of compensatory services.

The regular education teacher who got sued for not following modifications:

• The case is Doe v. Withers (W. Va., Cir Ct. 1993).

$15,000 was awarded a student with a Learning

Disability from a public school History teacher who refused to implement the IEP, when he refused to allow the student to take his exams orally and untimed. This decision alerts teachers that they must be serious about the knowledge, understanding and implementation of the IEP.

Students and their families often sue ISDs or

School Boards, but this case highlights that an individual teacher may also be targeted.


• Complaint NO. 03-14 8 th grade student with learning disabilities denied FAPE in part due to failure to implement appropriate accommodations.

Corrective action plan: 1) district must submit massive documentation for a period of years 2) training for staff regarding IEP and accommodations 3) compensatory education

Complaint 1617.00

• 4 th grade student with learning disabilities

• Failure to implement IEP (specifically accommodations)

• FAPE denial

• Corrective Action Plan 1) Documentation

2) In-servicing 3) Compensatory Education

NO. 94-4048

• To the parents of all students who are eligible for special education and who have been denied the opportunity to receive a free appropriate education in regular classrooms with individualized supportive services OR have been placed in regular education classrooms without the supportive services, individualized instruction, and accommodations they need to succeed in the regular classroom.

NO. 94-CV-4048 cont.

• Proposed Settlement

– State Department will provide a total of $350,000.00 to the individual plaintiffs to resolve their claims for compensatory education and other relief. The State

Department of Education will pay the plaintiffs’ counsel the sum of $1,825,000.00 for attorney fees and cost.

Gaskin v. Commonwealth. Retrieved 10/13/06 from:


Hidden Disabilities

• Hidden disabilities are physical or mental impairments that are not readily apparent to others. They include such conditions and diseases as specific learning disabilities, diabetes, epilepsy, and allergy. A disability such as a limp, paralysis, total blindness or deafness is usually obvious to others. But hidden disabilities such as low vision, poor hearing, heart disease, or chronic illness may not be obvious.

Learning Disabilities

• A learning disability is a neurological disorder that affects one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using spoken or written language. The disability may manifest itself in an imperfect ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell or to do mathematical calculations.

Learning Disabilities

• Every individual with a learning disability is unique and shows a different combination and degree of difficulties. A common characteristic among people with learning disabilities is uneven areas of ability, “a weakness within a sea of strengths.” For instance, a child with dyslexia who struggles with reading, writing and spelling may be very capable in math and science.

Learning Disabilities

• Generally speaking, people with learning disabilities are of average or above average intelligence. There often appears to be a gap between the individual’s potential and actual achievement. This is why learning disabilities are referred to as “hidden disabilities:” the person looks perfectly “normal” and seems to be a very bright and intelligent person, yet may be unable to demonstrate the skill level expected from someone of a similar age.

Learning Disabilities

• A learning disability cannot be cured or fixed; it is a lifelong challenge. However, with appropriate support and intervention, people with learning disabilities can achieve success in school, at work, in relationships, and in the community.

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Attention Deficit Disorders

• One of the most common childhood-onset conditions is Attention Deficit

Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Up to

7.5% of children and adolescents have been diagnosed with ADHD.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• Over the years, our understanding of ADHD has changed considerably. At the present time, clinicians talk about three different subtypes of

ADHD: (1) children who are primarily inattentive , (2) children whose main problem is impulsivity-hyperactivity , and (3) children who have both inattention and impulsivityhyperactivity problems to a significant degree

(the combined subtype).

Attention Deficit Disorders

• Children with the inattentive subtype of ADHD are less likely to be a "behavior problem" in the classroom than children with the impulsivityhyperactivity subtype, but they are very likely to experience significant academic impact.

• Over 80% of students with the inattentive or combined subtypes experience significant academic impact; those who have the combined subtype experience the most global impairment: academic, behavioral, and social.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• While many students with the impulsive-hyperactive subtype do experience academic and behavioral/social problems, about

30% of students with this subtype are actually superior in their academic skills relative to non-ADHD peers.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• They found that girls with ADHD were more likely than boys to have predominantly inattentive subtype of ADHD.

• When compared to boys with ADHD, girls with

ADHD were less likely to have a learning disability and less likely to experience problems in school or outside of school .

• ADHD girls had lower ratings on hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, and externalizing problems, and had greater intellectual impairment and more internalizing problems than boys with ADHD.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• Up to 85% of children with ADHD may continue to have problems in adolescence. Peer problems that are noted in childhood may persist, and if the

ADHD symptoms also persist into adolescence, the peer impact is even more significant.

Adolescents who have a history of ADHD in their childhood may be more likely to have fewer friends, experience greater peer rejection, and have friends who are less involved in conventional activities.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• A number of studies have attempted to look at the longterm outcomes for children with ADHD. Although there is some variability in the results, it appears that ADHD symptoms remain problematic in two thirds to three quarters of these children in early and middle adolescence, with relative academic and social deficits noted. Antisocial behaviors (and in more severe cases: conduct disorder) may be observed in adolescents with persistent ADHD, and many of these same difficulties persist into late adolescence.

Attention Deficit Disorders

• although ADHD children, as a group, fare poorly when compared with their non-

ADHD peers, ADHD does not preclude attaining high educational and vocational goals, and that most children no longer exhibit clinically significant emotional or behavioral problems once they reach their mid-twenties.


• Accommodations do not fundamentally alter or lower the standards for the course or test, and students using accommodations received credit toward a standard diploma (Klor, p. 33, LRP,


• Modifications “do fundamentally alter or lower the standard for a course or test, and the student may not received credit toward a standard diploma” (34 CFR 300.347; Letter to

Anonymous, 22 IDELR 456 (OSEP 1995),(Klor, p. 33, LRP, 2004).

If a student who qualifies for Special Education does not do his work can he fail the class?

• You can give special education students failing grades, but you must be sure the reason the student is failing the class is NOT because you failed to provide the IDEA-mandated “free, appropriate public education (FAPE)". You must provide these students any IEP approved accommodations, modifications, services, and supports. You must document your compliance with these requirements. (34 CFR 300.300, 34

CFR 300.347). (Klor, p. 37, LRP, 2004)

What is a good/efficient way to document modifications?

• Have a chart for each student receiving modifications based on the a)student’s needs, b) instructional content, and c) performance method expected. For example,

(based on Section 504 and IDEA) use: a) enlarged print, b) note takers, c) extended time, and d) alternate assessments. Document (checkmark) each time they are used by student or keep a copy of the large print material that is dated or have a sign in at an alternative testing facility. Use charts, computer programs, scanning devices, folders, color coding modifications, etc.

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With how much of the IEP should I be familiar?

• As a regular classroom teacher, you are required by law to have knowledge regarding the contents of the IEP for each special education student enrolled in your classes, and you are legally obligated to implement any portions of an IEP that apply to you. To successfully meet this obligation, you should read the IEP for each special education student for whom you deliver instruction in order to fully understand the student's education condition, their instructional needs, any specific activities that have been assigned to you and your classroom, and what, if any, accommodations or modifications you should be implementing.

How can I manage accommodations, modifications, and standards?

• Accommodations enable the student to access the general curriculum and demonstrate his or her knowledge of course-content by making an adjustment to the way the student shows his or her understanding.

• Accommodations are designed to reduce the impact of the disability and increase the likelihood that the students' performances accurately reflect their knowledge of the academic material.

• Modifications allow students with significant limitations in their academic skills to participate in the general curriculum by altering the course content, assignments, or assessments.

• Modifications that fundamentally alter or lower the standards for a class are typically reserved for students whose disabilities are so significant that there is no expectation the student will be pursuing a regular high school diploma.


One of the most frequent questions I get from school personnel is "How do I know if this is a symptom or a behavior?" My usual reply is "Why do you want to know? Is it because if you think it's a behavior, you might use negative consequences, whereas if it's a symptom, you might handle it differently?"

What we call it may matter.

• If you were to think of a particular behavior as a "symptom," do you think it might change your reaction to the behavior or your strategy for handling it? Or what if you still called it

"behavior," but called it an "involuntary" or

"unvoluntary" behavior? Do you think it would change your approach? When someone asks "Is this intentional behavior or involuntary?"


• That behavior is either one or the other

That it is possible for us to know whether the behavior is voluntary or whether it is involuntary

That if it's voluntary behavior, then it is

"intentional" and the person has somehow chosen to engage in the behavior (on the assumption that we have "free will"), and

• That if it's a "symptom," it's involuntary (or unvoluntary)

If he would only apply himself!

• This type of thinking often interferes with developing effective strategies. In my opinion, asking whether a particular behavior is "voluntary" or a "symptom" may be as unhelpful as posing the old "Is it Nature or is it Nurture?" question because -- with the exception of reflexes (like knee jerks) -- most behaviors involve higher-order cortical inputs from the brain and are modifiable on some level. For example, breathing is involuntary in the sense that we usually don't have to think about it, but it is also true that people can learn to regulate or modify their breathing (within limits).

Does that mean that breathing is "voluntary?" Of course not.

If she just tried harder.

The same type of thinking applies when we talk about neurological "symptoms."

Some symptoms may be involuntary, while other symptoms may be primarily involuntary but be modifiable or have a voluntary component to them. Does that mean that they are all "voluntary" behaviors? Of course not.

He just won’t sit still, so he can just sit in the office during recess!

• For many parents, learning that the child has a condition or "medical problem" was both a relief and a source of fear, grief, and guilt. Relief to have a name and an explanation for why the child is acting the way they do and relief that their misbehavior isn't a reflection on their parenting skills, fear for their child's future, and grief over the loss of the perfect child. For many parents, there is also a strong component of guilt as parents berate themselves for all the times they may have scolded the child or punished them for behaviors that they now understand are part of the "diagnosis" or "disorder."

If he would just pay attention…

• Parents who try to explain to the child's school that these "behaviors" are really neurological symptoms are generally doing so because of a fear that the child will be blamed for something that the parent has reason to believe that the child can't help or can't manage easily. They are instinctively trying to protect their child from a system that tends to punish departures from a fairly rigid set of expectations for how children should behave.

He never hands in his homework.

• Just as some parents may "medicalize" or

"overmedicalize" behaviors, some teachers attribute too much voluntary intention to the behavior. One of the most frequent examples I see of this in my work is teachers who, describing a child's tics or compulsions, characterize them as "attention-seeking" behaviors.

In some cases, then, parents and teachers are polarized in their understanding or explanation of the child's behavior. In my experience, disagreements over the cause or voluntary nature of the child's behavior is one of the biggest sources of conflict and disputes between parents of children with neurobehavioral conditions and school personnel.

She can do it, she just isn’t trying hard enough.

• Both parents and teachers need to share the goal of helping the child learn to self-regulate.

If the teacher is stuck in the noncreative "He has to be taught a lesson for this by punishing him" mode, this won't work. The teacher is right on one level: the child does need to be taught something. But what you teach the child and how you teach the child will make a tremendous difference in whether the child learns to self-manage.

He’s just lazy.

• When a child is struggling behaviorally, I take a "no fault" approach to understanding and trying to change things. I start from the premise that for whatever reason, the child or adolescent is predisposed to have particular behaviors, and that in light of those strong predisposing factors, we need to carefully consider what kind of environmental supports the child needs if they are to modulate this behavior.

Techniques To Use With Students


• Maintain eye contact during verbal instruction

• Clear and concise directions

• Simplify complex directions - Avoid multiple commands

• Make sure student comprehends before beginning the task

• Repeat in calm, positive manner, if needed

• Help student feel comfortable in seeking assistance - most won't ask

• Require daily assignment notebook if necessary- make sure assignments are written correctly

• Have Teacher and Parents sign notebook daily to signify completion of homework assignments - use as communication notebook between parents and teachers

• Give out only one task at a time

• Frequently check progress and give defined timelines if long term projects must be assigned

Techniques To Use With Students


• Monitor student frequently - use a supportive attitude

• Consult with Special Ed. personnel to determine specific strengths and weaknesses of the student

• Make sure you are testing knowledge and not attention span

• Give extra time on assignments - don't penalize for needed extra time

• Private tutoring and/or peer tutoring at school

• Class with low student/teacher ratio

• Social and organizational skills training

• Use of word processor or computer for school work

• Prompt notification regarding missing assignments

• Don’t penalize for late assignments

• Avoid long-term “building” assignments (portfolio, journal, etc.)

• Provide option for oral testing or follow up to insure grades are based on knowledge, NOT the disability

Modify Instruction/Learning

Disabilities Student

• Identify the dominant learning style for the student and teach to their strengths (visual or auditory)

• Provide student with outline of information to be covered

• Tape recording when difficulty with writing/note taking

• Concrete examples

• Present new information in small quantities

• Provide notes to student

• List assignments in steps

• Give one or two directions at a time and be specific - ask student to repeat directions to you

• Oral tests

• Multiple choice or true/false tests when appropriate

• Extra testing time

Modify Instruction/Learning

Disabilities Student

• Books on tape

• Highlight important information

• Encourage involvement of student - remember students do best by doing

• Provide frequent reviews

• Additional time on assignments or reduce assignments

• Minimize background noise

• Show the student the end product and explain procedures for getting there

• Provide successful experience and positive reinforcement

• Encourage student to work in study groups or with someone who understands the information.

Modify Instruction/Learning

Disabilities Student

• Block off or fold pages to limit distraction by other information on the page

• Give credit for what is done correctly instead of concentrating on what is wrong; avoid demoralizing remarks on papers in front of peers

• Reduce assignment length and strive for quality rather than quantity.

Difficulty following a plan.

• (student has high aspirations or goals but lacks follow-through.) - Assist the student in setting long-range goals by breaking goals into realistic parts. Use a questioning strategy. Continue asking questions until the student has reached an identified goal. Have the student set clear time lines and establish how much time is needed to accomplish each step. Monitor the student’s progress frequently.

Difficulty sequencing and completing steps to accomplish specific tasks.

• Break task into manageable steps. Provide examples and specific steps to accomplish tasks.

• Shifting from one uncompleted activity to another without closure: Break task into manageable steps. Provide examples and specific steps to accomplish tasks. Define and highlight ‘break points.’

Inappropriate behavior when working with others in class.

• Assign a specific role to the student when he or she is working in small groups.

Provide structure by defining the task, listing the steps necessary to complete the task, and assisting the group to define roles and responsibilities of each group member.

Difficulty following through on instructions.

• Make sure you have the student’s attention before giving instructions.

Use cues to alert the student that important information is about to be given. Accompany oral directions with written directions. Give only one direction at a time. Quietly repeat directions to the student after directions have been given to the rest of the class. Check for understanding by having the student repeat the directions back to you. Place general methods of operation and expectations on charts displayed around the area or provide reference pages for the student to place in an organizational notebook. Develop job or work cards. Use fewer words when explaining directions. Provide examples. Have a peer demonstrate the task to the student.

Difficulty with tasks that require memory.

• Structure activities and assignments so that the student uses visual, auditory, and tactile modes of learning. Allow student to “subvocalize” when completing tasks

Difficulty taking tests.

• Allow the student extra time for testing. Allow the student to be tested orally. Use clear, readable, and uncluttered test forms. Allow enough space for the student to write his/her response. Avoid true false testing. Provide word banks or sentence starters.

Difficulty with written material.

• Provide student with a copy of reading material with main points underlined or highlighted. Provide an outline of important points that is organized by categories. Tape record chapters in a test. Provide more white space between sections of assignments, tests, or reading assignments.

Difficulty with oral presentation.

• Easily confused when provided with spoken information, lectures, or audiovisual materials and has difficulty taking notes. - Provide the student with a copy of the presentation or lecture notes. Allow peers to share copies of notes from presentations for lectures. Provide framed outlines of presentations. Allow the student to tape record presentations for lectures. Emphasize key words, points, phrases, etc.

Difficulty sustaining attention.

• Is easily distracted by stimuli. - Reward the student for sustaining attention. Break activities into small units. Reward the student for timely accomplishments. Cue the student by using physical proximity and touch. Provide a quiet place or preferential seating. Eliminate clutter and distractions.

Poor Handwriting or inability to write.

• Provide a scribe for the student. Grade content, not handwriting. Allow the student to use a computer or special equipment. Shorten assignments and emphasize quality over quantity. Allow student to use tape recorder instead of lengthy written assignments.

Difficulty with interactions.

• Student interacts poorly with adults, defies authority, or engages in passive manipulation. -

Provide the student with frequent and positive attention and feedback when he/she demonstrates appropriate behavior or accomplishes tasks successfully. Talk with the student individually about the inappropriate behavior and its effect. Provide examples of why the behavior is inappropriate such as, “What you are doing is…”

Or, “A better way of getting what you need or want is…”

• Source: Basic Strategies: Meeting the Needs of Vocational Students,

Curriculum and Instructional Materials Center, Sillwater, OK ©1999.


Helpful Resources




• xt.htm

• NDE Accommodations Guidelines