Accommodations are provisions made in how a student accesses the curriculum and demonstrates learning. They do not substantially change the instructional level, the content or the performance criteria.
In other words, they are the things that we do on a regular basis to help children deal with the demands of the curriculum. Accommodations are made on an ongoing basis and are just another part of what is considered to be “good teaching”.
Accommodations would include such things as: time & pacing of assignments, the use of assistive technology, reduced workload, alternative assessment techniques, etc.
Modifications are substantial changes in what a student is expected to learn and demonstrate. These changes provide a student with the opportunity to participate meaningfully in a variety of learning experiences and environments. The student may be given different materials, or expectations of learning may be greatly altered.
Modifications would include: alternative curriculum, simplified content, omitting difficult assignments, working at a different grade level, etc.
Are Accommodations Fair?
Imagine that you needed to wear corrective lenses to read and write, but during exams your instructor announces that you must remove your corrective lenses as there will be no unfair advantage given to students who wear glasses! Just as some students need glasses, hearing aids, or an FM system to help them learn, others need a reduced workload, the use of assistive technology, or other accommodations in order to successfully accomplish the curricular expectations for their grade. Fair does not mean “the same for all”!
Accommodations allow students to demonstrate what they have achieved without constantly being held back by the learning difficulties they experience. Using a calculator on a test designed to measure basic computational skills would be unfair, but using a calculator on a test designed to measure a student’s understanding of a theory, steps or procedures would be a very appropriate accommodation.