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Accommodations Manual: How to Select, Administer, and Evaluate Use of Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment of Students with Disabilities

Step 2. Learn about Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment

What Are Accommodations?

Accommodations are practices and procedures in the areas of presentation, response, setting, and timing/scheduling that provide equitable access during instruction and assessments for students with disabilities.

Accommodations are intended to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a student's disability; they do not reduce learning expectations. The accommodations provided to a student must be the same for classroom instruction, classroom assessments, and district and state assessments. It is critical to note that although some accommodations may be appropriate for instructional use, they may not be appropriate for use on a standardized assessment. There may be consequences (e.g., lowering or not counting a student's test score) for the use of some accommodations during state assessments. It is very important for educators to become familiar with state policies regarding accommodations during assessments.

Typically, accommodation use does not begin and end in school. Students who use accommodations will generally also need them at home, in the community, and as they get older, in postsecondary education and at work. Accommodations for instruction and assessment are integrally intertwined.

Description of Accommodations Categories

Accommodations are commonly categorized in four ways: presentation, response, setting, and timing and scheduling:

  • Presentation Accommodations—Allow students to access information in ways that do not require them to visually read standard print. These alternate modes of access are auditory, multi-sensory, tactile, and visual.
  • Response Accommodations—Allow students to complete activities, assignments, and assessments in different ways or to solve or organize problems using some type of assistive device or organizer.
  • Setting Accommodations—Change the location in which a test or assignment is given or the conditions of the assessment setting.
  • Timing and Scheduling Accommodations—Increase the allowable length of time to complete an assessment or assignment and perhaps change the way the time is organized.

Refer to Fact Sheets 1-4 for specific examples of accommodations in these categories.

Modifications or Alterations vs. Accommodations

Accommodations do not reduce learning expectations. They provide access. However, modifications or alterations refer to practices that change, lower, or reduce learning expectations. Modifications can increase the gap between the achievement of students with disabilities and expectations for proficiency at a particular grade level. Using modifications may result in implications that could adversely affect students throughout their educational career. Examples of modifications include:

  • requiring a student to learn less material (e.g., fewer objectives, shorter units or lessons, fewer pages or problems),
  • reducing assignments and assessments so a student only needs to complete the easiest problems or items,
  • revising assignments or assessments to make them easier (e.g., crossing out half of the response choices on a multiple-choice test so that a student only has to pick from two options instead of four), or
  • giving a student hints or clues to correct responses on assignments and tests.

Providing modifications to students during classroom instruction and/or classroom assessments may have the unintended consequence of reducing their opportunity to learn critical content. If students have not had access to critical, assessed content, they may be at risk for not meeting graduation requirements. Providing a student with a modification during a state accountability assessment may constitute a test irregularity and may result in an investigation into the school's or district's testing practices.

Step 3. Select Accommodations for Instruction and Assessment for Individual Students

To assure students with disabilities are engaged in standards-based instruction and assessments, every IEP team member must be knowledgeable about the state and district academic content standards and assessments. Effective decision-making about the provision of appropriate accommodations begins with making good instructional decisions. In turn, making appropriate instructional decisions is facilitated by gathering and reviewing good information about the student's disability and present level of performance in relation to local and state academic standards. In essence, the process of making decisions about accommodations is one in which members of the IEP team attempt to "level the playing field" so that students with disabilities can participate in the general education curriculum. IEP team meetings that simply engage people in checking boxes on a state or local "compliance" document are neither conducive to sound decision-making practices, nor do they advance equal opportunities for students to participate in the general education curriculum.

Documenting Accommodations on a Student's IEP

For students with disabilities served under IDEA, determining appropriate instructional and assessment accommodations should not pose any particular problems for IEP teams that follow good IEP practices. With information obtained from the required summary of the student's present level of educational performance (PLEP), the process of identifying and documenting accommodations should be a fairly straightforward event. The PLEP is a federal requirement in which IEP team members must state "how the child's disability affects the child's involvement and progress in the general education curriculum—the same curriculum as non-disabled children" [Sec. 614 (d) (1) (A) (i) (I)].

Depending on the design and overall format of a typical IEP, there are potentially three areas in which accommodations can be addressed:

  1. "Consideration of Special Factors" [Sec. 614 (d) (3) (B)]. This is where communication and assistive technology supports are considered
  2. "Supplementary Aids and Services" [Sec. 602 (33) and Sec. 614 (d) (1) (A) (i)]. This area of the IEP includes "aids, services, and other supports that are provided in regular education classes or other education-related settings to enable children with disabilities to be educated with non-disabled children to the maximum extent appropriate
  3. "Participation in Assessments" [Sec. 612 (a) (16)]. This section of the IEP documents accommodations needed to facilitate the participation of students with disabilities in general state and district-wide assessments.

Documenting Accommodations on a Student's 504 Plan

Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires public schools to provide accommodations to students with disabilities even if they do not qualify for special education services under IDEA. The definition of a disability under Section 504 is much broader than the definition under IDEA. All IDEA students are also covered by Section 504, but not all Section 504 students are eligible for services under IDEA. Section 504 states:

No otherwise qualified individual with a disability in the United States shall, solely by reason of her or his disability, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance. [29 U.S.C. Sec. 794]

Examples of students who may receive assessment accommodations based on their 504 accommodations plan include students with

  • communicable diseases (e.g., hepatitis);
  • temporary disabilities from accidents who may need short term hospitalization or homebound recovery;
  • allergies or asthma;
  • drug or alcoholic addictions, as long as they are not currently using illegal drugs;
  • environmental illnesses; or
  • attention difficulties.

Involving Students in Selecting, Using, and Evaluating Accommodations

It is critical for students with disabilities to understand their disabilities and learn self-advocacy strategies for success in school and throughout life. Some students have had limited experience expressing personal preferences and advocating for themselves. Speaking out about preferences, particularly in the presence of "authority figures," may be a new role for students, one for which they need guidance and feedback. Teachers and other IEP team members can play a key role in working with students to advocate for themselves in the context of selecting, using, and evaluating accommodations.

The more that students are involved in the selection process, the more likely the accommodations will be used, especially as students reach adolescence and the desire to be more independent increases. Self-advocacy skills become critical here. Students need opportunities to learn which accommodations are most helpful for them, and then they need to learn how to make certain those accommodations are provided in all of their classes and wherever they need them outside of school.

Determining the Consequences of Assessment Accommodations Use

When selecting accommodations for state assessments with a student, it is important to look at state policies and procedures to determine whether use of an accommodation results in consequences on a state test (e.g., lowering or not counting a student's score). Assessment accommodations that result in adverse consequences are commonly referred to as modifications, adaptations, alterations, and nonstandard or nonapproved accommodations (Thurlow & Wiener, 2000). The terminology can be confusing and terms may have different meanings in various contexts.

Questions To Guide Accommodation Selection

Selecting accommodations for instruction and assessment is the role of a student's IEP team or 504 plan committee. Use the questions provided below to guide the selection of appropriate accommodations for students receiving special education services or a 504 plan for the first time and for students who are currently using accommodations:

  • What are the student's learning strengths and areas of further improvement?
  • How do the student's learning needs affect the achievement of grade-level content standards?
  • What specialized instruction (e.g., learning strategies, organizational skills, reading skills) does the student need to achieve grade-level content standards?
  • What accommodations will increase the student's access to instruction and assessment by addressing the student's learning needs and reducing the effect of the student's disability? These may be new accommodations or accommodations the student is currently using.
  • What accommodations are regularly used by the student during instruction and assessments?
  • What are the results for assignments and assessments when accommodations were used and not used?
  • What is the student's perception of how well an accommodation "worked?"
  • Are there effective combinations of accommodations?
  • What difficulties did the student experience when using accommodations?
  • What are the perceptions of parents, teachers, and specialists about how the accommodation worked?
  • Should the student continue to use an accommodation, are changes needed, or should the use of the accommodation be discontinued?

Of the accommodations that match the student's needs, consider

  • the student's willingness to learn to use the accommodation,
  • opportunities to learn how to use the accommodation in classroom settings, and
  • conditions for use on state assessments.

Plan how and when the student will learn to use each new accommodation. Be certain there is ample time to learn to use instructional and assessment accommodations before an assessment takes place. Finally, plan for the ongoing evaluation and improvement of the student's use of accommodations.

Refer to Fact Sheets 5 and 6 and Teacher Tools 1 and 2 for additional information in completing this step.

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