Adaptations vs. Modifications in Special Education

Special education students may need adaptations and modifications to help them learn.
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The terms “adaptations” and “modifications” have specific meanings in special education. Adaptations make provisions for special education students to adapt to the learning environment without modifying course curriculum standards. However, special education students who receive modifications are allowed to have the curriculum fit their individual needs, and teachers are able to evaluate them on different grading scales than general education students. Both adaptations and modifications aid special education students in their learning.

1 Adaptations and Accomodations

Adaptations are also referred to as accommodations. The AccessSTEM-University of Washington website reports that accommodations are used when there are alterations of environment or use of equipment allowing students to gain access to content or to complete assigned tasks. Accommodations, for example, allow students to respond by computer texts or sign language, have extended time for assignments and read required texts in large print. Because accommodations alter only the environment and not what is taught, teachers utilize the same grading scales as they do for students without learning disabilities.

2 Modifications

Modifications for students who have been diagnosed with a learning disability do change the standards of the instruction and how students are evaluated. These students are not expected to master the same academic content as general education students in the same grade level. The website reports that teachers, for example, can modify a student's curriculum by assigning projects instead of written reports and by rewording high-level questions in simpler language.

3 Test Accomodations and Modifications

Modifications on assessments are made for students who do not have extensive cognitive disabilities, have access to grade-level instruction and are not likely to reach grade-level proficiency in the same time frame as their classmates. According to the New York State Education Department, reasonable testing adaptations include providing students extra time to complete their exam, placing students in a test-taking area with few distractions, offering different ways to respond to test questions, and changing the way in which the test is presented. Test accommodations have to be included on the student's Individual Education Plan (IEP) prior to testing.

4 Legal Implications

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act mandates that all students with disabilities be afforded with a free and appropriate public education. After 2004, the No Child Left Behind Act did not permit modifications on state and national assessments, but the 2015 Every Child Succeeds Act put the power back into the hands of parents and teachers. They have the ability to decide on which if any standardized tests their student with a disability will take, as long as they're complying with state and local guidelines. Teachers, in making modifications in classroom work, are permitted to ask fewer questions on assignments or allow students to work at lower grade levels by providing challenging work to students that meet their academic levels in reading comprehension and math.

Dr. Nesa Sasser has served as teacher, school counselor, principal, and college professor. She earned a BBA in accounting from Texas A&M University; an MS in counseling; and an Ed.D. in educational leadership both from Texas A&M Univeristy-Commerce. Her dissertation related to Teacher Quality and Alternative Certification in Texas.