What should teachers know about accommodations for students with disabilities?

Page 2: Types of Accommodations

Young student

More than ever, school personnel are responsible for providing high-quality instruction. This is partially due to federal laws that hold schools accountable for higher academic achievement for all students. To maximize student achievement, school personnel might need to provide additional supports or services for students with disabilities. These include:

  • Instructional accommodations
  • Testing accommodations

Instructional Accommodations

acc_page02_02Instructional accommodations are changes made to the delivery of classroom instruction or to the accompanying materials. Instructional accommodations are not changes to the scope or range of the grade-level content standards, nor are they alterations to the complexity of the knowledge students are expected to learn. Students with disabilities who use instructional accommodations are required to learn the same content at the same level of proficiency as their peers who do not use instructional accommodations. For example, a student who lacks the fine-motor skills needed to physically write a required report could satisfy the grade standard by using an accommodation like speech-recognition software. It should be kept in mind, though, that changing demands throughout the school day mean that a student’s accommodations are likely to differ from one class setting to another. The student in the example above who uses speech recognition software to write a report in language arts could write out the problems in an algebra class where the writing demands are not as great.

Teachers should know their students’ needs. When they are knowledgeable, teachers are more likely to recognize when instructional accommodations are necessary and when accommodations might need to be changed. They are also less likely to create an overdependence on an accommodation.

Candace Cortiella
Director, The Advocacy Institute
Washington, DC

Listen as Candace Cortiella talks about the benefits of knowing a student’s needs and the pitfalls of providing too many accommodations (time: 1:09).

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Testing Accommodations

Testing accommodations are changes that do not affect what a test measures. These could be to the format of a test (e.g., providing a test in large print) or to the administration procedures (e.g., a student might be allowed to mark his or her answers directly in the test booklet instead of filling in the bubble answer sheet). Commonly used testing accommodations include having the test read aloud, allowing extended time, permitting scribes or dictation, and giving the test in a small-group setting.

Glasses, calculator, bubble test sheet, and a broken pencil.

Sometimes, an accommodation is allowable in one condition but not in another. For example, students are generally not allowed to use text readers on sections of reading tests where decoding is being measured. However, if the same student were being tested on vocabulary, she would be allowed to use her text reader because the target skill, vocabulary word usage, would not be compromised by the accommodation. Similarly, an accommodation might be allowed for a classroom assessment but not for a standardized assessment. Each state has policies and regulations that determine allowable accommodations according to the standardized test being administered.

Ideally, students should be familiar with an accommodation before having to use it in a testing situation. In fact, some states require that testing accommodations be made available to the student for a specified amount of time prior to the day of testing.

Martha Thurlow, PhD
Director of the National Center on Educational Outcomes
Institute on Community Integration at the College of Education and Human Development
University of Minnesota

Listen as Martha Thurlow discusses why this is important (time: 0:38).

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Teachers sometimes believe that testing accommodations constitute an unfair advantage. When they are used appropriately, though, this should not be the case. In fact, if students without disabilities used the same accommodations, their scores with and without them should be the same. Though accommodations provide a student with a disability better access to the curriculum, such access does not automatically equate to higher scores on tests or better grades on class assignments. Even with the help of accommodations, the student may not understand the content and successfully demonstrate his or her knowledge.

Ryan Kettler, PhD
Ryan Kettler, PhD
Applied Core Faculty
Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology
Rutgers University

Listen as Ryan Kettler discusses this issue in more detail (time: 3:39).

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For Your Information

  • Many students with disabilities participate in the same assessment as students without disabilities and require no accommodations.
  • The majority of students with disabilities take the same assessment with one or some accommodations.
  • For a small number of students with the most significant cognitive disabilities, testing accommodations might not offer sufficient support. In these cases, an alternate assessment based on alternate academic achievement standards can be used.
  • Some states allow accommodations for all students, and not just those who have an identified disability.

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