What types of accommodations are commonly used for students with disabilities?
Page 4: Selecting an Accommodation
Identifying and selecting instructional and testing accommodations that will allow the student to access learning is the responsibility of the individualized education program (IEP) team. Before the team can select an accommodation to help a student meet his learning goals, however, they must first identify the barrier affecting his academic performance.
Individualized Education Program (IEP) Team
The multidisciplinary team of education and related services professionals that develops and evaluates, along with the students and their parents, the individualized education program plan for each student with a disability. Following is a list of potential IEP team members and their roles.
IEP Team Members: Students age 3–21
IDEA ’04 requires that, at a minimum, multidisciplinary IEP teams include a parent, general education teacher, special education provider, a representative of the school district, and an educational professional who can interpret assessment results.
Parents. The term parent refers to a biological parent, foster parent, legal guardian, or an individual who acts in place of the parent (e.g., grandparent, stepparent, other relative). Parents can provide important information about priorities, strengths, and child needs as well as information about the cultural and developmental appropriateness of goals and intervention strategies.
General education teacher. At least one general educator should be present if the student is participating in general education. As the general education curriculum specialist, this person is responsible for providing the core academic instruction.
Special education teacher or special education provider. At least one special education teacher or provider should be present. An expert in specially designed instruction, accommodations, and curricular modifications, the special education teacher ensures that student performance data are collected and analyzed, and then instruction and intervention are modified accordingly. A special education provider is responsible for implementing the IEP. In addition to the special education teacher, this can include related service personnel, who also provide services outlined in the IEP (see below).
A representative of the school district. This person must be a) qualified to provide or supervise the uniquely designed instruction that will meet the student’s needs, b) knowledgeable about the general education curriculum, and c) knowledgeable about available school resources.
Other professional (e.g., school psychologist). This person’s role is to interpret the assessment results and explain the instructional implications of those results to the team. This role may be filled by any of the school personnel listed above, as appropriate.
Other relevant individuals. At the parent or school district’s discretion, other people who have relevant knowledge or expertise regarding the student can be included, when appropriate.
Student with a disability. Depending on a child’s age, maturity, interest in, and willingness to participate, the student should be included in IEP meetings when appropriate.
Additional team members are determined based on the individual needs of the student (see “Additional Team Members” below).
In addition to the required multidisciplinary team members listed in the table above, other personnel are often needed to address the individualized needs of the student. Related services personnel—each with discipline-specific expertise beyond that of the classroom or special education teachers—are frequently part of the multidisciplinary team and provide these supports.
As you recall from the Challenge, Liam, a middle school student with low vision, struggles to read standard print materials in a timely fashion. Although he reads at grade level, Liam has difficulty finishing science reading assignments in class in the allotted time. At first, his teacher was a bit perplexed: She assumed that Liam’s glasses provided full vision correction. However, after paying closer attention to Liam during reading, she noticed that he still needs to hold reading material close to his face, and even then he squints. As a result, it takes him longer to read a passage. She wonders what type of accommodation will help Liam read text faster or more efficiently.
Accommodations are typically grouped into four categories: presentation, response, setting, and timing and scheduling. The table below summarizes the relationship between barriers related to learning and the corresponding accommodation categories, and it also provides examples of accommodations for each category.
Barrier Related to:
The way information is presented (e.g., text, lecture, video)
Allow a student to access information in ways other than standard visual or auditory means
Change the way that instruction, directions, and information are presented
Books and materials with large print
Visual cues (e.g., color-coded text)
Close-captions on videos
The way in which the student is required to respond (e.g., writing, speech)
Allow students to complete assignments or assessments through ways other than typical verbal or written responses
Orally dictate responses (using a scribe or digital recorder)
The characteristics of the setting (e.g., noise level, lighting)
Allow for a change in the environment or in how the environment is structured
Preferential seating (e.g., near the teacher)
Testing in a separate location
The timing and scheduling of the instruction (e.g., time of day, length of assignment)
Timing and scheduling accommodations
Allow for changes to when and how long students have to complete assignments or assessments
Allow assignments to be broken down into smaller sections
Extended time to complete task
Shorter testing sessions
To address the barrier presented by Liam’s disability—reading standard print—the IEP team decides to provide him with a digital textbook that allows him to enlarge the text (a presentation accommodation). The team hopes this will help him read more efficiently and complete science reading assignments in the allotted time because he will not have to strain to read small print.
For Your Information
Teachers often have first-hand knowledge of what works with the student in their classrooms. For this reason, they are valuable members of the IEP team, play an integral role in this process, and should be active participants.
In addition to considering the type of accommodation that would best support the student given the barrier presented by his disability, the IEP team might also consider and discuss the following to help identify a potentially effective accommodation.
Present levels of academic achievement and functional performance
Individual strengths and needs
Specific learning goals
Academic or social behaviors that interfere with the student’s learning
Modalities (e.g., visual, auditory) that work best for the student
Accommodations that have already been tried (what has and has not worked well)
Some of the challenges presented by the use of these accommodations
How the accommodation will be evaluated to determine whether it is working
Whether the student is amenable to the accommodation and will likely use it
As they try to determine the type of accommodation that will likely support the student, the IEP team should keep in mind that decisions are individualized to the student and should not be based on a specific disability category. Listen as Ryan Kettler, Candace Cortiella, and Martha Thurlow offer suggestions about identifying and selecting accommodations.
Ryan Kettler, PhD Applied Core Faculty Rutgers Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology Rutgers University
Disability status or disability category is not a sufficient way to identify which accommodations will be effective. You really need to dive into the assessment information and find where those functional impairments are that might affect performance or ability to show what one knows he can do on a test. For example, two students might have specific learning disabilities, but one may have a working memory impairment, and that could be addressed through an accommodation like reducing the amount of spread across pages, or reducing the number of answer choices, so that there doesn’t have to be as much information that’s kept in the working memory. Another person might have a specific learning disability and may have a processing speed impairment or really low processing speed, and that student would benefit from having extra time, or would likely benefit. Accommodations decisions should always be made based on not only the individual strengths and weaknesses of the person but also the access skills that are demanded by the instructional activity or by the test. If the demands change, every time you’re considering a new test or a new instructional activity you have to readdress which accommodations are going to be appropriate for that student. Every time that the demands change of the situation—whether it be a test or an instructional situation—there has to be a reevaluation of the access skills that are necessary and whether or not the accommodations are appropriate in that new situation.
Transcript: Candace Cortiella
It’s not unreasonable at all to go through some period of testing out accommodations to see if they do help the student with the access skills, and is the student going to embrace the accommodation. Are they actually going to use it or are they going to reject it in a classroom or test setting? The other thing to remember is that this is not an “if some is good, more is better” situation. I have seen through my work as a parent and as a parent advocate it’s schools and teachers having a standardized menu of accommodations that they want to give students, dictated by the student’s disability category. This is not a good way to go about making accommodations decisions. In fact, it’s not a good idea at all to over-accommodate students. There are a lot of dangers in that, and one of the biggest ones is that they really won’t be learning the content; they’ll just be using their accommodations. And as they grow up and go to college or whatever, they’re not necessarily going to have access to all those accommodations, so it’s not a more-is-better situation.
Transcript: Martha Thurlow, PhD
The three top ones that I think about: Make sure that accommodations are individualized. That’s one. And then two is closely related, and that is don’t assume that what works for one student will work for another student. Nor should you assume that what works for a student in one content area is going to work in a different content area. Definitely, the notion of cutting and pasting is something to be avoided. The individualized is really important here when we think about accommodations. And then my third is a warning to not provide too many accommodations. Check out whether accommodations are doing what is intended by charting, by observing to know what’s really happening with accommodations. Those are my top three.
After they have chosen the appropriate instructional and testing accommodations for a student, the team should document them on the student’s individualized education program (IEP) or 504 plan. Although these vary by state, the forms include several sections where accommodations can be specified: communication and AT special considerations, supplemental aids and services, and assessment sections.
For Your Information
It is important that a student understand his disability and what accommodations can help him in school. By taking part in IEP meetings, the student can begin to learn to speak up for himself and his own needs. A student who is involved in the accommodation selection process tends to use the accommodations more often than one who is not involved. Through this process, the student learns to self-advocate and to make important decisions about his needs that he can then apply on the job or when attending post-secondary education.