Accommodations & Modifications for Students with Disabilities

Accommodations and modifications are supports and tools ranging from the simple, like giving a student a pencil group, to the more complex, like helping a student use a voice-to-text program, that help students with disabilities succeed in their classrooms and their learning.

Accommodations & Modifications

While some students with disabilities might be able to access the curriculum in the same exact way as other students, many students need something changed in order for them to get full access, whether it is as simple as them getting a pencil grip or as significant as them needing to take a different test.

Our goal in special education is for students to participate in the general education curriculum, including general education testing, to the greatest extent possible for each student. For many students, that means we need to make changes to how we present material, how they respond to it, and to the scheduling, setting, and timing of the material. A student might do better if they get to stand during class, to take breaks as needed, to use a calculator on some problems, or to use a word processor rather than handwrite. If these accommodations, these tweaks we make to business as usual in our classrooms, can help a child better access the general education curriculum and assessments, than we need to provide them!

Accommodations and modifications are the non-instructional supports we provide to students to help them succeed. They are in the IEP to guarantee that students get the supports they need across teachers and settings within a school. Accommodations and modifications apply even at lunch and PE when they are relevant (like a pencil grip, not so relevant but preferential seating might be!)

Accommodations are when a student can take the same test, do the same work as the other students, but might need the timing, formatting, setting, scheduling, response, or presentation altered. That might mean they take the same test but get an extra half hour to do it or it might mean that they get to type their test answers instead of handwriting them. The key takeaway is that, for accommodations, the content of the test and the work are the same. Accommodations change how a student learns the material, not what they are learning. Modifications are different. When students get modifications, what a student is taught or expected to learn changes. The student might be taking an easier test or even being tested on a different standard.

Think about giving a student a pencil grip. That grip will help them do well on a writing task, but it doesn’t really change what the student is being asked. Now imagine that instead you give them a voice dictation program– and then grade them on their writing fluency! That would be a modification because you have changed what the student is being asked to do and reduced the learning expectations for the activity.

In terms of state testing, the big difference is that accommodations don’t count against a student. You can give a student every single listed accommodation and their state test score will still be treated just like everyone else’s test score. Modifications, however, count against students in state testing in that their score then comes with an asterisk. In many places, the scores of students who tested with modifications aren’t grouped with the scores of other students. Only give a student a modification on a state test if you truly believe that the student cannot do the test without it and you, and the full IEP team, are okay with their test score being treated differently.

There are many different lists of accommodations and modifications! Here are a few: 


Accommodations and modifications are, typically, spelled out two to three places on an IEP.

  • Participation in Assessments: The first is the testing accommodations section, where you check or write in all accommodations a student needs for assessments.  One of the big caveats for this section is that any accommodation or modification you list for state testing HAS to be given to the student for classroom testing– don’t put something down as a state testing accommodation unless 1) the student really needs it and 2) you are all prepared to offer it at every test!
  • Services and Supplemental Aids: This is where you list all of the non-testing accommodations and modifications. For example, graphic organizers or a visual schedule would go here but not in testing. Note that frequency for delivery is often “as needed,” rather than “daily” as students don’t need every accommodation every day! Many of the testing accommodations, however, are also classroom accommodations. If your district just has you check boxes for testing accommodations, it might be a good idea to describe those accommodations more here. This section normally has space for you to write out what a student needs in detail–and you want any teacher picking up the IEP to know EXACTLY what a student needs to succeed!
  • Special Factors: If any of the accommodations include assistive technology, they need to also be listed in special factors. Check the AT box and write out what a student needs here as well.


Never put an untested accommodation or modification in an IEP! What goes in an IEP becomes required for that student so make sure first that the accommodation or modification works for the student! 

Here are some tips on how to do that:

  • Page 47 of the Accommodations Manual from the organization of state officers has a checklist to help you think about what accommodations a student might need. Pages 102-103 of the Maryland State manual has a similar form.
  • Pages 49-50 of the Accommodations Manual has an interview form you can use with students to help figure out what accommodations they think they might need.
  • Here is a screen shot of what the Maryland version of that form looks like. It comes from page 105 of their manual


The State of Maryland (seriously, a great guide!) includes these questions:

  1. What accommodations are used by the student during instruction and assessments? 
  2. What are the results of classroom assignments and assessments when accommodations are used versus when accommodations are not used? If a student did not meet the expected level of performance, is it due to not having access to the necessary instruction, not receiving the accommodations, or using accommodations that were ineffective? 3. What is the student’s perception of how well the accommodation worked? 
  3. What combinations of accommodations seem to be effective? 
  4. What are the difficulties encountered in the use of accommodations?
  5. What are the perceptions of teachers, parents, and others about how the accommodation appears to be working? (4-24)

The state also recommends asking students about whether the accommodation helped them, using a form like this:

The State of Maryland has an exceptionally useful (and long!!!) manual on accommodations and modifications that includes this helplful chart of Dos and Don’ts for Accommodations

Maryland Accommodations Manual, page 96.