Accommodations and Modifications and Educational Lingo–OH MY!

I recently was sitting in a meeting and heard words like accommodation and modification being used interchangeably and I sat wondering if we as educators speak as clearly as we should. Education is its own world or entity and sometimes those of us who dwell here forget that not everyone has the background or understands our unique “lingo.”  This blog entry will focus on clarifying academic terminology which is often misused or misunderstood.

First, the terms accommodation and modification which are similar because they both are designed to help a student be successful and mandated with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  The purpose of this law is to ensure all children have available and free appropriate public education specifically our special education students. Under this law, teachers and schools are required to provide both accommodations and modifications to students as needed to ensure that they are successful.  The main difference in these two words is that one changes the material or expectation while the other changes the environmental conditions. An accommodation is only changing how a student learns the material by allowing extra time, or giving more breaks. A modification is actually changing the material or expectation for the student. Seeing these definitions side by side, you can see the importance of clarifying in a conference or meeting the difference between the two. If you share with your principal that a child needs an accommodation, you are stating that the child can meet grade level expectations but needs you to level the playing field with environmental or procedural changes. If you are stating a child needs a modification, then you are explaining that the child cannot meet grade level expectations so you must change the material for success. Big difference!

chart accom

The second terms I would like to clarify are remediation and intervention which are similar in that they are both addressing weaknesses in a student’s education but should NOT be used interchangeably.  Remediation is a synonym for re-teaching and can be used reciprocally.  Remediation refers to  providing extra help or assistance to a child who did not previously master material when it was taught or they may have misunderstood a topic.  Most students need remediation at some point during their academic journey.  They may need material reviewed or small group help on a particular math problem or simply a peer tutor to review vocabulary they did not comprehend. Remediation is temporary and is not needed at all times.  It is a response to a child who needs to hear the material again.  Intervention is a more serious and targeted assistance. Intervention is provided to a small population of students unable to meet the challenge of daily curriculum and grade level expectations even with modifications and accommodations. Students who receive intervention are not responding to the normal class instruction (CORE) and routine remediation of material.  Intervention is provided for students who are several grade levels behind, receiving extra help AND are still not making adequate progress.  Interventions are not simply reviewing material or a quick impromptu lesson but are research based and targeted to a specific deficit which has been identified through assessment data.


This leads me to the term progress monitoring which is similar to a temperature check. A teacher uses progress monitoring (a quick assessment or check) to ensure that students are making progress towards learning goals.  The best progress monitoring tools are  standardized or Common Formative Assessment to determine progress. Remember that interventions are the activities and lessons you are using to help the student and progress monitoring is the tool you are using to determine if the interventions are successful.


When you hear the acronym MTSS, it probably begins a wordle in  your brain of terminology that is coming forth in education.  I hope this clarifies a few confusing terms that are being readily used in our transition to the MTSS process.  The list of words to cover is expansive but I will leave you with these today.


Research Resources

Acccomodations and Modifications  from Wrightslaw accessed on February 6, 2016






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