When parents start looking into special education laws and resources, they most likely feel inundated with a whole new language. There are many terms with which parents may be unfamiliar, and it can be difficult to decode some laws as well as school district policies. However, by understanding exactly what all the terms mean, parents can feel truly empowered to get their children the help that they need.
In general, accommodations are changes in the classroom or in the learning or testing environment that help the child gain knowledge and successfully demonstrate this learning. The student will still be gaining the same information that his or her peers are, but he or she will be able to learn the same information through a slightly different format. For example, the student may be able to test orally rather than in writing and may be able to take longer than his or her peers for tests. Students may be able to learn visually rather than through textbooks or may be able to sit in a different area of the classroom to learn best. Accommodations show up most noticeably in gym class and in the arts where students most often need to demonstrate ability far differently than their peers do.
On the other hand, modifications are changes to the curricula. The student may be instructed at a lower level or may not have to pass as rigorous of a test as his or her peers do to pass into the next grade. The student may not learn as much as other students do and may have different instructional content in class. Examples could include having easier books for a reading class, having fewer spelling words, reducing the amount of higher math that is required or having an alternate assessment in lieu of standardized testing.