The Differences Between Accommodations and Modifications

By Dr. Matt McNiff

Students on IEPs or 504 plans often have the words “accommodations” and “modifications” sprinkled about. Frequently, the two terms are used interchangeably and although they sound similar, they serve different purposes.

  • Accommodations change how the student learns the educational material. Accommodations help students learn the same material and meet the same expectations as their peers. Accommodations are NOT a reason for special education and should be considered for many of the students in your class to diversify your educational opportunities to learn.
  • Modifications change what a student is expected to learn or is taught. Students may need changes to the curriculum if they are far behind their peers. Students who receive modifications are often not expected to learn the same material as their classmates. Modifications are a hallmark of special education.

Below are some examples throughout the school day that you might find helpful to understand the difference:


Classroom Instruction


A student with reading issues may listen to a recording of the text or may have more time to read through the material or may have the words enlarged to reduce the clutter on a page.


A student may receive a shortened assignment or a reading assignment at a different grade level.

Classroom Tests

A student may use a spell checker during writing assignments, but not during a spelling assignment. The student may have the test read to them or have the information on a computer. Students may also get extra time to complete the exam or use a quiet location to take the test.

During testing, modifications would often involve the student covering less material or material that is less complex. For example, a student may have less spelling words or be given different spelling words entirely. The test may have only half the questions. Simply put, the information that the student is tested on is different than that of their peers.

Standardized Assessment

Statewide assessments often allow for accommodations through the computer like using a calculator, extra time, using a quiet location, or being able to highlight the text. The student is taking the same test as their peers.

This would be using an alternate assessment for the statewide test. Very few students use this but the material is much different than that of their peers.

Specials - PE, Music, Art

These accommodations are very similar to the regular classroom. Students may get extended time or be allowed to do the activity in a different location or at a different time. Students might be given opportunities to redo their assignments or have extra practice opportunities.

Modifications in PE, Music, or Art might be providing the student with different materials or easier music to learn or less demanding physical activities.