At the elementary school level, accommodations for students are designed to enable children’s participation in classroom assignments. For students with disabilities, these learning accommodations can be the difference between meaningful educational progress and failure to achieve goals at school. Elementary schools work closely with teachers and parents to ensure student needs are met with relevant accommodations.
Here’s how learning accommodations help students achieve in the classroom.
What are Learning Accommodations?
Accommodations help children learn more effectively–they don’t change content, although they can change methodology. Children who receive accommodations don’t study different topics or concepts.
Considering the way accommodations work, it’s important to keep the following in mind:
- Accommodations are distinct from modifications: Modifications change the ‘what’ of content, but don’t change the ‘how,’ or the methodology of student learning.
- Outcomes remain unchanged: Goals and desired outcomes for learning stay the same, whether or not students have learning accommodations.
- Assignments stay the same: Having the same exams and projects as their peers, students with accommodations are required to complete the same work, although they can have different assistance or methods for completion.
Learning accommodations are very individualized, so it’s essential to find out what’s right for every student before making any changes.
How do Educators Identify the Right Modifications for Students?
During the course of the student’s classwork, educators may notice learning challenges or parents may express their concerns. Samples of work, exam results and classroom observation may all be factors in the choice of specific modifications. In some instances, professionals who are working with the child as healthcare providers or therapists may notice learning disabilities and recommend that the child’s school perform testing or observe the student. Once the school is aware, the student can be referred for further examination and tests, if necessary, to confirm a diagnosis or to further define the accommodations that may be needed.
For instance, children are tested to:
- Determine strengths and weaknesses: What subjects, learning techniques or skills is the student strong or weak in?
- See how student needs align with content standards: How do the child’s disabilities impact their ability to meet content standards for their own grade?
- Create their IEP/504 plan: Student Individualized Educational Plans (IEP) and 504 plans spell out specific accommodations children should receive.
Once an effective plan is in place with accommodations for the student, educators may strategically implement the accommodation plan.
Elementary Education Accommodation Examples
Reflecting the diversity of different abilities in the classroom, accommodations may differ and be as individual as the students themselves. Accommodations may be offered for a single class, more than one course or even for the entire school day. Teachers are provided information about a student’s accommodation needs in the child’s IEP.
It’s essential for student success that teachers do whatever they reasonably can to provide accommodations. In most cases, accommodations are not optional and teachers must be able to show that they’re fully complying with accommodations requirements.
- Setting: Students may be able to use a different setting for their learning. For instance, a student with attention challenges may be provided a quiet room separated from her peers where she can take her exams.
- Time: Different timing, scheduling and length of time may be offered. A student who struggles with reading his quiz, for example, may receive extra time to do the work.
- Presentation: Providing a different format for delivering information may be helpful to some students. If, for instance, a student has vision challenges, she may be provided an audiobook instead of the paperback version of a required text.
- Response and input: Students who need an alternative means of responding may receive an accommodation. An example of this is providing an online exam for a student who struggles with handwriting, so they can use a keyboard instead of having to write with a pencil and paper.
A large variety of specific accommodations are available. Here are just a few that elementary schools frequently use:
- At-home use textbooks
- Books with large print
- Use of notes and outlines to complete a task
- Special review sessions
- Tape recorder for class sessions and lectures
- Specific seating in the classroom
- Tolerance for imperfect handwriting or for spelling errors on homework
- Immediate feedback from teachers, daily check-ins with a case manager or special education instructor
- Untimed testing
- Open-book or open-notes exams
- Calculator use or access to a word processor
- Internet use
- Use of manipulatives or similar tools by the student for visualizing and working with abstract concepts
- Choices in exam and assignment formats
- Pass or fail course options
Many other types of accommodations are available depending on the needs and specific abilities of the student. Educators consult with administration, the child’s healthcare professionals, therapists and other professionals to tailor accommodations to individual students, as applicable. These accommodations may be altered or applied only in certain contexts or courses. In any case, the student’s needs are the primary consideration.
What Happens if Learning Accommodations Don’t Help?
On an ongoing basis, parents and educators should be watching student progress. Being ready to make needed changes is an important part of providing students with learning accommodations. When it becomes obvious that a specific accommodation isn’t working, it’s up to the student’s educational team to be prepared.
The student’s IEP or other educational plan may be updated and further testing or observation may be done to determine if another accommodation would work better. Otherwise, the student may need a modification instead — in that case, it’s possible a different curriculum is needed or learning content should be adjusted.
This all requires close communication and collaboration among students, parents and educators. Each team member should keep the others updated and aware of new information and adjustments. Coordination is necessary to ensure that reasonable efforts are made and that new accommodation needs are recognized.