You’ve heard about accommodations at school, but just what are they? Is it fair for kids to use accommodations? Who gets to have them?

Accommodations in the General Education Classroom

Just because your child may have trouble reading, or doing math, or writing legibly doesn’t mean that he’s not able to learn. Accommodations don’t change the basic curriculum, but they do make learning a little easier or help him communicate what he knows.

If your child has an Individualized Education Program (IEP) and receives special education, she’s probably getting accommodations in her regular public school classroom. Or, she may be receiving accommodations under Section 504, a federal law that prevents discrimination. In either case, the multidisciplinary team agreed on and documented the accommodations necessary for her to succeed in the general education classroom.

Many general education teachers make accommodations in their classes for any kid who’s struggling. If this isn’t happening for your child, a parent-teacher conference is a good time to discuss whether accommodations would be appropriate.

When thinking about accommodations, be sure to focus on your child’s main needs. Remember that what might have worked for you in school may not work for him. Many parents ask for extra time on tests for their kids. But if you asked your child, he might tell you that what he really needs is to be able to retake the test or to take it in a quiet room with no distractions.

With his help, identify two or three reasonable accommodations that could make a real difference for him in all classes. You’ll find that many of the suggestions below apply at home, too. By trying some of them out before you meet with the teacher, you’ll be in a better position to know what really works for your child. Include him in your discussion with the teacher, too. If accommodations are going to work, your child has to “buy in” and be willing to use them.

Examples of Accommodations

Physical arrangement of the classroom

  • Provide preferential seating, e.g., seated near the front of the room and away from distractions if such a location helps her maintain better focus.
  • Stand near her when giving instructions.
  • Have the daily routine in writing where it’s easy to see
  • Include opportunities for physical activity in the schedule.

Instruction

  • Allow tape recording of lectures.
  • Provide a written outline of material covered.
  • Use overhead and other visual media with oral instruction.
  • Incorporate technology, e.g., computers, calculators, videos.
  • Accept typed or word-processed assignments.
  • Allow oral or audio taped assignments.
  • Individualize assignments, e.g., length, number, due date, topic.
  • Use peer tutoring.
  • Teach specific study skills, e.g., organization, note taking.

Testing

  • Provide practice questions for study.
  • Give open book tests.
  • Allow one page of notes to be used during testing.
  • Vary the format of test.
  • Read questions aloud.
  • Allow student to respond to questions orally.
  • Allow use of technology, e.g., calculator, word-processor.
  • Provide extra time to complete test.
  • Give parts of test in more than one sitting.
  • Allow opportunity to take test in another room or at another time of day.
  • Allow student to retake test.
  • Give more frequent short quizzes and fewer long tests.

Grades

  • Mark correct answers rather than mistakes.
  • Base grades on modified standards, e.g., IEP objectives, effort, amount of improvement, content rather than spelling.
  • Specify the skills he’s mastered rather than give a letter grade.

Homework

  • Limit homework to a certain amount of time spent productively, rather than an amount of work to be completed.
  • Give modified assignments.
  • Allow extra credit assignments.
  • Allow him to work on homework at school.
  • Provide written explanation of homework assignments.
  • Select a “study buddy” who can copy assignments or clarify by phone.
  • Give reminders about due dates for long-term assignments.
  • Develop reward system for work completed and turned in.

Home-School Communication

  • Develop a daily or weekly home-school communication system, e.g., notes, check list, voice mail, or email.
  • Mail assignment sheets directly to home.
  • Hold periodic student-teacher meetings.
  • Schedule regular parent-teacher meetings.

Remember: Accommodations aren’t intended to take the place of real learning or instruction in basic skills. Instead, they provide ways for kids with learning problems to take in information or help them express their knowledge.