Joy Zabala, wise leader of QIAT and key developer of the SETT framework, recently described the distinction between modifications and accommodations this way:
An ACCOMMODATION does not change the essential outcome of the task (for example, an essay or some sort of written product). It is essentially completing the same task in a different way…the accommodation is HOW the task is accomplished… an essay is an essay whether it is dictated, written by hand, written on a portable word processor, written on a computer, etc. … A MODIFICATION, however, is a change in the essential elements of the outcome. For example, most students are writing an essay and, since James cannot produce written work at the same rate or ligibility as the other students, he is only required to write a topic sentences and include two details under each. The thing about a modification is that the opportunity to learn is impacted – usually not in a positive way. With an accommodation, the student is still expected to reach the same outcomes as the other students and the level to which those outcomes are achieved is, at least in part, a level to which the accommodation is effective.Thus… whenever possible, we should make strong attempts to accommodate the special learning needs of students BEFORE we modify the tasks that they are expected to do and the outcomes they are expected to achieve.
Understanding how our efforts to serve students might impact their learning is KEY. In my own son’s case, the one thing that often is highly charged (and often overlooked) is the impact on his sense of self as a learner whenever his assignments are modified due to his learning challenges. Joy’s words, above, will go with me to the next IEP meeting, to help others understand this.