Accommodations Translated, Part II

In “Accommodations Translated Part I,” we introduced several key distinctions. We explained the four categories: setting, presentation, response, and timing. We also discussed the difference between accommodations and modifications, as they relate to special education services. To continue our parent’s guide to classroom accommodations, we hope to explain a few of the more ambiguous terms, while still stressing the importance of open communication between parents and teachers when discussing IEP/504 accommodations.

What is it? When is it used? How is it helpful?
Flash pass Flash passes are used as a discreet means of signaling a student’s need to leave the classroom to take a “brain break” or cool down. They can be used for students with emotional disabilities, anxiety, ADHD, and health issues, among other things. Flash passes allow students the opportunity to hit the “reset” button during times of stress or when emotionally triggered. Flash passes often allow students to quietly leave to visit a break/cool down room, nurse’s office, counselling department, or resource room. It helps students self-assess and regulate their emotions by providing them with an additional means of calming down before a breakdown.
Scribe and/or oral response When a disability complicates a student’s ability to write, like dysgraphia, for example, a human scribe means that a teacher or support staff will write the response or passage as the student dictates. The response is the student’s genuine response, but without the complication of physically writing it down. This ensures that students are evaluated on their knowledge and understanding, just like every other student, but without the barrier of their disability. This accommodation also helps to build self-esteem because students’ ability to respond is not limited by their capacity to write.
Reduced workload Reduced workload is tricky because, if the learning goals or standards are reduced, this becomes a modification, not an accommodation. However, many students with identified learning disabilities may benefit from the accommodation, so long as the learning objectives are still assessed and met. If a student has a condition that limits his or her ability to maintain focus for lengthy periods of time, a reduced workload will help.  Essentially, with reduced workload, students are expected to meet the same objectives by using the same methods, but will be required to produce fewer examples, answers, paragraphs, etc. For instance, a student with PANDAS, for whom extended focus could trigger physical symptoms, teachers may require that student to write a 3paragraph essay, as opposed to 5 paragraphs. The student is still accountable for meeting writing standards for introducing, supporting, and concluding a topic; however, the additional body paragraphs are not required to demonstrate mastery. 
Chunking Chunking assignments and tasks is used when students struggle to tackle multi-step tasks or projects due to attention issues, executive functioning deficits, etc. While chunking is a “best practice,” meaning that teachers use this routinely for all students, it is not guaranteed unless documented in a student’s IEP. For a biology project or argumentative essay, for example, a teacher would break down the assignment into manageable daily/weekly steps.  Chunking works to benefit students in several ways. It makes the complex task seem more manageable and less daunting by breaking it into practical, feasible steps. It also helps students explicitly organize the workload by telling them in what order the steps should be completed. This is especially helpful for students with executive functioning deficits, because they often lack the skills necessary to organize complex tasks independently. Finally, chunking helps students manage their time with realistic checkpoints and soft due dates. Teachers are able to mitigate any struggles during the learning process and help simplify steps if necessary.  
Extended time Extended time, as it sounds,  allows students to have additional time to complete and/or submit assessments and assignments. This accommodation is frequently used when students struggle with attention issues, organization, processing disorders, etc.  Additional time, which could mean anything from 50-100% extended time past the due date, is meant to ensure that students are evaluated based on their abilities without their disability interfering. One major aspect that the IEP team will need to discuss is how the accommodation will be used. Parents, teachers, and the student should agree upon how extended time will be used. Will it apply to homework assignments, or just major tasks? How will that look during assessments? How will the student request extended time? At what point in the process of a project or essay should the student ask for extended time?  


Accommodations Translated, Pt. I

The IEP and 504 process can be overwhelming. With so many aspects, considerations, components, and details, the documentation can be dizzying for families. One major piece of the puzzle that is crucial to understand is the list of the student’s accommodations—these are the specific supplementary aids and services that are legally guaranteed to students to assist in their learning. However, often times the terminology and phrasing can be unclear for families, especially those who are unfamiliar with clinical “teacher speak.” So what do some of the more commonly confusing accommodations actually mean for families? Let’s take a look!

  • First of all, accommodations are typically categorized into 4 groups: setting, presentation, response, and timing.
    • Setting involves an adjustment to the learning environment that is more conducive to the student’s learning needs. This could mean “reduced distractions” and/or “small group testing,” which we’ll explain more thoroughly later.
    • Presentation refers to the way in which the material is offered or presented to the student. An example might be to supplement a required reading with the option to listen to an audio recording of the same text.
    • Response accommodations refer to the manner in which the child answers or completes a task or assignment. Access to a Word Processor, for example, is a common accommodation for students with dysgraphia.
    • Timing, as it sounds, involves the child’s school schedule and/or allotted time for task completion. For instance, a child with ADHD may benefit from taking more rigorous courses first thing in the morning, as opposed to having content-heavy classes after lunch.
  • Additionally, there is an important distinction between accommodations and modifications. 
    • Accommodations are put in place to help students with various learning difficulties to circumvent their challenges or disabilities. However, accommodations do not alter the expectations for learning; nothing is “watered down” or simplified, as some parents often misconceive. 
    • Modifications do change the content or amount of the information that the child is required to learn. For instance, instead of completing a timed 30question multiplication quiz, students with a modified workload might have to answer 15 questions.

Another common misconception involves a widely-used accommodation—preferential seating. Contrary to what many parents assume, preferential seating doesn’t necessarily mean in the front and center of the classroom. This accommodation actually means that the student should be seated wherever he or she will be most successful and have optimal access to instruction. That said, preferential seating could mean different things for different students; it could also mean different seating from class to class. For example, a student who becomes easily distracted by visual stimuli might need to face away from the windows in one classroom, but away from the doorway/hallway in another. 

In order for the accommodation to be truly beneficial, the decisions being made about seating should be a collaborative effort among the IEP team and the student. Open communication is key here. It is also important to note that preferential seating can be a fluid arrangement; if seating does not appear to be successful, teachers should discuss with the student and rethink what “preferential” should look like moving forward.