You Asked! Question 15

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Q: What is the difference between an accommodation and a modification?  What are some examples that may be helpful to a student with dyslexia?

A:   Accommodations ensure equal access to a student with a learning disability.  They serve to “level the playing field” between students with learning disabilities and their peers. Accommodations do not change the skills being taught or tested.  An example of an accommodation would be “testing done in a quiet, separate environment”.

Providing accommodations allows students with dyslexia access to grade level curriculum and also provides the opportunity for a dyslexic student to demonstrate their knowledge and skills by assessing their abilities not their disabilities.

Modifications changes the nature of the task or target skills being taught or tested. An example would be “providing a calculator on a test of math facts”.

A detailed article about accommodations/modifications including some examples can be found HERE.

Accommodations/Modifications can be provided in the classroom, for assessment purposes, and outside the classroom for homework assignments. They should be agreed upon by the IEP or Section 504 team and should be well-documented.  Accommodations/Modifications should be reviewed at least annually as student needs and classroom environment change. It may be helpful to discuss agreed-upon accommodations/modifications with each teacher to ensure consistent application.

In drafting accommodations/modifications, it is important to be as specific as possible.  For example, if “extra time on assignments” is listed, what does this mean?  Should student be provided 150% more time than other students or does student get an extra day to turn in homework?  Watch out for subjective language such as “reduced assignments, as needed”.  Who determines what is needed?  That determination can vary widely between teachers.  Spend the time needed with IEP or Section 504 team to make sure accommodations are clear and well-defined so that any teacher could read them and know what was intended.

Assistive technology (A.T.) can be an effective way to provide needed accommodations. A sample letter from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund requesting an A.T. Assessment can be found HERE.

For students without an IEP or Section 504, the school may be willing to provide informal accommodations.  Parents can request a Student Study Team (or SST) meeting to discuss possible informal accommodations.  Note:  Schools are not legally required to provide informal accommodations. Examples of informal accommodations can be found HERE.

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You Asked! Question 12

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Q12:  Student exhibits signs of dyslexia, but school wants to delay assessing in order to see how student first responds to RTI (or is recommending Student Study Team (SST) meetings). Does assessing need to be delayed for special education eligibility?

A:  The school cannot delay or deny assessing your child for a suspected disability because of implementation of a Response to Intervention (RTI) strategy.  Please refer to our You Asked Q11on “Child Find” obligations. In a Dear Colleague letter, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) reminds schools that a parent may request an initial evaluation at any time to determine if a child has a disability under IDEA, and the use of Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS), such as RTI, may not be used to delay or deny a full and individual evaluation of a child suspected of having a disability.  (Sources: OSEP Memorandum 11-07 dated January 21st, 2011; OSERS Dear Colleague Letter dated October 23rd, 2015)

Convening an SST meeting does not waive a school district’s obligation to refer a child for assessment if there is knowledge of and reason to suspect a disability. It is important for parents to know that they can agree to participate in an SST while special education evaluation is underway, but that unless they agree in writing to delay the evaluation, the legal timelines apply—and, in California, the school district has fifteen days to respond to a request for evaluation, and sixty days from date assessment plan is signed by parents to hold an eligibility determination meeting and create an IEP for eligible students. SST’s can provide important information and accommodations that may actually help the team determine eligibility later—but the parent is not required to participate in these processes, and they cannot delay the special education timelines.

(Source:  Student v. Berkeley Unified School District OAH Case No. 2013120159, Page 30)

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