I spent this last week speaking to educators about accommodations and modifications. I gave the same presentations EIGHT times, but every time it was a little different. Even though every group was a little different, there were a few common questions that kept coming up. They were so common that it made me realize this is information that may not be clear for many people, so I’d like to clear a few things up.
First, please remember an accommodation is meant to level the playing field. Accommodations are designed to reduce or even eliminate the effects of a disability. A modification changes the field you’re playing on. This is a fundamental change in the curriculum, or here in Texas, this means you are changing or not expecting mastery of all the TEKS.
A student DOES NOT have to be in Special Education to receive accommodations. Glasses are an accommodation; however glasses do not qualify you for Special Ed. A student may be successful with mild accommodations without the need for Special Ed services. With that being said, most of our Special Ed students DO receive accommodations. So while needing an accommodation does not make you a Special Ed student, if you are a Special Ed student you likely need accommodations. Find out what those are EARLY so you can be prepared to design lessons that meet the needs of ALL the students in your class. You should be getting IEPs (Individual Education Plans) for all your Special Ed students. IF you aren’t find your Special Ed teacher and ask for them!
Paraprofessionals do NOT need to be the ones making the accommodations or modifications. Paraprofessionals are extremely valuable to students, teachers and class environments; however there are limitations to what they should do. As the teacher you should be thinking about the needs of your students while you design lessons and activities and make those accommodations/ modifications ahead of time. It’s all about “frontloading”. For more information about how to most effectively utilize your paraprofessionals look at this TEA approved document: Paraprofessional_2013
When thinking about the classroom setting for your Special Ed students please remember that the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) is, according to Texas guidance, the General Ed classroom. Please see the LRE guidance document. LRE-QA
Least Restrictive Environment is referring to the environment that restricts the student from the General Ed population in the smallest way. That is why the genera Ed classroom is the LRE and anytime you pull from there you are “restricting” the child’s environment. This does NOT mean that ALL students should be in the General Ed classroom all the time. In Fact the guidance document goes on to discuss the continuum of services that is required. But, according to TEA guidance, when you pull from the General Ed classroom you are moving into a more “restrictive” environment even if it is the most appropriate. LRE does NOT refer to the environment in which they are free to move about the room or be louder.
Special Ed students still need to be challenged. So when looking at accommodations, make sure you are still setting limits and pushing your students; EX: extended time does not mean until the END of time. Make sure they know the boundaries. Special Ed students CAN FAIL a class. They have to work just like everyone else. They may need a different approach, change in content or material, but there still has to be a standard. If you have questions about grading for a Special Ed student talk with your administrator, your district should have grading policies. For the most part, those will also apply to your Special Ed students. There may be rare instances when they are adjusted, but that should be discussed on a case by case base.
Bottom line, know your students. As educators we are here to help ALL kids be successful in academics, but also in life. That’s a big job, so take it one kid and one day at a time. Have a great school year.