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Modifications vs. Accommodations: High School vs. College

High school students with learning disabilities usually have a team of people to determine what they need to be successful in school.  Their team, which consists of the school psychologist, school counselor, teacher, parents, student, etc., puts together an Individualized Educational Program (IEP) or a 504 Plan which outlines the student’s modifications and other support that the student will need to successfully complete high school.  The team looks at the documentation and how the student is performing at home and in class to determine the plan of action for the student.

When a student enters college, IEPs and 504 plans are no longer an option, even if the student had such a plan while in high school. In fact, most colleges do not accept either of these as documentation, but require a psychological evaluation or the medical doctor’s report, depending on the disability.  At college there is no longer a team that sits down to determine the accommodations the student needs in order to be successful.  Accommodations at the college level are focused on access to learning.  It is up to the student to request accommodations. The Disability Services office, which is required by law to be on every college campus that receives federal funding, evaluates the requests, and determines if the requests are supported by the documentation.

Just because a modification is received in high school and recommended in the psychological evaluation, does not mean it will be approved at the college level.  At the college level an accommodation does not change or alter curriculum or the requirements of a class.  At the high school level a modification might be that a student is allowed to do only half the number of math problems as everyone else, or write a 5 page paper rather than the 10 pages everyone else is doing.  The student may be able to use a word list on an exam while others are not.  None of these modifications are likely to be granted at the college level.  Accommodations that provide equal access to learning, such as, assistive technology to help with reading and comprehension will be granted at the college level if documentation supports the need, because the assistive technology provides access to the reading material that other students are reading and understanding.

Typical accommodations at the college level include:

  • Note Taker
  • Extra Time on Exams
  • Private Room for Exams
  • Assistive Technology
  • Use of Computer for Taking Notes or Answering Essay Questions
  • Early Registration
  • Foreign Language Substitution

Accommodations are very individualized, and there are other accommodation besides this list depending on the student’s needs, the supporting documentation, and the type of disability services being utilized.  However, it is important to remember that the curriculum and course requirements will not be altered, and accommodations are put in place to provide equal access to learning and do not guarantee success.

The better students understand their disabilities and the more aware they are about themselves as learners, the better prepared they will be to advocate and request the appropriate accommodations when they enter college. Students should be familiar with their documentation and what it means.  The documentation that describes the challenges a student may face as a learner, also describes the areas in which the student is a strong learner. The student can use those areas of strength to help with compensating for the areas that are more challenging.

The Disability Services office on the college campus is there to guide students through the process of requesting and notifying the instructors of the student’s accommodations.  It is a good idea to visit the Disability Services office at the colleges you are considering attending before classes start.  Talk to them about accommodations, documentation, etc. It is just as important that this office is a good fit for you as it is for the rest of the campus.

Jimmie Smith is the Director of the Learning Effectiveness Program at the University of Denver.  Jimmie is also an active member of LDA’s Adult Topics Committee.

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