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Interventions, Modifications, and Accommodations

One of the common terms I'm often asked to define is "intervention".  Many individuals mistakenly associate classroom accommodations or modifications with an intervention.  While there certainly is some crossover, they are not synonymous.  

An educational "intervention" is defined in IDEA 2004, which requires those interventions to be research-based and effective.  Accommodations and modifications are held to a lower academic standard and are not necessarily scientifically supported.  A three terms are examples supportive strategies used in schools today.

This page is designed to help alleviate some of the confusion between the terms, as well as to share the importance of using true "interventions" when determining if a referral for a special education evaluation is appropriate.

Why are interventions important?

I'm usually asked to define an intervention when our problem solving teams are considering a possible evaluation for special education.  The Kansas State Department of Education (KSDE) Process Handbook (which provides the legal guidance for special education in Kansas) explains that General Education Interventions (GEIs) must be attempted either concurrently with, or prior to, a formal special education evaluation.  Below are two important excerpts from the Process Handbook:

  • "A school age child would participate in general education interventions (GEI) prior to the referral.  As a result of the GEI, the school would have the data-based documentation of repeated assessments of achievement at reasonable intervals, that indicate the instruction and educational interventions and strategies presented to the child in the general education setting were not adequate and indicated an evaluation for special education is appropriate."  Page 34
  • "Progress monitoring data is used to evaluate the effectiveness of the intervention; they determine the intensity of the interventions and resources needed to support child learning; and, provides a basis for school personnel to make decisions during intervention.  Documentation of progress monitoring must also include evidence that parents were provided with the results of the assessment of child progress and that those results indicate that an evaluation is appropriate."  Page 28

What is an intervention?  How is it different from an accommodation, modification, or adaptation?

Interventions:

To my knowledge, KSDE does not provide any clear response to that particular area of debate.  However, our eastern neighbor, Missouri, has provided fine guidance.  This Missouri document explains that, "academic or behavior interventions are strategies or techniques used to teach a new skill, build fluency in a skill, or encourage the application of an existing skill to a new situation.... interventions should be scientifically research based or evidence based and monitored regularly..."  An intervention should be targeted to the skills which needs developed, and should be measured frequently to determine if the intervention is successfully remediating the problem area.  An intervention doesn't conflict with what's happening in the classroom, but is supplemental to the classroom instruction.  In Kansas, these interventions are often provided as part of the school's MTSS procedures, assuming that the MTSS program is being implemented in accordance with state guidance.

Modifications:

A modification is a change to the instruction or assessment process which lowers, lessens, or reduces that expectations for that student.  A modified assignment may be easier for a child to complete, because the amount of material was lessened. 

  • An example of a modification may be to allow a 9th grade student with learning disabilities to complete work on a 6th grade difficulty level.  The student's lesson could be modified so he or she may work on materials at his or her ability level, and not participate in the standard instructional setting or complete the standard grade-level assessment.
  • The end result is different when the work has been modified.

Accommodations:

Conversely, an accommodation is a change to the instruction or assessment which does not lower the expectations of the student, but allows the student an alternative way to achieve the same goal.  An accommodated assignment has the same level of rigor as the standard assignment, but has been altered in a way which is more appropriate to instruct or assess for that student. 

  • For example, an accommodation may be given for a physically-handicapped student to participate in a science project which requires manipulation of fragile beakers and potentially dangerous chemicals.  A suitable accommodation in this case would be to have the disabled student work with a partner who is able to complete the physical requirements of the project. 
  • The end result is the same when work has been accommodated.

If you're looking for more information about specific intervention programs, including interventions which have been scientifically proven to be effective, you can do so here.