Addressing Common Myths Regarding Accommodations Decisions and Implementation

Perhaps one of the most critical components of a student’s IEP, accommodations are designed to provide equal access to the learning environment for students with disabilities. Despite their importance, ARD committees sometimes gloss over this section of the IEP without giving it the attention it deserves. One cause for confusion is that the term “accommodations” is not actually defined in the IDEA, which may lead to disputes over what is necessary and appropriate to provide FAPE. To ensure that school districts make appropriate decisions regarding accommodations and comply with implementation requirements, we address common myths that we hear regarding accommodations and clarify the legal truth below:  

Myth #1: “It’s not fair to the other students if this student receives this accommodation. It will give this student an unfair advantage. “ 

Fact: Accommodations are not designed to give students with disabilities an unfair advantage over same-aged peers without disabilities. Rather, accommodations are designed to provide equal access to the learning environment for students with disabilities. Accommodations should be provided based on what the individual student requires to be able to access their learning environment.  

Myth #2: “That student has all A’s and B’s. Does he even really need accommodations? This feels unnecessary! We’re just giving in because this is what his parent wants.” 

Fact: If the student is getting As and Bs without the accommodation, that can be an indication that the accommodation is not needed – but this is not a rule! Students may still require accommodations even if they are high-performing academically. The student may be working extraordinarily hard or making their own accommodations to earn those grades. Additionally, a student with good grades may still be denied FAPE in other areas. Accommodations can address areas other than just academics, such as functional, emotional, and behavioral needs. ARD committees must consider the way a student’s disability may impact them in every area—not just their academic performance—when deciding what accommodations a student requires to receive FAPE. ARD committees are not, however, required to provide an accommodation simply because a parent demands it. While parents are meaningful participants in the accommodation process, parents do not dictate ARD committee decisions, which should be made by the entire committee based on data.  

Myth #3: “It’s best to leave accommodations vague so that we can decide how to implement them on a case-by-case basis.” 

Fact: While instructional methodology is generally a district decision, ARD committees should be as specific as possible in crafting accommodations in the IEP. Using phrases such as, “as needed” or “per teacher discretion” leaves room for interpretation (and disagreement) and can often lead to implementation failures. If an ARD committee agrees that vague language is appropriate in a specific circumstance, it should document its decision for including that language and as much information as possible regarding how the accommodation will be implemented in the IEP deliberations.   

Myth #4: “We always give students with ADHD the extra time accommodation.” 

Fact: ARD committees should not determine accommodations solely based on a student’s disability, and it is not appropriate for an ARD committee to offer the same accommodations for all students with a certain disability. Instead, accommodations must be individualized based on each student’s unique needs, considering progress documentation and data. Accommodations should be limited to what a student requires to address his or her disability-related needs. For example, if a student with ADHD consistently completes classwork in a timely manner, the extra time accommodation could potentially hinder, not benefit, the student.   

Myth #5: “I don’t use a visual schedule in my class even though it’s in her IEP because I found something that I like better. She seems to like what I do, so it’s not a problem! I told her parents about it, and they didn’t have any issues either.” 

Fact: School districts are obligated to provide every accommodation in the IEP with fidelity and cannot “pick and choose” when they provide accommodations in an IEP. Likewise, school districts may not make unilateral changes to a student’s IEP by ceasing to provide an accommodation without revising or amending the IEP. Therefore, ARD committees must be careful not to include unnecessary accommodations in a student’s IEP and carefully consider what the student will actually need. Should a school district believe that an accommodation is not effective or necessary, the ARD committee can convene to revise the IEP or the District and parent can agree to amend the IEP. Even if the parent indicates approval informally, the change should be formally documented before altering the accommodation. 

Myth #6: “He does not like to take assessments in a small group setting, so he stays in the general education classroom for testing.” 

Fact: School districts are obligated to provide accommodations in a student’s IEP, even if the student dislikes them. If a student declines or resists an accommodation, the school district should  continue to provide the accommodation and work with the student to try to implement the accommodation. The school district should also document any refusal in writing and communicate with the student’s parent. If the student continues to decline the accommodation, the school district should convene the ARD committee  to determine whether to revise the student’s IEP to remove or change the accommodation. Where appropriate, it may be useful to invite the student to the meeting to provide input. 

Myth #7: “She had this accommodation in her IEP last year, so we didn’t want to remove it.” 

Fact: ARD committees must review and revise a student’s entire IEP, including the accommodations section, at least once annually. Accommodations should not simply be carried over from a student’s previous IEP. Rather, ARD committees must carefully analyze each accommodation and determine whether it is necessary to provide the student equitable access to the learning environment. ARD committees should only carry over accommodations that have been utilized and that have been effective and consider whether additional accommodations are needed. It is important, however, to be able to support an ARD committee’s decision to remove an accommodation with documentation and to document the decision-making process in the deliberations.  

It is important to train ARD committees on how to determine appropriate accommodations based on a student’s needs and to debunk these myths as they arise. Additionally, everyone who is responsible for implementing the student’s accommodations, including but not limited to general education teachers, special education teachers, teaching assistants, related service providers, long-term substitutes, administrators, cafeteria monitors, bus drivers, etc., should receive a copy of the accommodations section in a student’s IEP and be trained in how to properly implement the accommodations. For questions regarding the accommodation process or for assistance with training on this topic, contact the author of this post or any member of the Thompson & Horton Special Education Team.