An Individualized Education Plan (IEP) is a collaborative process that is used to identify any differences made to a student with special needs’ curriculum including differences in instructional strategies or in the way their learning will be assessed.  It is vital that students, parents and educators understand what adaptations and modifications are and what the difference is between them.

Four Principles of Instruction

Before discussing what adaptations and modifications are, it is important to mention four principles of instruction:


  • Students must actively participate in the learning that is taking place
  • Students learn in a variety of different ways
  • Students learn new concepts at different rates
  • Learning is a process that can happen for an individual and a group.


These principles should be considered and used as a guide for any differentiation of instruction, methods of assessment and/or materials that will be used for a student with special needs.


All students deserve to be taught and assessed in a way that maximizes their ability to learn and to show what they have learned. 


The adaptations and modifications found in a student’s IEP are meant to provide teachers with the information they need to give the student the best instructional strategies and methods for that student.  It is crucial that adaptations and modifications are listed in a student’s IEP to ensure that they are provided throughout the student’s educational career. * 

What are IEP Adaptations?


Adaptations are essentially best practices in teaching and adaptations made to instructional strategies will typically benefit all of the students in the class (adaptations are sometimes referred to as accommodations). Adaptations refer to teaching and assessment methods that are specifically designed to accommodate the student’s particular needs. Adaptations ensure the student can achieve the learning outcomes of the course/subject.  They also allow the student to demonstrate their learning.


Adaptations DO NOT provide students with an unfair advantage over their peers.  Adaptations serve as a way to level the playing field, so their individual needs do not interfere with the student’s learning and demonstration of knowledge.


One adaptation that individuals with learning disabilities can be granted is to circle answers on the exam instead of filling in a scantron bubble sheet.  Many people find the bubble sheets for multiple choice questions to be an easy task and some people even consider it fun. 


To an individual who has tracking problems, bubble sheets can be a time-consuming nightmare.  They can often fill in the wrong bubble on a line or put two answers on the same line without even realizing it. 


When they are faced will filling out the bubble sheet, they are being tested in two ways:  


  1. They are trying to answer the same question that everyone else is trying to answer.
  2. They are being tested on whether they can fill in the right bubble. For every answer they get wrong, you need to ask, did they really not know the answer or did they just fill in the incorrect bubble.  The simple adaptation for these students is to just allow them to circle the correct answer on the test.


Other common adaptations include:

  • extended time on assignments or exams
  • providing students with organizers before seeing a presentation
  • providing alternatives to written assignments so the student can demonstrate their knowledge and understanding in a manner that does not assess one of their weaknesses
  • using a computer for written assignments
  • listen to an audio recording of textbooks


It is essential to keep a list of the different adaptations that a student has tried in the IEP.  In this list, it should discuss whether the adaptation was beneficial to the student or not.  This will hopefully allow for the continuations of successful adaptations and avoid the use of ones that do not work for the student.


Students who use adaptations still follow the same curriculum as their peers. If they complete the required course work, they will be able to graduate with a full diploma. In British Columbia, this is considered a Dogwood.



An example most people have experienced, and typically don’t consider an adaptation, is someone wearing glasses.  Individuals wear glasses because without them they cannot see things clearly.  Their ‘special need’ or ‘disability’ is that they do not have perfect vision. 

Their accommodation is wearing glasses to allow them to see clearly without having to strain their eyes.  There are very few people who would argue that allowing these people to wear glasses puts them at an unfair advantage.  Most people understand that they can’t expect any pair of glasses to work for anyone who needs them. 

The thing is individuals who need glasses go to the optometrist or ophthalmologist for a prescription for the correct lenses for their glasses.  Once the individual gets their pair of glasses, they will rarely have someone object to them wearing their glasses.  We need to make other forms of adaptations for individuals with special needs just as commonplace and considered just as normal.



What are Modifications?


Modifications are changes made to the student’s educational plan that moves away from the curriculum their peers are receiving.  They are changes made to methods of instruction and assessments that are made to accommodate the student’s educational needs. 


Modifications consist of individualized goals and outcomes which are different than the outcomes of the course. These goals and outcomes should be related to the outcomes of the curriculum so the student can still participate in classroom instruction. This allows the student to feel successful even though they are working at a different conceptual level than their peers.


The decision to modify a student’s program should not be taken lightly. Before a student’s outcomes are modified, the school should review all the attempted instructional interventions and consider the information collected through assessments. This decision should not be made by a single teacher. It should only occur after careful and thoughtful consultation has occurred with parents, school administrators, learning specialists, and the student’s teachers.  If after reviewing this information there seems like there are no other alternatives, modifications should be considered. 


Modifications should only be made in subjects where they are needed and do not necessarily have to apply to all parts of the student’s program.  Parents and educators should realize that depending on where a student is in their education, modifications are not necessarily a permanent solution. These modifications should be monitored and reviewed regularly to ensure they are still necessary for the student.


There are some instances where some individuals will require a fully modified educational program because they cannot access the curriculum.  This includes individuals with limited awareness of their surroundings, those with fragile mental or physical health and students with multiple challenges.


If a student has modifications made to the school program in the final years of high school, they will not graduate high school in the same manner as their classmates.  They will be issued a high school completion certificate. In British Columbia, this is considered an Evergreen Certificate.


If a student is working towards a high school completion certificate, at least some of their goals and objectives should relate to their life after school. These goals should address factors such as vocational training, functional life skills and foundational academic skills.


Parents should still be getting progress reports for their children if they are on a modified program. These reports should contain written comments that relate to the student’s personalized goals.


*Please note, some accommodations are not suitable or practical for all situations and post-secondary institutions have their own policies in place for the adaptations they are willing to make to a program.


**Please note the information about Individualized Education Plans was based on information for students attending school in British Columbia. Individualized Education Plans are commonly used in educational settings, but the information here may not be consistent with the requirements of education systems outside of British Columbia.

Did you know that Garforth Education has created two online courses, A Parent’s Guide to IEPs and A Teacher’s Guide to IEPs? These courses were designed to give you a clear understanding of the IEP Process and they guide you through the steps you should take to prepare for IEP meetings.

Be sure to check out the more information about IEP’s on our Facebook, InstagramPinterest, and Twitter pages.

If there is anything we can do or post to help you learn more about IEP (or any other topic for that matter) please send an email to blog@garfortheducation.com

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