When is Modified Curriculum Appropriate and How Modified Should it Be?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

classroomIs your child’s IQ is well below average? Does your child’s IEP exempt your child from standardized tests or note that she should take modified assessments? Is she “pulled out” into a resource room for any academic subject, such as Math or Language Arts? Is it clear from her homework that she is unable to learn at the same depth or speed as her typical peers? If your answer to any of these questions is “Yes,” then ask the IEP Team if your child should be receiving a modified curriculum, and then ask them to identify what grade level curriculum she should be receiving.

What is a Modified Curriculum?
A modified curriculum is changing what the student is expected to learn, not the manner in which it is presented. For example, if the typical peers in 3rd grade are learning double digit multiplication, perhaps a modification for this child would be to teach (and hold her responsible for learning) only single digit modification. Modifications can be slight and they can be large-- it’s all what the team decides is appropriate to meet YOUR child’s needs.

Modifying the curriculum is different from modifying the manner of presentation. The latter would be more of an accommodation. For example, if a student has difficulty concentrating for long periods or difficulty with writing, the team may decide that she should have shortened assignments, i.e. giving her only three math problems instead of 10. She is still learning the same thing, double digit multiplication, but she is doing fewer problems to accommodate her disability.    

Keeping the Curriculum Modifications at Grade Level
Some school districts want to use a modified curriculum, but they don’t want to identify the curriculum or the grade level of the curriculum. We fight to get the district to keep the student on grade level whenever possible and to identify the specific grade level on the IEP, such as “modified 3rd grade curriculum,” “Ohio extended standards based upon current grade level,” etc.   We all want our kids to learn to the best of their ability and to learn as much of their typical grade level curriculum as possible. The IEP needs to reflect, in detail, any modification to the curriculum (noting which subjects and what grade level).

Latest Word on Modified Curriculum from the US Department of Education
Now we have the support of the US Department of Education behind us! On November 17th, 2015, the USDOE issued guidance that says a student’s IEP must be aligned to state grade level academic content standards, and that this alignment is a component of FAPE (free appropriate public education required by federal IDEA and state law). The USDOE’s “guidance” letter gives us their interpretation of federal IDEA law. While the guidance is not legally binding, it is a useful tool and a persuasive source to site in communications with school officials.

The guidance letter explains that IEPs should be written to help close the gap where a child is performing well below grade level. It reads, “…In a case where a child’s present levels of academic performance are significantly below the grade in which the child is enrolled, in order to align the IEP with grade-level content standards, the IEP Team should estimate the growth toward the State academic content standards for the grade in which the child is enrolled that the child is expected to achieve in the year covered by the IEP. In a situation where a child is performing significantly below the level of the grade in which the child is enrolled, an IEP Team should determine annual goals that are ambitious but achievable. In other words, the annual goals need not necessarily result in the child’s reaching grade-level within the year covered by the IEP, but the goals should be sufficiently ambitious to help close the gap...”

In Conclusion
Remember: Discuss your child’s curriculum with the IEP Team. Every decision should be made based on YOUR child and YOUR child’s specific needs and abilities!   Team decisions on curriculum should be specifically stated on the IEP and aligned with the child’s grade level curriculum.

Click here to read the full USDOE Guidance Letter. 

- Posted by Attorney Linda Gorczynski

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