When educators plan Individual Educational Programs for students with learning disabilities, they use several key considerations for possible instructional and test accommodations to help students improve their individualized learning.

Educators choose accommodations from areas such as pacing and timing, environment, assignments, scheduling, self-management, test adaptations, social interaction support or materials. One area that is not often considered as a possible accommodation is noise control.

Gregory Smith and Paul Riccomini researched the use of noise-reducing headphones while elementary students — with and without learning disabilities were taking an individually administered informal reading assessment in their classroom setting. They determined that the majority of the students with learning disabilities who tested while wearing the noise-reducing headphones demonstrated an increase in reading comprehension test scores.

The results of this research are important to consider as students take many assessments in school, and students with learning disabilities need to have to best possible setting to demonstrate what they know and can do. The researchers also indicated there are practical implications from these findings that can be applied to daily instruction, as well as test-taking situations for any academic area.

Any teacher who has taught more than one student at a time knows the hum of learning entails students talking, movements of furniture and doors that cause noise, and various other environmental noise interruptions. The researchers suggested that simple observations and collections of data can be done while students are and are not wearing the noise-reducing headphones, allowing the teacher and the student to determine the best use of this accommodation.

Teachers would simply record data for students completing an academic assessment while wearing noise-reducing headphones. Then a different but similar second assessment would be given while not wearing the headphones. The data would be compared to look for the greatest gain.

Another important option to this data collection, although not specified in the research article, could be to ask for student input about using the headphones. Students should add their own observations about their ability to attend and demonstrate their knowledge while wearing and not wearing the headphones.

Another extension not discussed in the article is to generalize and normalize this accommodation. Headphones may be made available in the classroom for any students who find that noise causes a distraction. The researchers noted that students without learning disabilities also showed increased reading comprehension test scores, but not at the same rate as students with learning disabilities.

The technology that has become a commonplace part of classrooms allows for this accommodation to be one that students would use without feeling stigmatized. Offering the headphones to anyone in the classroom also allows students with learning disabilities to independently control when they want to use the headphones, developing self-management of their accommodation.

Noise in a classroom environment is inevitable and may become a source of distraction for students with learning disabilities to the level that it interferes with their thinking and performance. Smith and Riccomini have provided a simple, but powerful solution in an accommodation of noise-canceling headphones. Special educators may want to consider using these headphones with their students as a data-proven learning accommodation.