Students who receive special education services rely on accommodations to help them learn and to help make learning environments accessible.

The accommodations are typically chosen by the special education team during a student's annual or initial Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) meeting. Accommodations can also be added to a student's IEP at any other time that a change is deemed necessary.

Accommodations are typically reviewed yearly for the purpose of continuing or discontinuing them, based on student need. Special educators and general education teachers informally evaluate their usefulness for student learning by observing learning behaviors while using the accommodations. They ask, "Do the accommodations cause students to learn or show what they know in an improved manner?"

However, there are also formal measures that should be considered when recommending an accommodation.

A study done in 2009 at the National Center on Educational Outcomes aimed to evaluate and improve monitoring of accommodations for students with disabilities. This research determined six steps for teachers, IEP teams and administrators to use to determine the best use of accommodations:

  1. Know the rules and regulations for accommodations
  2. Document decisions about accommodations
  3. Document the use of accommodations
  4. Review accommodations decisions and use
  5. Evaluate and report on accommodations

Two federal laws — Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) indicate that states monitor and show evidence of the effectiveness of accommodations chosen for instruction and assessment. The monitoring should indicate improved outcomes for the students.

Monitoring needs to include training the decision-making IEP teams regarding the correct way to choose accommodations, tracking the accommodations as they are used, and reporting the accommodations used.

Consistent documentation of decisions made about accommodations must include how IEP teams are trained to make choices, which accommodations are listed on the IEPs, and the consistency of instructional and assessment accommodation use. States and districts should have clear plans for each of these components.

Documenting accommodations for state assessments includes the accommodations chosen and how they are used. Teachers must be aware of any accommodations that will invalidate assessments, listing them if they were used, but preferably not using them. Documentation of all accommodations used must be included in the student demographic forms for the assessment.

At times, an accommodation may be recommended for a student in his IEP, but the student may choose not to use the accommodation. For purposes of validity, this must be noted. Also, at times, an accommodation is recommended and is inadvertently not provided. This must be noted as well.

Administration of accommodation decisions and practice should be reviewed regularly. This can be done by observing the students using the accommodations, by record reviews, or by interviewing students, teachers and administrators. The recommendation provided was that these reviews should be done by officials from the state for the assessment given.

The information collected in the review then should be evaluated and analyzed. The data should be reported publicly so all the stakeholders can use the information to make informed decisions about appropriate accommodations to select for student success. The study noted a crucial question to ask with the results: "Is there a need to change accommodation procedures and policies to reflect current student needs in the state?"

The steps included in this procedure for choosing accommodations have been used by 31 of the 50 states. The teachers in the states who did not have the opportunity use the procedure can still learn from the recommended practices.

Research that supports the accommodations used by students with disabilities is essential for best practice of instruction.