The following article provides an overview of accommodations, modifications and alternative skill areas, and discusses where students with learning disabilities (LDs) fit in.

Boy with Learn Blocks


Accommodations are the special teaching and assessment strategies, supports and/or individualized equipment (including technology) that are required to enable a student to learn and demonstrate learning. Accommodations do not alter the provincial learning expectations for the grade level.

For subjects that are accommodated only, there should be a list of Instructional Accommodations (different ways of teaching or presenting materials) Environmental Accommodations (e.g. seating, cueing, hallway routines) and Assessment Accommodations (including use of technology). These accommodations may be common to all subjects or may vary from subject to subject, in which case the subjects should be listed separately.

Accommodated only (AC) is the term used on the IEP form to identify subjects or courses from the Ontario curriculum in which the student requires accommodations alone in order to work towards achieving the regular grade expectations.

AC subjects or courses should not have the IEP box checked off on the provincial report card. Marks for Accommodated only subjects/courses are based on grade level curriculum, rather than on modified expectations. The IEP box on the provincial report card is only for courses where the curriculum expectations are modified or alternative, and the marks are not based on the same criteria as the other students.


Modifications refer to the changes made to the age-appropriate grade level expectations for a subject or course in order to meet the needs of the student.

Modified (MOD) is the term used on the IEP form to identify subjects or courses from the Ontario curriculum in which the student requires modified expectations – expectations that differ in some way from the regular grade expectations.

Modifications may involve either raising or lowering grade level expectations. For the core subjects, such as Math and Language, the expectations may be taken from a different grade level (higher or lower). For content subjects, such as Social Studies or History, the modifications may include significant changes to the number and/or complexity of learning expectations in the regular grade level curriculum.

For each subject that is modified, even partially, a Program page of the IEP gets filled out with Current Level of Achievement, an annual program goal, and Learning Expectations for each reporting period (report card term).

At the secondary level, a student might be working in a subject on almost all the course curriculum expectations, but the complexity or number of expectations might be modified in a few areas. In this case the IEP would indicate “the student will do all the curriculum expectations except …”. The school principal would decide how much modification could be allowed in order for the student to get credit for the course.

Alternative skill areas

Alternative skill areas (ALT) are based on expectations developed to help students acquire knowledge and skills that are not represented in the Ontario curriculum. Alternative skill areas are listed on the Program page of the IEP, and have the current level of achievement, an annual program goal, learning expectations, teaching strategies and assessment methods. Alternative programs are provided in both the elementary and the secondary school panels.

Examples of alternative programs include: speech remediation, social skills, orientation/mobility training, and personal care programs. For the vast majority of students, these programs would be given in addition to modified or regular grade-level expectations from the Ontario curriculum. They must be directly taught by a designated person.

Alternative courses, at the secondary school level, are non-credit courses. The course expectations in an alternative course are individualized for the student and generally focus on preparing the student for daily living. School boards must use the “K” course codes and titles found in the ministry’s Common Course Code listings (click here to access the page) to identify alternative courses. Examples of alternative courses include Transit Training and Community Exploration (KCC), Culinary Skills (KHI), and Money Management and Personal Banking (KBB).

Where do students with LDs fit in?

Students with LDs in primary and junior grades, who are working on basic academic skills in reading, spelling and math, may be working toward modified curriculum expectations, from a lower grade level, on some parts of their subjects. Only those parts of the subject would be evaluated according to modified expectations, and therefore have the IEP box checked off on the provincial report card.

Many students with LDs in intermediate and secondary grades would have most of their content subjects (e.g. social studies, science) accommodated only. As long as students understand the content, technology supports such as books in electronic format and text-to-speech can accommodate for reading difficulties and word prediction or speech-to-text programs can accommodate for writing difficulties.

In most cases, students with LDs at secondary school who are working at their appropriate level (i.e. Academic or Applied) would be working toward credit in all their courses, with accommodations.

For students with learning disabilities, social skills, anger management or organizational skills could come under Alternative Skill Areas if someone is specifically teaching them to the student, and assessing the student’s progress based on the expectations, and they are not just being encouraged in the classroom.

Alternative Skill Areas can also be used when basic academic skill areas continue to be taught in higher grades. The 2004 IEP Resource Guide gives an example of an older elementary school student working on reading decoding and comprehension skills as an alternative skill area. This can be used as a way to continue to teach and assess basic academic skills while at the same time allowing the student to access the regular curriculum with accommodations.

Ministry References and Resources

The Individual Education Plan (IEP), A Resource Guide, 2004, is a guide intended to help educators working with students with special needs to develop, implement, and monitor high-quality IEPs. Click here to access the resource guide.

Samples of Individual Education Plans (IEPs) have been developed and posted on the EDUGains website to support the development and implementation of effective IEPs in Ontario. Click here to access the samples.

The document, Individual Education Plans: Standards for Development, Program Planning, and Implementation, 2000, describes province-wide standards that must be followed in the elaboration of student IEPs. Click here to access the standards.

The document, Special Education, A Guide for Educators, 2001, includes a section devoted to the creation and upkeep of a student's IEP. Click here to access Part E: The Individual Education Plan (IEP) of the document.