Remediation vs. Accommodation

by Head of School Shara Bumgarner

As parents embark on the search for an alternative school for their child, they are faced with many difficult questions.

Some are logistical, others are emotional. One question parents often do not know to ask is, “What is the difference between accommodation and remediation?”

My personal belief is that ALL children, not only those with diagnosed learning differences, but ALL children should receive some level of accommodation. This means that curricular expectations can be modified appropriately to accommodate a child’s special needs.

For example, a child with a broken arm would not be expected to handwrite his assignments. A child who is the victim of a car accident might be excused from homework for that night. More commonly, but often times more controversially, a child with dysgraphia may be allowed to dictate compositions. Or a child with dyslexia may be allowed to use books on tape. Each of these accommodations takes into account a child’s specific challenges and works around them in some way. This is right and fair. The wonderful aspect of accommodation is that there is no cost involved. It can be done at any school, private or public, and all it takes is a kind teacher with an inclusive attitude. However, none of these accommodations can solve the problem. The arm is still broken; the accident still occurred; the child still cannot write; the child still cannot read.

Remediation, on the other hand, is about solving problems. Remediation involves in-depth analysis of a child’s difficulties to determine what initially went wrong, then developing a plan to remedy the situation. Perhaps the child has been unable to intuit how the spelling patterns within words he knows relate to new words. Perhaps the child does indeed know the spelling patterns, but is unable to process quickly enough to read fluently. Perhaps the child lacks the language skills to be able to comprehend spoken instructions or a reading passage. Each of these problems manifests itself as difficulty in reading, and could simply be accommodated by providing books on tape. However, in order to experience remediation, each child in the above examples would require very different instruction, specific to his or her unique learning challenges.

Remediation can be equated to foundation repair. When a house has foundation issues, symptoms are seen all around the house, but fixing the individual cracks does not address the real issue, evidenced, of course, by the next crack to appear. Academically, a child with foundation issues (i.e., basic skills issues) will have long-term symptoms, and addressing individual symptoms only provides a band-aid effect. Like foundation repair, remediation can be an expensive but worthy investment.

Remediation is people intensive.

Given the wide variety of causes for academic difficulties, and the wide range of solutions for those problems, there is no one-size-fits-all remedy. This necessitates highly qualified teachers in all academic arenas so that the needs of every student are met. Research consistently points to the need for small group instruction for effective remediation, and this, too, results in a need for more specially trained teachers. Teachers must also have access to other qualified individuals, such as psychologists, speech pathologists, and school administrators who may also have solutions for helping a child.

Remediation is also time intensive.

In order to truly address underlying issues that affect a child’s performance, extensive time must be allocated to focus on those issues. In traditional schools, countless activities and events compete over the limited hours available in a school day. Teachers also need time to analyze student work and progress so that modifications to the program can be made in a timely manner to best serve the student. Students must be given enough time to solidify basic skills before being asked to apply those skills in traditional ways.

Unfortunately, most traditional schools do not have the resources (time, money, or talent) to provide the intensive instruction necessary to effectively remediate learning differences.

Rather, students are often “helped through” the standard curriculum in an effort to help the child “keep up” with his or her peers. Tutoring may be arranged with the original intent of helping a child to “catch up”, but as the school year progresses, parents may feel pressure to refocus tutoring time toward working on homework and class assignments in order to ensure good grades. Inevitably, when accommodation supersedes remediation, the student is certain to fall further and further behind because he or she lacks the important basics upon which higher level concepts are built.

At The Joy School, our extensively trained faculty focuses first and foremost on the remediation of basic skills. Our hope for all students is that we can remediate their skills to a point that they may return to a traditional mainstream school. Very often, that is the case. Unfortunately, there are some problems that can’t be “fixed.” For those students with more long-term difficulties, we provide instruction in identifying and understanding their unique needs so that they can take ownership of their learning. When a student begins to understand his learning profile in detail, he can become a much better advocate for himself in terms of asking for appropriate accommodations upon return to a mainstream setting.

Students with learning differences clearly benefit from both remediation and accommodation. However, the timing of these two interventions is critically important to both the short term and long term success of the child. It stands to reason that the earlier the remediation occurs, the shorter the duration of the intervention. At The Joy School, our highly trained and compassionate faculty and staff are ready to meet the challenges of this two-pronged approach with a vast range of age groups, from kindergarten to middle-school. We find success at all levels, and truly understand how to use remediation and accommodation to unlock a child’s learning potential. As Stuart Aston, alumnus, clearly states, “Before I came to The Joy School, I thought learning was about memorizing. Now I know it’s about understanding.”