A Student’s Guide to Classroom Accommodations

LSP, 504, accommodations, extended time, alternate setting, preferential seating… these are all words that I’ve been hearing thrown around since the third grade, when it was identified by my parents and teachers that I struggled with OCD and anxiety. But what do they mean? Do they mean different things for different people? And how do they apply to me? This is a crash course on student classroom advocacy, from someone who genuinely gets the struggle of trying to acquire the correct accommodations to perform at the highest level. I’ll use my own example as a guide.

I was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder in third grade. This was by no means a straightforward diagnosis. Anyone with OCD can tell you that simply defining the problem is not a solution. I was constantly in and out of class, missing hours of school for intensive therapy and found myself overwhelmed with everything going on around me. I was fortunate enough to have a mom with a background in psychology and was familiar with student accommodations. 

She identified that it would be a good idea for me to get a 504 plan. A 504 plan defined by the University of Washington is, “a plan developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives accommodations that will ensure their academic success and access to the learning environment.” 

There is also a support plan called a Learning Support Plan, or LSP. However, there are some small differences between a 504 and an LSP. An LSP, as defined by the University of Washington is “a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.” 

An LSP is more about services and instruction, while a 504 deals more with the learning environment itself. Knowing the difference between these two plans is crucial to identifying which plan may serve you best. 

After I knew that I needed a 504, it was more difficult to figure out exactly what I hoped to get out of my 504 and what accommodations would be necessary. I personally knew that I could benefit from more time on tests, because my anxiety often made test-taking difficult. Some options that students can request include: alternate setting, preferential seating, extended time, and breaks. 

  • Alternate setting is the ability for a student to take a test outside of the traditional classroom setting. This often means in a different room, or with a smaller group of students. This can be beneficial for students who are easily distracted by large classroom settings and like a quieter space to work or take tests. 
  • Preferential seating is the ability for a student to choose where they sit in the classroom or speak ahead of time with a teacher about where in the classroom (front, back, etc.) they would like to sit. This is helpful for students who like to sit closer to the front of the room so they can see the board better and hear the instructions more clearly. 
  • Extended time is the allowance of more time on assignments or tests. There are variations of extended time, with a common one being time and a half. This means that a student has the original allotted amount of time to take a test, and then half of that time added on as well. Longer periods of time for assignments helps alleviate some of the stress of performance assessments (speaking from personal experience!). 
  • Brain/movement breaks are another accommodation. These allow a student to move or leave the classroom as a reset, most commonly during standardized tests. 

There are plenty more accommodations and every plan is unique to every student. 

Sometimes, the best place to start is having a conversation. If you feel that you may need either an LSP or 504, talk to a teacher or a counselor. They can advise you on next steps to get the help that you need. If you ever have questions or concerns, be sure to voice them, as plans can be tailored to meet a student’s changing needs. And most importantly, don’t be afraid to speak up for what you think will help you perform at your best!

Originally from the suburbs of Chicago, Brynne is a high school sophomore at the Culver Academies in Culver, Indiana, where she is a Batten Scholar. She is a member of her school’s rowing and swimming teams, as well as a member of the Campus Activities Board and Model UN. Brynne is a board member for Writer’s Without Margins, a nonprofit that aims to bring poetry skills to individuals experiencing hardship and incarceration. A lover of writing, she blogs for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline’s You Matter Blog, and has recently participated in the University of Iowa’s Between the Lines writing intensive. Her pieces have been published in the Boston Globe and Ms. Magazine. In her free time, Brynne enjoys traveling, cooking, hanging out with friends, and watching a good movie.

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