Cover: Teachers' Lesson Modifications for Students with Disabilities

Teachers' Lesson Modifications for Students with Disabilities

Findings from the 2020 American Instructional Resources Survey

Published Feb 23, 2021

by Laura Stelitano, Melissa Kay Diliberti, Sy Doan

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Research Questions

  1. For what purposes do teachers most commonly report substantially modifying their math and ELA lessons?
  2. What proportion of teachers substantially modify their ELA and math lessons to make those lessons more appropriate for students with disabilities?
  3. How common is it for teachers to create materials from scratch when modifying their lessons for students with disabilities, compared with altering their main materials or bringing in additional materials?

Students with disabilities often face barriers that hinder their capacity to access general education curricula and show their learning. Modifications to curricula and lesson plans can help reduce these barriers. Modifications are changes to what instruction is delivered—which tasks students complete and what content they learn.

Previous research indicates that general educators often have less training and confidence in their abilities to appropriately modify instruction for students with disabilities than special educators do. However, little is known about how and the extent to which general and special educators modify their lessons to make them more appropriate for day-to-day use with students with disabilities.

In this Data Note, researchers explore teachers' reports of how much and in what ways they modify their lessons to support students with disabilities. The examination uses data drawn from the American Instructional Resources Survey, which was fielded in May and June 2020 to a nationally representative sample of general and special education teachers who are part of the RAND Corporation's American Educator Panels.

Key Findings

Half of general education teachers and over three-quarters of special education teachers reported that they substantially modify lessons for students with disabilities

  • Modifying lessons to support students with disabilities was among the most common reasons for modifying lessons, as reported by both general and special educators.

Teachers were more likely to report substantially modifying ELA lessons than math lessons for students with disabilities—particularly in middle schools

  • Seventy-five percent of middle school teachers reported substantially modifying their ELA lessons to make them more appropriate for their students with disabilities, followed by 64 percent of high school teachers and 53 percent of elementary teachers.
  • In math, approximately 45 percent of teachers reported that they substantially modified their lessons to make them more appropriate for their students with disabilities, across all school levels.

Special educators were more likely than general educators to create materials from scratch when modifying lessons for students with disabilities

  • General and special educators were relatively similar in the extent to which they reported altering or adapting their main materials and bringing in additional instructional materials to support students with disabilities, but special educators were 20 percentage points more likely to create their own materials from scratch.


  • District and school leaders should take stock of teachers' proficiencies with modifying their lessons to serve students with disabilities.
  • Teachers might require specialized training and additional support for the intensive modifications that they make to their lessons for students with disabilities.
  • Curriculum materials might need more built-in supports for students with disabilities.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, and the Overdeck Family Foundation. 

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