3.3.21: Article first published. 6.22.23: Article updated.
"Reduced Load" is an accommodation that is wordsmithed like a politician's speech. It doesn't matter if your gut reaction to it is good or bad. Either way, you're left wondering what it really means.
What is a Reduced Load?
A reduced load is exactly what it sounds like: it is a reduction of the load the student must address.
What's confusing about that?
For students who need a reduced load, in addition to helping the student avoid fatigue and burnout, the point is to assess the student's knowledge, not the student's ability to do the same thing 20 times.
The "how" behind determining how the student will be assessed is where things get confusing.
For example, if a math assignment includes completing 20 of the same type of math problems, the student with this accommodation might complete 5. The point is to assess the student's knowledge, not the student's ability to do the same thing 20 times.
However, how is this written as an accommodation? Student will do 1/4th of the work? Teacher will determine load to assess essential knowledge?
In addition, some schools attempt to say this in an instructional strategy, rather than an accommodation, allowing teachers to choose to implement a reduced load as they see fit, rather than being required to implement the accommodation throughout all classes and on all days.
Will "Reduced Load" Impact the Student's Grade?
Yes and no. It depends on whether (and how) the local education agency (LEA) spins it.
For example, Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) spun "reduced load" as an "instructional strategy" in 2017, after a teacher decided not to count assignments that a student didn't submit. It smacked of grade inflation (don't count all the assignments that could bring down a grade) at the time, since the teacher explained her actions away by saying missing assignments wouldn't impact the student's grade, but failed to address how mastery would be ensured if the student was doing fewer assignments and assessments.
This is one reason to consider having this as an accommodation. If it is clearly explained and understood, it can't be abused after the fact.
What follows below is an example of how the accommodation might be written, as well as how using reduced load as an instructional strategy instead of an accommodation has played out in the past.
Reduced Load Accommodation
Do an online search for reduced load accommodations and you'll find yourself staring at listings for one college after another and their policies related to reduced course loads. In the case of the colleges, reduced load is related to credits and allows students to maintain full-time student status while being enrolled in fewer credits. For example, you'll find the following on UMass-Dartmouth's site:
"The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 both mandate that modification of programs be considered if a disability can be identified. The law further specifies reduction in academic load as a reasonable accommodation. The legislation was written to give persons with disabilities equal opportunity. . . . This means that an undergraduate student would be granted full-time status while enrolled in nine credit hours, rather than twelve credit hours per semester. A graduate student would be granted full-time status while enrolled in six credit hours, rather than nine credit hours per semester. Students granted the accommodation of reduced course load will be viewed as a full-time student by the University and qualifies for all rights and privileges associated with such status, such as eligibility to live on campus, participation in student organization, and holding an office in the student government."
If you return to FCPS' "Accommodations and Modifications" page, you'll find a list of accommodation and modification examples for specific learning expectations. This first example is related to a student answering different or fewer test questions.
Curriculum Expectation: "Students will write a short answer explaining the classification keys used to identify rocks and minerals." (Based on Earth Science standards)
The student is provided multiple-choice questions explaining the classification keys to identify rocks and minerals.
The student will sort images of rocks, minerals, and organisms.
Curriculum Expectation: Students, given 10 questions, will solve to make the change from $5 dollars or less. (Based on Mathematics standard 3.8)
The student, given 5 questions, will solve to make the change from $5 dollars or less.
The student, given 5 questions, will identify a coin and the assigned value.
Given manipulatives, the student will solve 5 questions to make the change from 25 cents or less.
Another example relates to a student writing shorter papers.
Curriculum Expectation: Students will write a multi-paragraph essay that will describe the structure and powers of the local government. (Based on Civics and Economics standard 8.a)
The student will write one paragraph indicating the structure and powers of the local government.
Given pictures, students will label the picture with the power of the local government exemplified in the picture.
In both cases, the load for the student is reduced and the reductions are pre-planned. There isn't an option where the teacher simply gives the student a pass after the fact. However, this requires advance planning by IEP and 504 teams.
What's the Final Wording for the Accommodation?
The accommodation wording FCPS drafted years later is:
"Shortened assignments/assessments to include; classwork, homework, quizzes, and tests. Teacher will select the essential knowledge to assess [name redacted]'s knowledge."
This wording doesn't pass the 5Ws-and-an-H test.
Who will determine the "essential knowledge"? A team-taught teacher or a lead teacher? Or, a teacher at the head of the department? Or, a teacher 100 miles away? Or, a teacher with no experience in the subject matter? Who will determine how assignments/assessments are shortened?
What is "shortened assignments/assessments"? Is it a percentage? Will he attempt only 50% of assignment/assessments? Is it one question per category? What if the quiz only has two questions? Will ALL assignments/assessments be shortened? Will only select assignment/assessments be shortened? If yes, which ones? And, who determines which ones? What is "essential knowledge" and on what is it based? What is the difference between shortening multiple choice, fill-in-the-blank, and essay-style answers? Are answers requiring a full sentence shortened? If yes, how? Will the student list the basic answer instead of writing a full sentence? If yes, will the teacher discuss the answer orally for clarification if necessary?
When will the assignment/assessments be shortened and when will they be provided to the student? Will the student have the same amount of completion time as general education students or will he have extended time? If yes to extended time, how much? Will the student be made aware of what is being shortened and/or how? If yes, when?
Where will the teacher shorten assignments/assessments? Where will the teacher determine essential knowledge? Where will the teacher provide the shorten assignments/assessments? In class? In a small group? After school?
Why are the assignments/assessments being shortened? Why is an unidentified teacher choosing what constitutes essential knowledge? Why doesn't the accommodation use the word "all" or specify which assignments/assessments will be shortened?
How will all of the above be answered and accomplished? How will a teacher determine essential knowledge? How will a teacher determine how assessments/assignments will be shortened? How will the length of "shortened" be defined? How much time will the student have to show essential knowledge? How much time will the student have to complete the assignments/assessments? How will the assignments/assessments be provided to the student? How will the assignments/assessments be formatted? How does this accommodation address the student's unique needs?
How you answer the above will determine the final wording.
For example, the following is one option:
All of the student's assignments and assessments will be shortened. This includes, but is not limited to classwork, homework, quizzes, and tests. For assessments, tests, and quizzes "shortened" is defined as one multiple-choice question per curriculum expectation. For questions requiring answers be provided as a full sentence, shortened is defined as listing the answer. The student is not required to write a full sentence. If the teacher needs clarification, the teacher will request an oral response from the student. For the latter, the teacher will prompt the student as the student's recall can impact his answers. The teacher will determine after prompting, if the student has mastered the essential knowledge. The teacher will write down the student's answer, so it is on the assessment returned to the student. For assignments, in the cases in which all questions in the assignment relate to the same area of mastery, the student will complete the even numbered questions. For assignments that assess different areas of mastery, the teacher will provide an assignment that provides one question per each area of mastery. For assignments requiring the student to read, the student will be required to . . .
As you can see, this could go on and on . . . The reduced load accommodation has to be broken down and then parceled out.
Bottom line: Ask your who, what, when, where, why, and how questions, and then answer all of these by listing what addresses your student's unique needs.
No matter what, the only thing you should assume is that if there is a different interpretation out "there," it will belong to one of your child's teachers.
Accommodation vs. Modification
The following definitions appear on the "Accommodations and Modifications" page of FCPS' website:
What is an accommodation?
Changes HOW the student will learn or demonstrate his/her knowledge, keeping content expectations the same
Help support access to the general curriculum.
Do not change what is taught.
Provide adaptations for a child with a disability without setting different expectations.
What is a modification?
Changes WHAT the student is expected to learn
Perform objectives different from those of the rest of the class.
Adjustments to an assignment or a test that change the standard of what the test or assignment is supposed to measure.
Practices that change, lower, or reduce learning expectations.
Based on this definition, it would seem that reducing the load of work, while maintaining the same instruction and same expectation, would be an accommodation. As I experienced with FCPS, it is better to ensure that everything needed is specified in simple, clear language on the IEP. Otherwise, you might face a mutating definition if an issue arises.
On 1.13.17, I emailed FCPS teacher Christina Schneider about a student's grade changing from a B to an F in one day. The teacher, also an IEP case manager, responded the same day. Her email provided the first indication that the student was being provided a reduced load. Reduced loads had never been discussed up until that point.
Also affecting his grade is that I'm not putting mi for all assignments he's given. I don't expect [the student] to complete everything, so I don't count some things if he doesn't turn it in. This is good, but on the flip side, that also means his point "well" is a bit lower than others, so there is a smaller pool of points, magnifying what he does turn in a bit more than students who complete all assignments.
In this case, the reduced load initiated a negative impact.
- The teacher perceived the student as needing a reduced load, which resulted in each grade for turned-in assignments and tests having a greater impact on the overall final grade for the class.
- The teacher did not proactively decide what did/didn't have to be turned in. Instead, she reactively gave the student passes on what the student didn't turn in, which resulted in the student being assessed on what he turned in, rather than 1) assessing what he learned and 2) assessing ongoing struggles.
In addition, her chosen route left open the question of whether his failure to submit assignments and/or tests was related to struggle or time. After all, as many parents will attest, students (and adults, too) save the hardest for last, and push it off as long as possible. By giving the student a pass, she was potentially giving the student an "out" of assignments that were difficult and for which the student didn't master the lesson taught.
Within a few months, I filed a state complaint to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), which is my state education agency (SEA). Within the complaint, I 1) stated, "[the student] IEP is not being implemented as written and he is not achieving the goals written"; 2) stated, "His IEP does not state anything about a reduced load"; and 3) cited and included Christina's 1.13.17 email.
On 6.19.17, VDOE issued a Notice of Complaint (NOC) in response to my complaint, in which it stated:
[name redacted] (Parent) alleged that her [the student] did not receive a Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE) because Fairfax County failed to implement his IEP. . . . Additional, [name redacted]'s teacher stated on January 13, 2017 that she was providing [student] a reduced load accommodation, which is adversely impacting [student's] grades. [Name redacted] does not have a reduced load accommodation on [student's] IEP.
FCPS's Response to the Complaint:
[Name redacted]'s teacher used the instructional strategy of scaffolding and reduced workload with a group of students with and without IEPs to address the completion of assignments. The overall expectation of content mastery was not changed; however, the expected pace of completion was altered to assist student in completing longer written assignments. This was not an IEP accommodation, rather it was an instructional strategy. Teachers have the professional latitude to grade and assign tasks to meet student's individual needs. (Attachment 7: Grading and Reporting Manual)."
Based on FCPS' response and its definitions of accommodation, which appears on its "Accommodations and Modifications" page, Christina was, indeed, providing an accommodation. However, VDOE found otherwise, stating FCPS to be in compliance.
VDOE's Letter of Findings states the following:
"Reduced load accommodations
"Special education laws and regulations state that each local education agency shall provide special education and related services in accordance with the child's IEP.
"FCPS contends that while Ms. Schneider did provide reduced work load, it was an instructional strategy and not as an accommodation.
"The Parent points to an e-mail she received from Student's teacher to demonstrate that Student was receiving a reduced work load. In the email the teacher states, "Also affecting [Student's] grade is that I'm not putting "mi" (missing) for all assignments he's given. I don't expect [the student] to complete everything, so I don't count some things if he doesn't turn it in. This is good, but on the flip side, that also means his point "well" is a bit lower than others, so there is a smaller pool of points, magnifying what he does turn in a bit more than students who complete all assignments."
"A reduced load is an accommodation where the student receives less assignments than his or her peers. In this instance, the teacher continued to assign Student all of the same assignments his peers received however, she chose which assignments for which she would ultimately hold [the student] responsible."
"An accommodation is defined as an adaption or modification that enables a student with a disability to participate in educational programming. An instructional strategy is a practice used to teach students a set of skills."
"As noted by FCPS, the teacher's choosing not to grade all of Student's assignments did not change the expectations that he master all of the content nor did it assist [the student] with mastering all of the content, and thus it was not an accommodation. Furthermore, assigning a student all of the assignments and deciding which assignments to grade is not a reduction in the student's work load. Therefore, we find FCPS in compliance on this issue."
I appealed VDOE's decision because 1) VDOE did not cite the source of its definition of reduced load; 2) Christina Schneider's actions did fall into the accommodation category as defined by FCPS; and 3) her actions did impact what [the student] learned and that on which [the student] was assessed. He failed Virginia's mandated reading assessment for the first time that year.
VDOE Complaint Appeal Reviewer Cecil Creasey upheld VDOE's Letter of Findings and stated the following in his response:
"VDOE found FCPS compliant regarding the complaint allegation that it impermissibly reduced the student's workload. VDOE considered the teacher's election regarding what assignment grades were counted was an instructional strategy, not an accommodation. The complainant appealed this finding, arguing that FCPS's teacher's decision regarding what assignment grades count was an impermissible accommodation not provided by the IEP rather than an instructional strategy.
"VDOE's responsibility is to apply its agency expertise and resources to its investigation. The complainant investigation and findings involve VDOE's interpretation of facts and application of its authority. Where the question involves an interpretation and application of authority that is within the specialized competence of the agency and the agency has been entrusted with wide discretion by the General Assembly, the agency's judgement is entitled to special weight in the absence of a clear abuse of delegated discretion. Avalon Assisted Living Facilities, Inc. v. Zager, 39 VA App. 484, 574 S.E.2d 298 (2002). "Where the agency has the statutory authorization to make the kind of decision it did and it did so within the statutory limits of its discretion and with the intent of the statute in mind it has not committed an error of law . . ." Johnston-Willis v. Kenley, 6 Va. App. 231, 242, 369 S.E. 2d 1, 7 (1988).
"Here the complainant's appeal constitutes general disagreement with VDOE's findings, which is insufficient under the Complaint Appeal Procedures to challenge or reverse the LOF. There is no newly discovered information, or error of fact or law, that warrants reversal of VDOE's findings."
Bottom line: Proactive clarity helps reduce problems down the road. This accommodation might take some teasing out, trying to figure out how it best addresses the unique needs of the student. Taking the time to do this helps the student and relieves confusion for the teachers.