Modified Curriculum: Re-considering the necessity

For a variety of reasons, students may experience functional impacts that affect their ability to progress through curriculum complexities and amounts at the same rate as their peers. If such impacts are not adequately supported through the application of quality, differentiated teaching and learning, Universal Design for Learning and adjustments; than students may access modified curriculum – same content and topics but with modified expectations that are aligned to the students ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (Vygotsky, 1978).

For a student to be considered for modified curriculum at an alternate year level juncture, there needs to be significant concern regarding their individual learning which is supported by sufficient evidence of their performance and functioning. The concern must be related to their functional ability to engage with the required thinking and doing of the Australian Curriculum Content Descriptors and Achievement Standard for the entire breadth of the subject area in question. Each subject area should be considered in isolation. The need for modified curriculum in one subject area does not automatically equate to the need for modified curriculum in all areas.

Modified curriculum is not required when evidence indicates that a student needs to revisit a particular strand, or particular concepts and skills to address gaps in learning. Revisiting earlier complexities to develop particular aspects of the learning area is done through differentiation and evidence-driven instruction.

Difficulties with literacy and numeracy (including that which is evidenced through standardised assessments and/or a miscue analysis) are not the primary reason for providing curriculum at an alternate year level. Difficulty with literacy and numeracy skills will be evident in all learning areas and are not themselves an entire curriculum. Supporting the student’s development and application of these skills can be provided through Universal Design for Learning, adjustments, differentiation and assistive technology. Anything that is not explicitly demanded on the assessment criteria can be adjusted; and the way in which a student demonstrates the individual components of the criteria can also be individually designed.

For example:

Jack is a student in Year 9. His English class have been learning about Speculative Fiction. Throughout the teaching and learning process Jack has been able to engage in the content and verbally demonstrate the demands. He has also been able to demonstrate his understanding through the use of graphic organisers and visual representations. However, Jack experiences significant functional impacts in the area of literacy – he is reading below a Year 3 level, finds it difficult to write complete sentences, and cannot spell words that he is otherwise able to use in correct context verbally. For the assessment item he has to create a hybrid speculative short story that is stimulated by ideas and issues represented in an information text to present perspectives on aspects of the world and significant human experiences. Jack is excited, he has lots of ideas. However, when it comes to writing them down he quickly becomes frustrated. He writes a couple of brief sentences that do not match the rigor in his mind, and he is left feeling defeated. Jack disengages and his output is nowhere near the standard of what he is actually able to understand and do. His teacher is left with evidence which suggests he is not capable. See criteria below:


 However, if the assessment item was adjusted for Jack, there is potential for him to equitably demonstrate his true level of ability.

Firstly, Jack could be given the opportunity to use a graphic organiser/visuals to plan his story. Secondly, he could verbally dictate his Speculative Fiction (via a scribe, or a speech to text application). This would allow him to record the full extent of his ideas and skills. Thirdly, he could then edit the text to ensure that what was scribed/recorded matched his intent and that it meets the expectations of the text type in relation to vocabulary and grammar. Finally, he could still be assessed on the demanded components of spelling and punctuation by engaging in them separately. He could be given a spelling test and then also given a text sample that he has to punctuate. All pieces of output contributing to the judgment made against the criteria.

This level of adjustment would allow Jack to produce evidence of learning that is reflective of what he can do, whilst still maintaining rigor and the opportunity to be assessed against his year level standard. In Jack’s case, modified curriculum would not be appropriate; however, it could very easily be wrongly considered based on his literacy skills and their resulting barriers.

Significant data and evidence should be collected when the option of modified curriculum is being explored. The data should demonstrate what a student can and cannot do, and also demonstrate the level of support and intervention that has been provided. There needs to be certainty that the student’s performance is not related to deficits in teaching practice, lesson or assessment design, lack of adequate adjustments and differentiation, nor as a result of literacy and numeracy demands. A student’s diagnosis or lack thereof should also not weigh in. Consideration of the current functional impacts regardless of label, presumption and past performance should instead be the focus. If a student can demonstrate any part of their year level Achievement Standard after they have been adequately and effectively taught the content and skills, than modified curriculum is not justified.

When modified curriculum is the right decision, access the following link for information on how to inclusive plan for its delivery within the regular classroom.