Special Education

Study: Students With ADHD Not Helped by Common Test Accommodations

By Christina A. Samuels — December 23, 2016 2 min read
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Offering students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder extended testing time or frequent breaks does not appear to help them perform better on a standardized test than other students with ADHD who do not get such accommodations, says a new study published in Learning Disabilities, a Multidisciplinary Journal.

In the study Academic Testing Accommodations for ADHD: Do They Help? researchers examined the accommodations and test results of 96 Maryland students with ADHD in grades 3-8. In addition to examining the impact of offering extended test time and frequent breaks, the researchers also looked at the effects of three other commonly offered accommodations: reducing distraction in the testing area, allowing students to have portions of the test read aloud, and allowing use of a calculator.

None of the accommodations were associated with students receiving better scores in reading or math on their Maryland School Assessments compared to similar peers, the study found.

Alison Esposito Pritchard, the lead author of the report, said she grew interested in studying the effects of these accommodations through her work as a clinical psychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore. The institute offers care to children with a variety of developmental disabilities.

As she evaluated children in her practice, Pritchard said she found herself recommending that they be offered accommodations, but that the research behind those recommendations was thin, particularly for students with ADHD.

“Conceptually, it made sense that [the accommodations] might be helpful to kids with ADHD,” Pritchard said. “But once I started looking at the literature, I found a gap at looking at the effectiveness of those accommodations.”

Students With ADHD May Not Know How to Use Test Accommodations Effectively

There could be several potential explanations for the results, she said. Students with ADHD may not be taught how to effectively use accommodations such as extended testing time. The researchers also could not say if certain accommodations meant the same thing to all students. For example, a particularly diligent student may have used all the extra test time offered, while another student may have chosen to rush through. Or one student may have been given a read-aloud accommodation by a computer, while another may have had the test read aloud by a teacher.

“It’s up to the child as to whether they want to make use of the accommodations that they’re given,” she said. “We can’t say that extended time"—to use one example—"is ineffective, but we can [say] that it’s not working the way we’re doing it right now.”

The findings should prompt more research into what accommodations are effective for students with ADHD and how students can be taught to take best advantage of them, Pritchard said.

“Education is an area where they are really trying to talk about best practices and use evidence-based teaching strategies, and I think that understanding whether these types of supports work is part and parcel of that,” she said.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the On Special Education blog.