What is the true value of Testing Accommodations – we may not really know YET!

I recently attended the annual conference in Wash., DC for The American Professional Society of ADHD and Related Disorders.  This was a wonderful opportunity to be amongst the top Researchers and Physicians in the world who work with the science of ADHD.

As I listened to the presentations and explored the Poster Sessions highlighting the latest research, I was reminded how much we truly are still learning about the diagnosis, impact and treatment of this brain type.

One of the sessions I was particularly interested in examined the impact of test accommodations on student performance.  Some of the research called into question the use of extended time as an accommodation for ADHD.

From my perspective, the greatest takeaway was in what was NOT taken into consideration – student and teach awareness of the social/emotional impact of test accommodations and the distance between the potential value appropriate accommodations can provide and the reality of what occurs in practice.

The Research presentation (here is Journal article by the presenters http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1087054713483308) mentioned that the greatest difference between kids with ADHD and others is HOW they perceive themselves as test takers. They discussed that kids with ADHD are less confident in taking tests skills and that they experience more anxiety!  They also noted that very often the students do not use their accommodations.

To me, the important question is WHY don’t we see a greater difference in performance given what we know about the challenges students face that dictates the need for accommodations/modifications (slower processing speed, weaker working memory, sense of time, anxiety, distractibility, etc.)?

I believe the recognition that many students are not using their given accommodations and/or not showing the expected gains has led to inaccurate assumptions as to their value!  We are looking at the wrong part of the equation.  Many students don’t want to “look different”, be told “that’s why you did well”, miss out on the other activities their peers are involved in while THEY are using their extended time (even if it’s just enjoying time off!).  Many students don’t have an accurate sense of the passage of time so they can’t self-manage their pacing.  And many don’t know how (or feel comfortable) to communicate why they are struggling in taking their exams.  To address these concerns, I propose the following suggestions.  Then we can do more accurate research on Testing Accommodations for students with ADHD and other disabilities.

  • We must educate parents and educators as to the range of reasons why kids truly do need extended time. In my Parent Coaching and Teacher trainings, I find that once adults understand the range of how ADHD is really impacting the kids they are more prepared to create an appropriate testing situation – physically, structurally, and socially/emotionally.
  • We must distinguish amongst the students the different reasons why each might need the extended time and other accomodations (anxiety, test taking confidence, test taking skills, time of day – meds on board/ effect waning, distractibility, processing speed, fluency, etc.). One size solution does not fit the diverse population.
  • We must support students at the earliest of ages to gain awareness as to how THEY need to best set themselves up for success (Do I work better alone, near people, with headphones /music, taking breaks, standing, etc.). Especially in the early years, we must help students experiment as they learn about themselves.
  • We must explicitly teach them test taking skills that include more than just strategies for approaching each problem. And then we must believe them when they tell us about the challenges they face!
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4 thoughts on “What is the true value of Testing Accommodations – we may not really know YET!

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. At the college level, students do use time accommodations. They realize the high the level of complexity and competition in courses and tests. This is true for students with high intellectual potential.

  2. Thanks for your thoughts. As I sat in the session on accommodations at APSARD, I thought about the many college students that come to my coaching practice who do not take advantage of extended time on tests. I appreciate your thoughts on the reason why students might not reach out and take advantage of their accommodations. Coaching is a good place for them to learn more about themselves so that they know how they learn best. With this knowledge, they will hopefully be more willing to use their accommodations to access their education. Thanks again, Cindy!

  3. Hi, Cindy – I enjoyed your article. I’ve thought about this issue a lot over the years and realized that, even when students want to use accommodations such as “extended test time” in college, there are often stressful challenges to acquiring and using some accommodations.

    Take, for example, the issue of extended test time. The student has to arrange with Disability Services and the professor a time/place to take the test in a monitored setting. The professor sometimes forgets to deliver the test to the arranged site. The professor is not being present at the site to answer questions during the test, if needed. These types of challenges can cause additional stress. In some situations, students just don’t find it worth the extra stress to use an accommodation like extended test time.

    There are many creative accommodations that colleges, coaches, and students could develop that would help students with ADHD to be more successful in college. But that’s another article!

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