Testing Accommodations for ADHD: Evidence that the Status Quo is Ineffective

Here at LDA, we’re very proud of our quarterly journal, Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal. The following is an excerpt from a study published in our most recent issue. Access to the entire article is free through December 20th and can be found by clicking here. If you’d like more information about the Journal, please head over to Sagamore Publishing for more information.

By: Alison Pritchard, Ph.D., ABPP

ADHD is the most common psychiatric condition of childhood, with prevalence estimated at 1 in 11 American youth (Pastor et al., 2015). Students with ADHD present an enormous concern for educational policy-makers, as these students require $4,700 more to educate, on average, than their typically developing peers (Robb et al., 2011), yet they still tend to have poorer educational outcomes (Barkley, 2006; Fletcher & Wolfe, 2008). This begs the question, “Is our support of students with ADHD academically really working?”

There are a wide variety of reasons why students with ADHD may underperform relative to their nondisabled peers, and many ways of supporting these students in the classroom. Supports commonly offered to students with ADHD, often via an Individualized Education Program (IEP) or Section 504 Plan, include testing accommodations, which are adjustments to testing conditions that are designed to reduce the negative impact of a student’s disability on his or her performance. A study that was recently published by researchers at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Learning Disabilities: A Multidisciplinary Journal (LDMJ; http://js.sagamorepub.com/ldmj), an official publication of the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA; https://ldaamerica.org/), offers some insight into whether testing accommodations really work for students with ADHD.

The study, “Academic Testing Accommodations for ADHD: Do They Help?” evaluated the effectiveness of testing accommodations for elementary and middle school students with ADHD, many of whom had co-occurring learning difficulties in reading and/or math. Our team at Kennedy Krieger investigated 5 specific testing accommodations: extended time, frequent breaks, a reduced distraction environment, oral presentation of written information, and use of a calculator. We compared a group of students who had access to these accommodations per their IEP or 504 Plan to a similar group of students who did not in terms of their scores on standardized reading and math tests. None of the 5 accommodations under investigation in this study were associated with better reading or math performance, taking into account grade level and co-occurring learning difficulties. For access to the full-text article, visit Sagamore Publishing’s website here http://js.sagamorepub.com/ldmj/article/view/7414/5839 before December 20th. After that date, the article abstract will remain available at http://js.sagamorepub.com/ldmj/article/view/7414.

While these findings may suggest that these accommodations are not effective for students with ADHD, one caveat of the study needs to be considered: it is not clear whether the students who had access to accommodations actually took advantage of them during the testing. Thus, it is also possible that students with ADHD have not been taught to use accommodations strategically and have not been given sufficient opportunity to practice using them, therefore they are not able to utilize them effectively. Either way, the status quo regarding academic testing accommodations for students with ADHD does not seem to be working. While more research must be done to determine why students with ADHD are not benefitting from testing accommodations, this study’s findings should help to start the necessary conversations among education researchers and policymakers. For a video discussion of the study, visit Sagamore Publishing’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/sagamorepublishing/videos/10153896427441290.

About the Author: Dr. Pritchard is a clinical child psychologist at the Kennedy Krieger Institute in Baltimore, Maryland, where she serves as Program Director of the Neuropsychology Research Lab and Training Program.

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  1. Magali Salazar says

    My son was diagnosed with ADHD by the end of 1st grade. I notified school about it. I was never offered a IEP for him. When he started 2nd grade i called school to find out if a program was offered for this disorder and i was told NO. he goes to a public school, His doctor never told me about this option neither. Now that hi going to start 4th grade and has a new doctor. I am aware it is the law that school offers IEP for ADHD. I contacted school and will not take “NO” as answer. Wish me luck. I faxed the request of the doctor today do my son can get IEP.

    • Yuliana Torres says

      Magali I suggest you contact the regional coordinator for your school, I went through something similar as far as negligence, I was tired of asking for help and they just kept on promising it was coming (it is a lengthy process) but my sons school were really not giving priority to my son and after reaching out to the regional ese coordinator things happened super fast! I wish I did it sooner so he could have received the extra help but no, now he is been retained for 1st grade. Don’t give up and also you can hired an advocate, it’s free and they will guide you and represent your son very well

  2. One way I accommodate students taking standardized tests is teaching them to break up the test. I’m specifically speaking to the NWEA test. The subtests range from 43-53 questions on ELA and Math. That’s a long time to sit still and concentrate at the same time for students with ADHD. They know walking in they are to do ten, sometimes five, questions at a time followed by a bathroom/walk/drink break. We write down the question numbers of their break time. Once they hit those numbers , they automatically leave. Timeframes are also set. Students do very well with this strategy, as they enjoy being in charge.

    • In response to this idea, do your students rush through the chunked sections anyway to get to their breaks? I am a special education teacher, and when I chunk the NWEA, my students often obsess over what number they have to get to to stop rather than use the time they’re given. Even with reminders to take their time, it is a struggle to get them to put forth their best effort. Let me know what you think!

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