Sara Stewart, University of Wisconsin-River Falls

Abstract: The number of children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is rising every year. These children may show symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. This makes it difficult for these students to focus during class and especially during tests. Allowing accommodations for these students while testing is a good practice. Accommodations include allowing the students to take the test in a private room, extending the test time limit for students, and providing students breaks between each test section. Fortunately, some standardized tests allow for such accommodations as long as a student submits an application for receiving these accommodations and it is approved before testing time. This practice should be utilized within the classroom for students with behavioral disabilities such as ADHD. It gives them a fair chance to perform at the same level as their peers, and levels the playing field for all students.

Keywords: ADHD, Standardized Testing, Testing Accommodations, Assessments, Scores


Attention all teachers! You will have kids with learning disabilities in your class and for them to learn like the rest of your students, you will have to make accommodations to help them succeed. These accommodations can be easily implemented and will increase their likelihood of success.

Today, about 11 percent of America’s children are diagnosed with ADHD and that percentage is increasing every year (Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Their disability prevents them from testing in the same way as everyone else. Symptoms of ADHD include hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity; all of which disrupt the child’s learning. These children may have trouble sitting still for long periods of time, lack focus, are easily distracted, or may be disorganized, (WebMD, 2015) which affects how well they perform in school and when taking assessments. Timed tests and more specifically pre-college assessments like the SAT and the ACT, especially are a problem for these students because of the rigid time and testing environment requirements.

Testing Accommodations

Both the SAT and ACT tests contain different subject sections, all of which have a specific time limit. For example, the ACT allows 45 minutes for the English section, 60 minutes for the math section, 35 minutes for the reading and science sections and 40 minutes for the optional writing section (The ACT, 2015). The average student is able to complete the ACT under these times restraints. However, if lack of focus or being distracted easily are weaknesses that a student has no control over, taking the test with the same time restraints as other students may be very difficult for them. This could seriously affect a student’s future, especially since their score on the ACT or SAT plays a huge role in what colleges a student will get accepted into. “Researchers found that those with the most severe symptoms had standardized test scores between 8 and 10 percent lower than the average” (Thompson, 2015). Luckily for kids with ADHD, they are allowed to send in a request for accommodations for these assessments that include extended time limits, break time between each section, and taking the test in a private room with less distractions (Thompson, 2015). Fortunately, “the ACT approves about 92 percent of applicants, and the SAT about 85 percent” (Moore, 2010). These accommodations are necessary for helping these students have a better chance of earning the same scores and having the same opportunities as their peers.

Yes, medications will help eliminate some of the symptoms that children with ADHD have but sometimes they don’t always work or have side effects that the kids have no control over. That is why exact precautions need to be taken to help give these kids a fair chance at succeeding. The three most popular accommodations that can be implemented are easy and should be practiced in schools and testing situations. Extending the time limits, allowing students to take the test in a private room, and providing breaks between the sections of the test are great ways to help these kids out. All three are described in detail below.

Extending the Time Limit

One useful tactic that could be used to help these students is extending the allowed time that the student has to take on the test. These students tend to waste some time during test taking due to their lack of focus and that they can be easily distracted. Both are out of their control and they shouldn’t be penalized for this behavior. If these students have studied for the test and know the information, it shouldn’t matter how long it takes for them to tell you what they know; it should just matter that they know the material. Students experience test anxiety with timed tests in general; think about how nervous these students are who physically can’t focus. Giving these students more time allows them to relax and therefore be better able to focus on the test. Multiple studies have consistently concluded that “the accommodation of extended time improved the performance of students with disabilities more than it improved the performance of students without disabilities” (Sireci, Li, & Scarpati, 2015). This tactic has been tested and studied multiple times with the same conclusion showing that it is an effective way to help students with learning disabilities, especially students with ADHD. Extending the time limit is one accommodation that can help students, but there are other accommodations that can be helpful as well.

Taking the Test in a Private Room

Letting someone with this disability take a test in a private room with less distractions is another great way to help them succeed. Using this tactic eliminates most distractions for the student (including other students in the room, most classroom noises, and possibly posters and other objects that could be hanging on the classroom walls). Teachers would appreciate this accommodation as well because there is less of a chance that the students could cheat. Plus, they wouldn’t have to extend the time of the test if that is something they would prefer not to do. Allowing a student with a learning disability to take a test in a private room also does not affect the validity of the test (Phillips, 1994). If taking a test in a private room that eliminates distractions and doesn’t affect the validity of the test, while showing results of better test scores from individuals with ADHD, then there should be no reason not to use this strategy.

Taking Breaks between Sections

Taking breaks between test sections would be helpful for these kids as well. During the ACT for example, one break is allowed after the English and math section and another break given after the reading and science section (if the student is doing the writing section as well) and that is it. Sitting for two hours straight at a time is hard for the average human being let alone for someone who has ADHD. This break time will allow their brains to take a little breather and be able to lose focus for a short time so that they can be recharged and more ready to start the next section. Thankfully, if a request is submitted and approved, a student with ADHD can receive extra break time between the sections which is very good news.  Students with ADHD should be encouraged to ask for this accommodation.


These practices are very helpful to implement in your future classroom. It is very important to make these accommodations for children with this disability if they are to be given a fighting chance at achieving at the same level as their peers. By extending the time limit, letting the student take the test in a private room and having breaks between each section of the test, you aren’t giving that disabled student an unfair advantage unless they don’t actually need it. If a student has ADHD and their medication works for them or they have learned how to help themselves focus better then obviously they will not be needing these accommodations. But if one of your students with ADHD is struggling, have a conversation with them and discuss if they need any of the accommodations to help them better succeed. A teacher’s job is to help their students succeed and if someone in their class has a learning disability, then they should do everything in their power (within reason) to help those individuals learn to the best of their ability.


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