Standardized testing with ADHD

Ryleigh Hayworth, Editor In Chief

The clock ticks. A room of high school students in complete silence, practically a new universe. Pencils scratch on test booklets on plastic tables arranged in endless rows. For some students the time is going as fast as it is slow. The test drags on, while they struggle to find focus. Their eyes dart around the room, looking for something to draw them in, and hold their minds captive for awhile. This is a reality of standardized testing for students who struggle with ADHD.

“I get really antsy during long tests. I’ll fiddle with pencils. I’ll chew the pencil nub. I’ll start shaking my legs so hard my entire body vibrates.Usually it’s just movement, but there are times I just can’t focus. The words start swimming, and I need to do something else,” junior Jeremiah Wheeler said. 

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, is often characterized by untamable energy, difficulty following directions, constant fidgeting, or general forgetfulness. Other lesser known effects can be increased risk of additional mood disorders and executive dysfunction. 

“For a lot of students with ADHD and other learning disabilities, I think the fact that they have to remember on their own can make testing so much more stressful, so they only remember the stress and not the actual things they were suppose to remember,” Wheeler said.

The brains of people with ADHD develop at a different rate and in different ways than a normal brain does. This results in impaired activity of four areas in the brain, with the largest effects being shorter attention span, executive dysfunction, and organization. 

“ADHD shows symptoms related to attention, and obviously this could affect somebody, especially if they are doing a timed test, so they might want to find something we call a power test where they can do all the problems right it just takes them a little longer, versus having only x minutes to do the test,” psychology teacher Brian Koch said.

People have many different ways of coping with ADHD. Some have learned how to control the effects. Others work to hide their symptoms and try to avoid the stereotypes of a struggling student. During testing this could include looking at the clock, getting a drink, or reviewing past questions to regain focus. 

“I’ve gotten good with both working with the things that I do to help fix it and working through it in general. Usually my hyperactivity is down to a minimum during school time and I can focus myself and pay attention, but as soon as I get home there’s so many things to distract me and there’s a lack of executive control. I’ll be sitting in my chair and I’ll think to myself ‘I need to do homework.’ ‘I want to do homework.’ There is a desire to do my homework and I cannot,” Wheeler said.

With ADHD, stigma has decreased as more information about it has become available. Now, there are prescriptions to help people control their symptoms, and adults have found ways to better support students who struggle with it. Some students are very open about their struggles, like Wheeler. 

“I think when my parents were in school, there would have been stigma. With me being better able to conceal it and people just being more knowledgable in general, most people understand what ADHD is and they know if I’m fidgeting around, it’s just me,” Wheeler said. 

When it comes to testing, it can be hard to admit struggles. Students who struggle with ADHD might not want to admit that they feel limited by their diagnosis. These students should know that they can ask for help.

“Maybe students don’t know extra support is available to them. There could be some pride, like, they’re high schoolers. You know the teenage mantra of ‘I don’t need support’ feeling, but I think usually it just comes from a lack of knowing what supports could be there and how to ask for them appropriately. Just to clarify, just because a student asks, doesn’t mean they’re going to get it. There has to be data that supports that they need it,” Vice Principal Jill Versteeg said.

Other learning disabilities may be harder for people to understand or talk about. Dyslexia can make it hard to read and interpret the letters being seen. Dysgraphia affects motor skills, most obviously seen in poor handwriting. Auditory processing disorder affects a student’s ability to distinguish between different sounds and block out background noise. When it comes to standardized testing, students who want extra help can request to receive accommodations. 

“Students who have identified disabilities are able to submit a request [for accommodation] through the counselor, and then ACT, because it’s a separate entity from the school, makes the decision if it will happen. The majority of the time I would say they provide the accommodation to the student and it could be extended time, frequent breaks, a smaller setting, like taking a test in a conference room or something. The same things applies with AP testing. We submit those tests to the College Board, and they tell us if they accept or deny it,” Versteeg said. 

In recent years, more standardized testing has moved to online. Soon, ACT will offer retakes for single sections, rather than sitting down for all four sections at once. It is becoming more evident that standardized test scores are not an efficient way to measure a student’s intelligence, and it is difficult for testing circumstances to be made equal for everyone.