The educational system in the United Kingdom allows students diagnosed with ADHD extra breaks and additional time during standardized testing and exams – known as “Access Arrangements” – and it’s important to look at why this is a vital factor when testing performance of these children, as some of the primary symptoms of ADHD include slow processing speed, problems expressing themselves in writing and poor memory. There are also tips for teachers in the U.S. to use when helping their students with ADHD perform better on their exams.
A Closer Look at Access Arrangements
The UK-based concept of Access Arrangements was created so all children can have the best chance to succeed at exams – these “arrangements” include up to 25-percent extra time, the use of word processors, a scribe, voice recognition software and a change of font for exam papers. When it comes to kids with ADHD in the classroom, extra breaks are allowed specifically because such students often need to take exams in a separate room and be presented the opportunity of walking around during a break. In addition, advice concerning any medication they may be taking and the right time to take it, as it relates to school staff, is also considered.
In one example of possible school missteps put forth by Huffpost Parents United Kingdom, a parent’s child was about to start Year Six while being diagnosed for ADHD, with a nurse going to his school to observe him – this parent was concerned that the child wouldn’t have been allowed the extra time in his SATs unless this particular school put the Access Arrangements protocol into place. As it stood, this child was supposed to work in 15-minute blocks rather than 45-minute sessions, because he could not concentrate for long periods of time and would be at a distinct disadvantage in his SATs if he wasn’t allowed breaks.
But arrangements for children such as these are easier for a school to implement compared to GCSE and A Level exams, and if a student’s history shows that he or she needs additional time or has difficulty accessing exam material, arrangements can be put in place – without the need for a formal assessment by an educational psychologist. Representatives of the UK’s Department of Education have been quoted as saying, “Schools will use the Access Arrangements section of the NCA tools website to respond to a short series of questions about the child. The questions will draw on teachers’ knowledge of children and their ability to assess an individual child’s levels and corresponding access needs.”
The Difference with Regard to GCSEs, A Levels and Higher Education
If a UK-based child has been awarded a General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) or is studying at GCE Advanced Level (A Levels), the situation becomes more complex – Access Arrangements are only available if children have had a formal assessment of such credentials. There are times school officials boast a suitably qualified teacher to carry out the assessments – such as a specialist trained in dyslexia who has the additional training necessary to assess children for exams – wherein children are assessed and then referred to educational psychologists if teachers take notice of specific or unusual tendencies that require further investigation. Private educational psychologists can also implement assessments, and these are often arranged through organizations such as Dyslexia Action.
But when referring to children who exhibit signs of ADHD, or who are dyspraxic, diagnosis and assessment is usually done through a GP who arranges for the child to be seen by a pediatrician, educational psychologist, speech and language therapist or occupational therapist. Furthermore, it has been suggested by UK-based professionals that parents should ensure that any assessment by a psychologist takes into account co-existing conditions such as speech and language difficulties as they relate to Asperger’s.
Exactly What Kind of Arrangements are Available for Students with ADHD?
The Joint Council for Qualifications, a membership organization comprising the seven largest providers of examination and administration qualifications in the UK, listed the types of arrangements that are available to qualifying children with ADHD. Candidates with learning difficulties may require:
• Supervised rest breaks
• Extra time
• A computer reader or reader
• A word processor
• A scribe
• A prompter
• A practical assistant
• Colored overlays
• Colored/enlarged papers
• Papers with modified language
The JCQ, with regard to a child with ADD/ADHD, has stated, “A candidate with ADD or ADHD has persistent difficulty concentrating and poor working memory. Therefore, supervised rest breaks and the use of a prompter, which would physically show him or her where on a page they had been working in order to restart work, would be reasonable adjustments.”
How Can U.S.-Based Teachers Help Students Improve Exam Performance?
Across “the pond” (otherwise known as the Atlantic Ocean), United States-based educators have their hands full with kids who won’t settle down and listen. Indeed, a great deal of patience, creativity, and consistency is required, being that a teacher’s role is to evaluate each child’s individual strengths and needs. To the relief of many educators nationwide, there are in fact strategies that will help ADHD students focus, stay on task and absorb all their full capabilities will allow.
To begin with, successful programs for children with ADHD integrate the following three components:
• Accommodations – What teachers can do to make learning easier for students with ADHD.
• Instruction – The methods used in teaching.
• Intervention – How teachers act as buffers for behaviors that distract other students or disrupt concentration.
Because students with ADHD have learning problems that render some variants of exams harder for them, modifying the style of testing and the way exams are graded can help – even when these students are well-versed in the material, they may not do well because of slow processing speed, problems expressing themselves in writing and poor memory.
Here are some tips that have been suggested by experts in the field for helping ADHD students improve exam performance:
• Find alternative times for completing a test (give the test before or after school, or during lunch hour)
• Select a good test location (the student can finish the test in a quiet area like the library or guidance office)
• Modify the format of the exam (multiple-choice or true/false questions are more ADHD-friendly)
• Don’t take off points for misspelling
• Allow students to earn extra credit
• Have a student make up work
Test modifications have been a proverbial life saver for many kids with ADHD; in fact, students say that receiving extended time on tests, or completing special projects or extra homework instead of tests, has helped them go from failing grades to, in some cases, the honor roll. Parents should talk with the special ed team about adding some of these aforementioned accommodations to a student’s IEP.