IEPs & 504 Plans

Does Your Child’s IEP Make the Grade?

If your child struggles with exams, help them get the most out of their IEP plan with these test-taking accommodations.

Standardized test with multiple choice bubbles filled in with pencil belonging to ADHD student
Standardized test with multiple choice bubbles filled in with pencil belonging to ADHD student

Jake has a high IQ, but he has a problem showing what he knows on tests. His parents are frustrated and his guidance counselor warns Jake monthly that he may be retained unless his test grades improve — and soon. Jake is feeling so much pressure that he will say anything to get out of going to school.

Because students with ADHD have learning problems that make some types of tests harder for them, modifying the style of testing and the way that tests are graded can help. Even when these students know the material, they may not do well because of slow processing speed, problems expressing themselves in writing, and poor memory.

That’s why testing accommodations and modifications have been a lifesaver for many students with ADHD. In fact, kids say that receiving extended time on tests, or doing special projects or extra homework in place of tests has helped them go from failing grades to, in some cases, the honor roll.

Testing Accommodations for ADHD

If you have a son or daughter like Jake, talk with the special-ed team about adding some of these accommodations to his IEP:

Find alternative times for completing a test

Include a study hall in the student’s schedule, to be used for several purposes: finishing tests, doing make-up work, receiving assistance, or collecting the right books and homework assignments to take home. Another option is give the test before or after school or during lunch hour.

[Get This Free Guide: 40 Best Accommodations for Children with ADHD or LD]

Select a good test location

Students need a quiet place, without traffic or others talking. Sitting them in the back of the classroom while the teacher is instructing the rest of the class is too distracting. The student can finish the test in the library or the guidance office. Or, if your child has a tutor, let the tutor monitor all or a portion of the test at an agreed-upon location.

Modify the format of the exam

Tests requiring recognition instead of cold recall are usually easier for kids with ADHD and LD. Students with ADHD do better with a format that provides word cues to jog their memory. Multiple-choice or true-false questions are more ADHD-friendly, as are oral exams or open-book tests.

Let a student use a small laminated card

This card can contain secondary facts, such as formulas, acronyms, rules for conjugation in foreign languages, or grammar rules, to trigger his memory during tests.

Testing Accommodation Ideas at a Glance

  • Offer extended time to complete the test
  • Administer the test in shorter sessions, perhaps over several days
  • Allow frequent breaks
  • Mark answers in the test booklet, not a separate answer sheet > Increase the size of the answer bubbles
  • Change the time of day for giving the test
  • Simplify language in the directions
  • Highlight verbs in the directions
  • Provide a calculator, word processor, or a dictionary or spell-checker

[Click to Download: Executive Skills Checklist for Parents and Teachers]

General Test-Taking Tips

Some test-taking tips can’t be written into an IEP, but parents and teachers can drill them into their ADHD students:

  • Read test directions twice
  • Do the test sections worth the most points first
  • Check the back of the question sheet for additional questions; our kids sometimes don’t turn over the page.
  • Dont’ go back and change answers. Stick with your first choice.
  • Take the following with a caveat: True or false questions with absolute words (“always, never, none, all, only) are usually false. Often, rarely, generally are usually true.

Talk with the IEP team about including grading techniques that don’t punish a student’s learning deficits or memory lapses on tests.

Don’t take off points for misspelling on tests requiring writing, unless spelling is the subject being tested.

Allow students to earn extra credit, especially in the classes in which he has failing grades on tests. Creative projects may include:

  • videotaping an interview with a war veteran for history class
  • creating a scrapbook on a related topic in social studies
  • cutting out articles or pictures from newspapers or magazines on topics relating to a book being read in English class
  • correcting errors made on tests.

Have a student make up work. An impaired sense of time prevents some kids from completing tests. Allow the student to make up work while developing a plan to correct the problem.

[Read This Next: IEP Meeting Advice — How to Get the ADHD Accommodations Your Child Needs]