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“What’s Killing the Joy of Learning in Our Students with ADHD?”

Teaching to the test, that’s what. Let’s band together to stop the madness.

I didn’t always love math. I struggled with it through high school, and it wasn’t until I was in my twenties, and had started on medication, that I mastered algebra, trigonometry and finally calculus. But once I learned to love math, I needed to share the love. I decided to volunteer with a local program that matches math tutors with middle-school students.

The program was a joy. Every week I sat down with three or four students to do a well-designed, hands-on, multi-sensory math exploration. I volunteered in the classroom of a master teacher. She knew the learning styles and challenges of every student in her class. Because I am high energy, love to talk about ideas, and can’t sit still, she paired me with students who learn by talking things through, students who blurt out the first idea that jumps into their brain, students who were most certainly attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD), like me.

I had a blast. Nothing compares to the raw energy of an intellectually engaged eighth-grader with ADHD. Every week for seven years, I looked forward to Wednesday, the day I volunteered.

Right up until the day I quit volunteering. I had to quit. It was simply making me too sad to continue. The first half of every year was fantastic, but every year after winter break, I watched the enthusiasm and curiosity disappear from my students.

The reason for the change?  Our district devotes most of the classroom time in January, February, and March to preparation for the STAAR test, or the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness. In January every year, months of thoughtful student-centered teaching are abandoned in favor of district-mandated preparation for standardized testing: pre-test drills, practice tests, daily sample questions. Many times I’d arrive expecting to do fun math, only to spend the tutoring hour sitting silently by my students, watching them fill out worksheets.

[Free Handout: Smart Homework Strategies for Parents & Teachers]

I’m an adult with ADHD, and I’m fairly mature, but I’d rather stab myself in the thigh with a fork than spend an hour quietly filling out a worksheet. If I feel that way, imagine how an ADHD eighth-grader feels about it?

Then imagine how a student with ADHD feels when this happens every day for three months. Maybe you don’t have to imagine. Maybe you have observed the joy drain out of your child in the early spring.

If you are a parent of a student with ADHD, the start of the school year means 504 meetings, doctor’s visits, and behavior management plans. I often think that parenting a child with ADHD, or being a person with ADHD, is so labor intensive and exhausting that we don’t have time or energy left for educational or political activism.

And that’s a shame. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 11 percent of schoolchildren have ADHD. Imagine if the parents of students with ADHD joined forces with the parents of students with dyslexia and autism, and the parents of students who suffer severe test anxiety — the list goes on and on.

We’d have an army of parents too large to ignore. We could demand high-quality, student-centered education — and an end to the drill and kill, “teaching to the test” mentality. We could change education for our children — and all children.

But the time to think about the damage that testing does to our students is not in the spring. It’s now. Find out what your school district policy is on test preparation. You might be surprised.

[“Why I’m Not Excited About My Child Going Back to School”]


2 Comments & Reviews

  1. Laura thank you for this article. I have ADHD and mild Asperger’s and struugle lol and have a son who is a sophomore with ADHD who does not want to take medication. And of course dealing with a school system that thinks all you have to do with him is run him which ok….let him run every 15 minutes….now what’s their bright idea lol!! Could you possibly give me a resource reference for approaching them on this particular issue? I met with his IEP advisor yesterday and I swear the vibe I got was..Greg is fine because he doesn’t flip teacher’s off. My son is adamant now as well that he doesn’t have it anymore. He does but they can all point to me and say well you have ADHD so how can you tell lol!!
    Anyway, I want to be able to do all I can to help him prepare for tests and do well. Oh and side note his advisor is observing him in a class with one other student…I know when he is in the class with more students…it’s a different story. I think it’s a good time to call a meeting with other teachers as well and ask them to fill out the Vanderbilt before we get to parent teacher conferences. I already know I’m the off odd one out in this equation but I’m the only one who will fight for him..Rocky theme…but I know what it’s like to grow up in the 70’s being the bright one with tons of potential and no gold star and to be the adult with few gold stars and just hanging on to the survival instinct and hopefully I can enlighten some of the educator’s because I’ve dealt with many in middle School that look at me when I’m talking like I’m feeding them a line of excuses…30 yr teachers..that don’t want to wake up. Last note, “school counselor” I met with as well…does not counsel and I believe does not have a degree…she was giving me the smile and wave routine while his advisor said oh he is fine. Oh ya!… that’s why he has an IEP!!! Sarcasm!:)

  2. This is a good article, however as an intervention specialist I want to make it clear to parents that may not realize the people on the front lines (teachers, interventionists, counselors, even most principals) HATE standardized testing! We see the joy being sucked out of these kids and try our hardest to make it as “fun” as possible. All of this testing comes from our state and are completely out of our hands as a school staff.

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