Guest Blogs

“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”]