The Clock is Ticking: Extended Time and ADHD

It’s no secret that children with ADHD and other learning disabilities can receive extended time in the classroom and on standardized tests. This accommodation can be life changing for some students, leveling the playing field and allowing them to succeed. However, recently there has been a storm of controversy surrounding extended time. Who gets it? How do they get it? How much is it actually helping? Who is it hurting?

Receiving an ADHD diagnosis is one of the ways for students to qualify for extended time. In public schools, learning-disabled students typically create an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a Section 504 Plan that outlines specialized instruction, services, accommodations, and objectives. In private schools, however, explicit plans are not needed.  Accommodations occur informally, as a special agreement between teacher and student. Importantly, students with ADHD often also qualify for extended time on standardized tests like the SAT or ACT. College Board outlines their guidelines for receiving extended time here.

Extended time has been shown to have dramatic effects on students’ scores. One study in 1998 by the College Board showed that extended time can increase a student’s score by three times. On the other hand, a more recent 2005 study by the College Board showed that this accommodation has limitations: “Some extra time improves performance, but too much may be detrimental. Extra time benefits medium- and high-ability students but provides little or no advantage to low-ability students.” Unfortunately, because of the huge advantage extended time provides, nondisabled students (especially those who are “medium- and high-ability”) are doing what they can to get it too…

A recent change in policy states that students are not flagged for receiving extra time. In other words, colleges cannot tell whether or not a student was given special accommodations. This change has sparked a troublesome trend. Nationwide, more and more students are receiving extended time, raising suspicions of abuse. Granted, more and more students are receiving ADHD diagnoses, and while some of the reason for more diagnoses may be heightened attention to and awareness of the disorder, it’s certainly not always the case . Recent studies have shown that it’s actually easy to fake ADHD to get a diagnosis…and who wouldn’t want the diagnosis if it meant extended time on your SAT in a hyper-competitive college application environment? One study found that neither self-report tests nor neuropsychological tests could distinguish between students with ADHD and those faking it.

Financial and socio-economic differences in students receiving extended time are also troubling. Nondisabled, affluent students have more access to evaluators and doctors than many disabled students who may require more attention. Nationally, about 2% of students receive extended time on the SAT and about 4% receive extended time on the ACT. However, in wealthy areas, up to 1 in 5 students receives extended time. That’s nearly 10 times the national average!

Unfortunately, in these highly competitive high school environments where the pressure to succeed on tests and attend a prestigious college is extraordinary, people are resorting to unfair measures to give themselves (or their children) the best shot. It’s to the point where many students who do not have extended time feel disadvantaged.

So, what can we do about it? The first question is if it’s vital that students with disorders like ADHD receive extra time. What are standardized tests testing? If it’s academic ability, should a student’s ability be judged independently of their disorder? Should the playing field really be leveled? Are standardized tests with or without extended time a fair measure of academic ability when they intrinsically require hours of focus and preparation? What about students who cannot afford study guides, tutors, or other resources? Unfortunately,  standardized testing is less standardized than we’d like to believe…

Nevertheless, given our current environment with extended time, it may be unreasonable for us to expect a perfectly fair system. Removing flagging requirements for extended time students has allowed us to avoid damaging stigmatization, and we agree that everyone should be given the accommodations that they qualify for without being punished. Unfortunately, this acceptance has caused a perverse incentive for more and more students to seek accommodations. So what really is fair? How do you really “standardize” a test? How do we get back there? Do we want to go back there? Let us know in the comments below.

15 thoughts on “The Clock is Ticking: Extended Time and ADHD”

  1. I think extended time is intrinsically unfair. I am not arguing that a student who is diagnosed with ADHD should not receive extra time, just that for standardized tests it definitely benefits all that use it. The amount of benefit is substantial. A student with extended time has the ability to read through everything during the test, to look back at answers, and to take time while answering. However, a student without extended time doesn’t have this ability because of the extreme time constraints placed on them. I firmly believe that extended time allows its students to take the standardized test to the best of their ability, and that students without this privilege are not able to. If a normal student is not granted extended time and was not able to read the last passage for a reading section, that student is at a disadvantage. Said student may have been able to answer every answer correctly, but due to a time constraint, couldn’t answer them in time. This means that that student did not complete the test to the best of her ability. I think an easy resolve would be for colleges to be aware that certain students have used extended time for the test. This is an under-addressed issue that should be very controversial and talked about.

  2. I have ADHD, dyslexia, and depression. I have had an IEP since I was in second grade, I know extended time is needed. Parents will put there kid into a class called “Learning skills” for the last 2 years of there high school, to get extended time on the ACT or SAT. This has become such a problem in the last few years that the SAT and ACT deny most kids extended time. Because of this I got denied extended time. This is heartbreaking for me, 4 of the 5 sections involve reading. Since I was born to today I struggle with reading. Studies show that having dyslexia makes the brane work 5 times harder to complete the same task as a person with out it. So the abuse of the system by people without a learning-disabilaties hurt people who actual need the help

  3. At our kid’s school 40% of the students get extra time. It’s an open secret that parents who can shell out $5k can buy a psychologist’s diagnosis that will past muster with the testing agencies. The students who play by the rules suffer, and come to believe that if virtually everyone else is cheating then they are suckers for being honest. Do learning disabled students need more time than other students? Or just enough time? Presumably it’s the latter, in which case all students should be given extra time — and truly level the playing field. The abuse can be stopped if the testing agencies were willing to face the issue head on. Unfortunately litigious parents can stifle the changes that clearly need to be made. Alternatively the highly ranked colleges could replace standardized tests with their own, unique tests and cut the abuse that way

  4. My son has ADHD – predominately inattentive type. Let me start by saying that he does not care about his “score” on the SAT in order to get in to college. He has felt dumb all of his life because of school and how it is structured. Despite his intelligence, his inability to focus has plagued his high school experience and has lead to a loss of self confidence which has resulted in a GPA and PSAT scores that are much lower than what his intellect would reflect in students without ADHD. His GPA and SAT scores have never reflected his knowledge of the subjects. He did receive extended time on testing for the SAT, finally, in his junior year. Not in order to get into the best school; at this stage I am not even sure he wants to go to college because of his high school experience and how it has made him feel about his intellect. So those of you worried about competition – fret not. But now at least his test scores, whatever they may be, reflect his actual knowledge of the subjects and not his disability. Do we disallow a hearing impaired child from taking the SAT because they cannot hear the instructions? Do we allow a child who is blind to take the SAT without Braille because all of the other students are measured that way? Of course not. We accommodate those children. So why would we ask a child with ADHD inattentive to do something that they physically cannot do; take the test to demonstrate their knowledge in the same allotted time as is standard? That would simply not be the right thing to do.

    1. Kudos. I was diagnosed at 38 years old and my school experience and life in general have been nothing short of chaotic and devastating. To all of you saying this is unfair, read Jason’s post again and search yourself for empathy. To the author with the obvious bias, shame on you for your closed-mindedness.

  5. There are many children who genuinely need the extended time. The problem is with the abuse that has now become so prevalent. For this reason, testing time should be extended for everyone. In a way, just do away with time pressure when testing subject knowledge. If there is a reason to test how quickly a student can read and process the material then extended time makes non sense.

  6. I have a daughter that needs extended time. I completely agree that they should get rid of the time constraint on tests for all kids. At work, I would much rather someone take an extra day or two to give me a product that is thorough, thoughtful and correct then to give me something in a quicker time frame that sucks! We should be teaching kids to take the time to think deeply and to properly show their thought then to condition them that time is the most important factor.

  7. Yes…they should be given more time.

    My son has ADHD and Generalized & Social Anxiety. I could not give a flip if he scores higher/lower on the SAT relative to his peers….I am trying to get him in a testing situation where he doesn’t have a mental break down and/or run out of the room. The competitive parents reading this have NO idea what our kids struggle with.

    While I agree that there are probably some that abuse it….many don’t and you shouldn’t bulk them together. Parents of “normal” kids are so freaking competitive that they assume we are all in it for the better grade and that our kids possible better grade will push their kids off some admissions list. Uhhhhh….no.

    I have NO desire to get my kid into a UC or fancy pants private school. And when you insinuate that we are working the system….ask yourself if having my son teased and an outcast for 10 years sounds like a strategic masterplan to get him into college? And for anyone who reads this who maybe IS abusing the system, really question why you would want to get your kid into a school that they can’t make it into on their own merit?

    Obviously it isn’t a good fit and having your kid barely make it in academically is likely to result in a loss of your child’s self esteem and self-worth. Imagine when they are suddenly alone in college and discover that mom and dad aren’t there to bulldoze the bejeezus out of their professors, set up tutoring, remind them incessantly of due dates etc. If your kid isn’t doing all of that on their own then YOU TOO are working the system. In my opinion, a child’s entire high school experience should be based soley on their own efforts. It’s disturbing that so many kids have so much help on regular coursework or to make it into an AP class.

    I’m not sure how other states work but here I have to turn in a medical diagnosis AND a neuropsych eval along with the testing results. The neuropsych eval includes parent, kid, teacher, and MD involvement and a couple weeks worth of testing in a psych office. So if someone is gonna trick the system…..the parent, the kid, the MD, and the MD doing the neuropsych all have to be on board. Is a kid really gonna fake their way through a 2 week neuropsych eval.

    By the way my other child has depression AND anxiety and also has accommodations. However extended test taking isn’t one of them because I didn’t fight for that…it’s not an issue for her. What she gets is more time on homework and a hall pass to leave class when feeling overwhelmed. She does just fine in times testing situations.

  8. It’s too bad you have a disability but why should you get extra time to test. You are a less gifted student. Just accept it. Just like someone with a physical disability would be a worse athlete. Tough. You want extra time on your 40 yard dash?

  9. What an asshole thing to say! I hope one day someone shows you or yours the type of understanding and compassion you just showed the kids with these true disabilities.

  10. What an asshole thing to say! I hope one day someone shows you or yours the type of understanding and compassion you just showed the kids with these true disabilities.

  11. I’ve been diagnosed with ADHD since 4th grade, however, my parents and myself completely failed to address it. I spent up until my freshman year of college with the standard time and classroom. It was very difficult for me to correlate the grades I was receiving with my failure to process the questions in the standard amount of time. For countless exams, I looked at my graded tests and saw far too many mistakes which were due to me rushing through and overlooking aspects of the questions.

    I decided to seek help to address my ADHD as a whole, completely unaware of extra time or low distraction environments as an option. After my doctor has suggested extra time and low distraction from listening to my situation(mainly not being able to focus or complete tasks), I registered for the accommodations with my school. However, even though I was granted these accommodations, I did not use them for an entire year because I did not see how extra time, let alone ‘low distraction’ could possibly make a difference in my performance.

    Only after I started using my accommodations the following year was I able to see where the issue was. It had very little to do with me knowing and understanding the material and much more to do with myself processing the questions.

    My GPA went from a <3.0 to a 4.0(or slightly below) in the following year…

    I cannot begin to express the impact a low distraction environment and extended time had on my test taking, and can confirm it truly is life changing.

    I know, sometimes, I myself think is this unfair? Am I doing better because I get more time than other students? When I would think about this, I really felt bad. ESPECIALLY, since growing up, I was instilled with the idea that ADHD was practically an imaginary disorder, even more so with me refusing that I was different from anyone else. A big part of this was myself denying that my abilities may of been impaired. As I never thought to compare how my abilities may have differed from the majority of my peers. Since I only ever observed what I go through when completing task, I thought of it as normal, and assumed it is what everyone else goes through.

    Even though I had all the symptoms of ADHD, I refused to believe it, because I would look at them, and say, this can't be right, I have all of these symptoms and I'm "normal". I know right..

    I began to realize, that the extra time has nothing to do with me looking back and checking my answers. In fact, I can recall very few exams where I have ever had time to look back at my answers, even with the extra time. Instead, the extra time is only allowing me to better comprehend the questions and make up for the time I spend re-reading a question. I really did study hard and knew the answers, I just was not able to express what I knew in standard testing conditions.

    Here is what it is like for me. When reading a question on an exam, I get lost, blank out, or even space out mid sentence in a question numerous times. Requiring me to read the question multiple times, without even realizing it. Often(almost every time), I will read an entire question and not have a clue what I just read as I was not paying attention. This takes more time and when I begin to realize I am running out of time, I begin to rush through the questions missing so many aspects I get things wrong even though I knew the answers. Even now, as I have acknowledged this, and notice it(sometimes) when it happens, focusing on reading an entire question and completing it without spacing out or losing track takes a great amount of effort. This also applies to everything I do, such as paying attention in class, studying, doing homework, It always takes me a much longer time even as I am aware of myself getting distracted, I catch myself minutes to hours in doing something else and have to get back on task.

    Here is what I came to understand about my condition(it feels weird calling it a condition) and how I came to see things regarding extended time :

    -Even though I really knew the material, my ability to express my knowledge was disabled due to the amount of time I was given. I will say it again, because I cannot express this occurrence enough; I would read a question, entirely, and not have a clue about what I just read. Even with a lot of effort, me reading a question normally is someone skimming over a line of words. I often catch myself not comprehending the question even mid sentence and will start over.

    -Even with extended time, I rarely have the time to look back at my answers, or change them. Instead, I believe the extended time is only making up for the amount of time extra time I spend rereading and comprehending a question.

    -The argument can be made that that none of this is true, that what I go through is like everyone else, and I am instead using the extra time to "double check" my answers, however;
    ——–Simply having the extra time to look over to "double check" cannot possibly account for a GPA increase from a 3.0 to a 4.0.(in my opinion)
    ——–This increase shows that a student knows a significantly greater understanding in material
    ——–If a student can have such an increase in GPA due to just an increase amount of time, then this would mean the majority of incorrect answers they receive are due to their inability to comprehend the question or simply not having enough time RATHER than simply not knowing the answer- From my knowledge, I do not think this is the case for most people who get answers wrong without the extended time.

    -It is without a doubt that extended time is beneficial to individuals with ADHD. If someone has the goal of becoming a dentist (such as myself), I do not believe this should be inhibited by their lack of ability to process the questions in a certain amount of time on exams, as they might really know the material and have the potential to make great contributions in society through the career they are pursuing.

    -I understand that extended time may abused by individuals without ADHD, however, I do not believe the solution is to remove extended time, as this is equivalent removing parking spaces designated for disabled individuals, because non disabled individuals are obtaining disabled placards without being disabled.
    —–Instead, I believe this issue can only be addressed by encouraging
    medical professionals to be thorough in the diagnosis of ADHD and other mental disabilities, as they are the only ones qualified to do so, and schools should and can only rely on them to determine who really needs any types of accommodations.

    Lastly, to address the individual who said "It’s too bad you have a disability but why should you get extra time to test.". I completely see where you are coming from, as I this thought has come up in my head.

    -First, this like saying, it is too bad people are in wheel chairs, but why should we build ramps for them?
    -Or it is too bad people can't see, but why should we put Braille on public signs?
    This is because these individuals are capable of completing the same task, but need accommodations to do so. Students with ADHD or other disabilities in school are able to perform just as well on exams or other tasks on other students, but just need accommodations to do so.

    This is not relatable to sports, as being a professional athlete requires you to do things at a certain level, such as you have to run a 40 yard dash in a certain amount of time, however accommodations won't improve your 40 yard dash time, which is why their are sports custom for individuals with certain disabilities…

    BUT you CAN improve a students test scores with accommodations, this is because tests have a goal of seeing how much you know and how well you understand the material.

    Example: To become a doctor, you need to know a certain amount and be able to do a certain amount. If accommodations result in you completing those tasks just as well as anyone else, then their really isn't much harm because now you can provide your services to those who wish.

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