How an IEP Can Help Your ADHD Kid Do Better on Tests


Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are custom-made plans to help your ADHD child perform better in school. Find out more about these programs and how they can improve your child's test scores.


Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) are intended to make life easier for children dealing with learning disabilities, such as ADHD. Established by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 2004, IEPs are detailed courses of study that describe your child's needs in detail and outline the measures that can be taken to ensure that he or she receives the same quality of education as other students.

Child struggling with test

IEPs permeate every aspect of the school experience, including classroom discussions, field trips, and, perhaps most importantly, tests. A well-designed and properly implemented IEP can make the test-taking process much easier for your child; read on to learn how.

How Does an IEP Work?

To understand how an IEP can help your ADHD child do better on tests, it is important to first understand how these individualized plans work.

There is no such thing as a 'standard IEP,' given that these programs are highly customized to fit the needs of each student. What works well for one student may not work for another, and as such no two IEPs are identical. All plans, however, are required by federal law to contain certain elements, such as:

Present Level of Academic Achievement and Functional Performance (PLAAFP): Sometimes referred to as PLOP or PLP, PLAAFP outlines the various strengths and weaknesses of your child's current academic standing. This item also details how your child's ability to follow the general curriculum is hindered by his or her learning disability.

Evaluation Methods: IEPs rely on a blend of objective and subjective analysis to gauge your child's needs. School officials can draw on statistical analysis such as test scores on standardized assessments, while subjective information includes observations from your child's teacher and your own opinions as a parent.

Explanation of Services: IEPs must explicitly describe the care that the child can expect to receive. Rather than broad descriptions, these services must be clearly defined. If, for example, an IEP calls for a weekly meeting with the school nurse, the IEP must also explain the purpose, objectives, and even duration of the meeting.

Academic & Personal Goals: IEPs are not rigid and inflexible plans; they are meant to be altered and modified as a child's needs change. One way to determine the need for change is the creation of daily, weekly, and even annual goals for your child's performance. Completion of these goals serves as proof that the IEP is working, while failure indicates the need to change things up.

Test & glasses

Now that we've covered exactly how an IEP works, it's time to explain how these plans of study can benefit your ADHD child.


When creating special measures for children, IEPs contain two types of adjustments for students with special needs: accommodations and modifications. First, we'll take a look at accommodations.

These are changes that allow a student to complete the same work as their peers. Accommodations are generally not major changes and can include a number of non-invasive techniques. Examples of accommodations are as follows:

  • Extended time for testing
  • Assistance with organization
  • Various behavioral management techniques
  • Preferential seating (usually at the front of the classroom)
  • Supplemental visual instructions
  • Quiet room/area for study and relaxing
  • Extended deadlines on major assignments (essays, science projects, etc.)

As you can see, a number of these adjustments can be extremely beneficial as your child completes tests and exams. Extended test time and preferential seating offer obvious benefits, while items such as visual instructions can also help make the test-taking process more manageable for your ADHD child.


In cases where accommodations do not sufficiently provide for the needs of children with IEPs, modifications must be made. Whereas accommodations allow students to learn the same content as their peers, modifications are actual changes to assignments or the curriculum that make it easier for children to stay on track.

Distracted student

Modifications range in severity, with both major and minor changes available for students who may need them. Examples of modifications for students include:

  • Use of computerized spell-check
  • Ability to use calculator on math tests
  • Film or video content instead of traditional text
  • Simplified, reworded questions
  • Completing outlines or alternative projects instead of written essays

Many modifications apply strictly to academic content as opposed to the behavioral aspect of a child's performance. With these helpful changes to course content and tests, your child will find it much easier to perform well on projects and exams.

Overall Class Experience

Now that we've covered how IEPs can help with the test itself, it's time to take a look at the other ways that these programs can help improve test scores. With the exception of standardized tests such as the SAT or ACT, most exams gauge a student's ability to recall information learned throughout a unit or semester. Following this line of thinking, the better a student can study and stay on track when the material is being taught, the better he or she can do when it comes time to take a test. This is where IEPs become critically important.

Happy student

With an effective IEP, your child will find studying to be much less frustrating. Other benefits include enhanced focus and a lengthened attention span, all of which will improve your child's overall academic performance.

IEPs use both short- and long-term goals to help children with special academic needs. Daily goals can include sitting in one seat all day or completing a checklist of tasks. While these goals may seem insignificant by themselves, they have a cumulative effect as they help your child learn to manage his or her disability through smaller tasks, which in turn provides assistance with more major tasks.

Monthly and even annual goals cannot be accomplished in a single endeavor. A final exam may be one sole test, but your child's success or failure is dependent on the ability to recall information learned over the course of the semester, and an IEP can help at this crucial stage.

Creative and effective IEPs make it easier for your child to study, which in turn helps them perform better on tests. Even on standardized tests where most preparation occurs outside the classroom, students will be equipped with the essential skills needed for independent preparation.

Students taking test

If your child's ADHD is preventing success on tests and exams, consider pursuing an IEP. These helpful programs are sure to improve academic performance.

By Bill Sands
January 2020
k-12 iep and 504 plans

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