Extended Time: Useful or Misused?

By Ann McCarthy


Adding the extended time accommodation to your child’s IEP may improve short-term outcomes, but it does not address the underlying issues • For long-term benefits, the better option is to work with your child’s team to address skill deficits

Extended time on tests is arguably the most common accommodation given to students with ADHD. But is extended time alone enough to address the challenges faced by these students? Or should you be advocating to address the issue that led to the accommodation in the first place?

There are a number of reasons why children with ADHD require extended time, including behavioral issues, challenges with task initiation or completion, test-taking anxiety, poor time-management skills, and the inability to realistically judge how much time it takes to complete academic tasks.

Rather than settling for extended time, ask if there is direct instruction that can address the skill deficits resulting in the need for the accommodation. 

Long-Term Fix

ADHD is a disorder of executive function. And if executive functions can be trained then, in many cases, extended time on tests is merely a band-aid that masks the real need for skill building through direct instruction.

The direct instruction needed can be accomplished through IEP goals and objectives or via tiered supports through Response to Intervention for the student who may not be eligible for special education.

Simply allowing for extended time, while neither teaching students what to do with the extra time nor addressing the deficits that result in the need for more time, is unlikely to improve the rate of work completion, or the quality of the work—factors that may have led to the request originally.

“Accommodations may be taking the focus away from interventions,” said Benjamin J. Lovett, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Elmira College. “Students are provided with extended time on the basis of data from psychoeducational evaluations. Could these same data suggest effective interventions instead? Consider whether interventions would be helpful, either in conjunction with or in lieu of extended time. Even if extended time is determined to be necessary, what steps will you take to make it less so?”

Ann McCarthy is a former special education advocate.

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