How Does ADHD Affect School Performance?

— U.S. Department of Education
Updated on Jun 25, 2011


The school experience can be challenging for students with ADHD. Students usually are identified only after consistently demonstrating a failure to understand or follow rules or to complete required tasks. Other common reasons for referral include frequent classroom disruptions and poor academic performance.

Studies found that students with ADHD, compared to students without ADHD, had persistent academic difficulties that resulted in the following: lower average marks, more failed grades, more expulsions, increased dropout rates, and a lower rate of college undergraduate completion (Weiss & Hechtman as cited in Johnston, 2002; Ingersoll, 1988). The disruptive behavior sometimes associated with the disorder may make students with ADHD more susceptible to suspensions and expulsions. A study by Barkley and colleagues (1990b) found that 46 percent of their student study group with ADHD had been suspended and 11 percent had been expelled.

ADHD's core symptoms—inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity—make meeting the daily rigors of school challenging (Zentall, 1993). Difficulty sustaining attention to a task may contribute to missing important details in assignments, daydreaming during lectures and other activities, and difficulty organizing assignments. Hyperactivity may be expressed in either verbal or physical disruptions in class. Impulsivity may lead to careless errors, responding to questions without fully formulating the best answers, and only attending to activities that are entertaining or novel. Overall, students with ADHD may experience more problems with school performance than their nondisabled peers.

Helpful Hints

This section highlights a few evidence-based hints for addressing the specific learning needs of children with ADHD. More detailed information about the effective strategies can be found in a companion guide, Teaching Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: Instructional Strategies and Practices.

Numerous studies have found that positive results occur when the major stakeholders in a student's education collaborate to address a child's ADHD (Blazer, 1999; Bos, 1999; Bos, Nahmias, & Urban, 1999; Nahmias, 1995; Williams & Carteledge, 1997). Effective collaboration and communication between home and school provide structure across the two major settings in the child's life. Common rewards, reinforcement strategies, and language help to promote consistency across settings.

Bos et al. (1999) reported that collaborative partnerships between home and school were especially important during the initial assessment of the child's disability and educational needs, the development of behavior modification plans, the evaluations of medication, and the coordination of assignments. Parents and teachers can share information with one another if they work together to plan behavioral and academic strategies for the student. Parents can offer information about the child-including the child's medical history, hobbies and interests, effective reinforcers, and behavior in other settings-that may inform the decisions made by the teacher and other members of the IEP team. The teacher can keep parents informed about their child's progress, performance, and behavior in school. If the child is taking medication, the teacher can offer feedback to parents regarding how the medication affects the student's performance and the duration of the medicine's effectiveness. This information also can be used to help medical professionals make more informed decisions about the child with ADHD.

If a child exhibits patterns of disruptive or aggressive behavior, best practice research indicates that the child may benefit from a positive behavioral intervention plan that clearly delineates expectations and includes positive supports. The process to develop an effective plan should be collaborative and involve the parents and those other individuals who are most familiar with the child.

Students also can take some of the responsibility for their educational and behavioral adaptations. Blazer (1999) reported that students as young as 5 years old can communicate ways to make their school experience more pleasurable and learning easier. Student input also helps to promote a sense of ownership and responsibility for the new strategies and adaptations.

The following are some suggestions for practices that may be helpful for parents and teachers working with a child with ADHD.

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