Research Uncovers New Knowledge on Learning Disabilities

April 6, 2018

College students with ADHD or learning disabilities can face barriers as they pursue their education. Some good news on this front is that these students may be entitled to academic accommodations under the auspices of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Two Denison students, Sophie Conlon ’18, a psychology major and educational studies minor from Portland, Ore., and Megan Jamison ’18, a psychology major from Pataskala, Ohio, set out to test some of these accommodations for their effectiveness.

These accommodations are designed to mitigate the effects of ADHD and learning disabilities on students’ performance, allowing them to learn and demonstrate their learning, in a manner similar to their peers without disabilities.

The most common accommodations are extra time on exams and testing in a separate, distraction-reduced setting. Although several studies have examined the effects of extra time on exam performance, no published studies have examined the effectiveness of private room testing as an accommodation for students with disabilities.

As part of a class project, Conlon and Jamison randomly assigned students to complete a standardized reading or math exam in either a traditional group setting or in a private room. Then they examined the students’ test scores as a function of their test-site settings and their disability status.

As expected, private room testing improved the reading test scores of students with disabilities, allowing them to earn scores similar to their classmates without disabilities.

It was a bit surprising, however, to discover that private room testing was associated with lower math scores for students with disabilities. This finding suggests that private room testing can sometimes have iatrogenic effects on performance and should be administered cautiously.

In response to this study, Conlon and Jamison received Research Awards from Psi Chi, the national honor society for psychology — just ten students received awards in 2018 out of approximately 750 students who submitted their research. Conlon and Jamison will present their research at the Psi Chi conference in Chicago, and will receive their awards during a ceremony at the conference. Each award comes with a monetary prize and certificate of recognition given by the organization.

“Sophie and Megan pursued excellent research in this study,” said Robert Weis, associate professor of psychology at Denison University. “The Psi Chi awards are highly coveted and a mark of the excellence of their work. I look forward to reading their future research as well.”

Back to top