Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Improving the Persuasive Essay Writing of High School Students with ADHD

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Improving the Persuasive Essay Writing of High School Students with ADHD

Article excerpt

Learning to write is difficult. To be an effective writer, one must learn--and be able to effectively use--a variety of separate skills to create a coherent piece of text. In addition to the mechanics of writing, children must learn to develop effective composition skills (Graham & Harris, 2003). Strong writers must know how to plan, generate content, organize, address an appropriate audience, revise, and improve their written composition. Outside of the actual creation of text itself, the writing process requires attention to task, the ability to redirect one's ideas, and self-monitoring of the writing process (Harris, Graham, & Mason, 2003). These skills are difficult to develop and require extensive practice. Current data suggest that American high school students are experiencing difficulty mastering written composition skills. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (Salahu-Din, Persky, & Miller, 2008) reports that few American high school students are meeting expected achievement levels in writing. Nearly 75% of the students participating in the assessment were unable to meet the requirements for the proficient standard. For students with disabilities, the results were even more disappointing: 95% of participating students with disabilities were at or below the basic level for writing performance (Salahu-Din et al.).

Problems with written expression are a serious concern, because demonstrating effective writing skills is a requirement for ever-growing numbers of American students (National Commission on Writing in America's Schools and Colleges, 2003). An increasing number of school districts and states are implementing exit examinations to raise graduation standards and meet federal requirements. In 2006, 22 states had state-mandated math and English language arts graduation examinations, with an expected total of 25 states planning to have similar requirements in place by 2010. More than 65% of public high school students reside in states with exit examinations, and by 2012 this proportion is predicted to rise to 72% (Achieve, 2006; Zabala et al., 2007). Currently, 15 states require students to demonstrate specific writing abilities to graduate from high school (Achieve; Zabala et al.).

Students with disabilities frequently struggle to pass these tests. For example, in 2001, 92% of students with disabilities who completed high school were unable to obtain a passing score, which is required for a diploma, on the New York State Regents Exam (New York Department of Education, 2001). Similarly, 95% of 10th-grade students with disabilities failed to pass Alaska's state writing test, compared with a failure rate of 52% for students without disabilities (Alaska Department of Education, 2001). The high-stakes testing movement puts increased pressure on students who have difficulty writing, a difficulty that can, in turn, affect their ability to graduate, attend college, and seek postsecondary employment outside of entry-level positions.

One group of students who are at risk for writing problems is students with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). ADHD is one of the most commonly diagnosed disorders of childhood (Barkley, 1997), affecting nearly 2 million school-aged children (Forness & Kavale, 2002). Students with ADHD frequently struggle academically. These students are more likely to have failing grades (Fergusson, Horwood, & Lynskey, 1993; Fergusson, Lynskey, & Horwood, 1997) and lower scores on achievement tests than their nondisabled peers (Carlson & Tamm, 2000; Frankenberger & Connon, 1999). They also have higher rates of grade repetition, dropping out, and expulsion (Barkley, 1998; Weiss & Hechtman, 1993). In addition, 20% to 40% of students with ADHD also have learning disabilities (LDs), putting them at increased risk for academic problems (Barkley, 1998).

Research shows that written expression is a problem for students with ADHD. …

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