Why the School With the Highest Test Scores Wasn’t the Right Fit for My Child With ADHD

By Lia Martin on
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I’m the mother of a twice-exceptional son who just started sixth grade. Tay is gifted. He also has ADHD, anxiety, high-functioning autism and epilepsy. Despite these challenges, he finished elementary school above grade level in math, and almost above grade level in English language arts.

I was so proud as I sat through Tay’s fifth-grade graduation ceremony. But I wasn’t prepared for what would come afterward. Graduation was filled with cheers, tears and, much to my surprise, a message to me from his teacher: “Tay holds a special place in my heart…I know he walked toward a bright, exciting future.”

There were high fives and chest bumps celebrating the end of homework and dioramas for the summer all around me. But I just strolled the schoolyard in a haze, taking in what Tay’s teacher had said.

Other mothers approached me and volunteered to take Tay on summer outings with their kids. I watched Tay collect phone numbers from fellow classmates to keep in touch. I stared in amazement while he seamlessly allowed school staff to hug him (despite his intense aversion to physical touch).

That whole morning felt surreal, because life wasn’t always that harmonious for Tay.

Before he entered elementary school, I did extensive research to find the areas in our district with the highest test scores. I began my search with GreatSchools, which provides key information on schools to help parents assess the best fit for their children.

I also referred to the Academic Performance Index scores (this is the formal measurement of academic performance and progress of individual schools in California). We sold our home and found a rental within our budget near a high-performing school—the motherlode.

But within weeks at this academic oasis, Tay was having daily meltdowns and seemed to be declining academically. I decided to hire a tutor and do classroom observations. Though Tay had a 504 plan, it appeared that it wasn’t being followed. The teacher wasn’t seating him in the front of the class, breaking down tasks into small chunks, and giving him regular breaks.

My frustrations with this situation led to more research, and that research led me to what I hoped was the answer: an IEP.

While learning about what an IEP could do for Tay, I enrolled him in social skills classes, placed him in therapy, and signed up for support groups and parenting workshops. At the same time, I applied for charter schools and then to magnet schools in our district.

Instead of relying on test scores, I toured campuses, spoke to parents, and sat with school staff. I even spoke to students. I relied on my gut. But before I moved my gifted child, I asked that he be evaluated by the school so that he could qualify for an IEP. I was denied. And that crushed me.

My husband and I decided to enlist help. We found our own superhero in the form of a special education attorney. Just weeks after we sent off a request from her, Tay was granted an IEP and got accepted into a magnet school that played to his strengths.

Tay spent five years of his elementary school career receiving the services he needed to get on track and stay there. He surpassed everyone’s expectations both academically and socially. And while there are still challenging times, most days actually leave us in total agreement with his fifth-grade teacher: He’s heading toward an “exciting future.”


If you’re thinking about switching schools, learn what the options are for different types of schools. And find out what happens to your child’s IEP if you switch schools.

Any opinions, views, information and other content contained in blogs on Understood.org are the sole responsibility of the writer of the blog, and do not necessarily reflect the views, values, opinions or beliefs of, and are not endorsed by, Understood.

About the Author

About the Author

Lia Martin 

is a writer and entrepreneur, and the mother of a son with ADHD and autism.

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