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Reading the Report Cards of High School Students With ADHD

If you had to guess what the typical report card of someone with ADHD said, you might try something like “underachieving, inattentive to details, needs to try harder.” Here’s the thing, though: you don’t have to guess.

That’s because in 2011, a group of researchers actually collected the report cards of 326 high school students who’d been diagnosed with ADHD and 213 who hadn’t.

One caveat: the researchers only collected data on male students. But it’s not so far out to think that the report cards of female students with ADHD would have some similar patterns.

GradeI will say that my heart goes out to these researchers. It’s bad enough to be a parent and get a report card that says your kid isn’t doing well in school. But imagine getting 326 of them!

Anyway, when the researchers read through the report cards of high-school students with ADHD, here’s what they found.

Lower GPA

GPA is the one big number that’s supposed to capture all of your high school success. Unfortunately for students with ADHD, that big number isn’t necessarily very big.

It turned out that across all four years of high school, students without ADHD diagnoses had higher GPAs. As freshmen, their average overall GPA was 83 out of 100, compared to 73 for students with ADHD. By senior year, the gap had narrowed somewhat to 81 vs. 77.

“Not working up to potential”

Ah yes, here it is. The slogan of academic life with ADHD.

It’s a common trope that students with ADHD get report cards saying they aren’t fulfilling their potential, and this trope apparently has more than a little truth behind it.

Sixty-one percent of students without ADHD were rated by their teachers as “working up to potential.” As for the students with ADHD diagnoses? That number was 30 percent.

Dropping Out

For students who find that academic environments aren’t a good fit for them, dropping out is the nuclear option. Unfortunately, students with ADHD are more likely to take that option, and not just by a little.

Over the course of the study, 1.4 percent of students without ADHD had dropped out of school by the end of twelfth grade. For students with ADHD, that number was 14.1 percent. According to the researchers, that’s an odds ratio of 8.14, but you don’t really need to do any statistics to see the difference.

Absences and tardies

Interestingly, students with ADHD don’t just struggle with school. Apparently, they’re less likely to show up at school in the first place. Teens with ADHD had an average of 17 absences per year, versus 10 for those without ADHD. And those with ADHD diagnoses had an average of 8 tardies, compared to 4 for those without.

The study didn’t look at why adolescents with ADHD might be predisposed to rack up more absences and late arrivals.

These numbers underscore the difference ADHD symptoms make on educational achievement. It isn’t subtle.

Of course, just like for students without ADHD, there’s variation in how students with ADHD do in school and what their academic strengths and weaknesses are. But in general, students with ADHD will struggle in ways that they wouldn’t struggle if they didn’t have ADHD.

So if you’re an ADHDer who got a report card talking about your failure to live up to your potential, hopefully this study will give you some solace in the fact that you definitely aren’t alone!

Image: Flickr/SalFalko

Reading the Report Cards of High School Students With ADHD

Neil Petersen

Neil Petersen writes regularly on education, learning disabilities and technology. He received his B.A. in 2014 and was diagnosed with ADHD at the beginning of his college studies. Neil also works for a music education non-profit and hopes to help create an education system that can better serve students with ADHD.

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APA Reference
Petersen, N. (2019). Reading the Report Cards of High School Students With ADHD. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 28, 2020, from


Last updated: 7 Feb 2019
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