OBJECTIVE. Approximately 4.4 million (7.8%) children in the United States have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, and 56% of affected children take prescription medications to treat the disorder. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is strongly linked with low academic achievement, but the association between medication use and academic achievement in school settings is largely unknown. Our objective was to determine if reported medication use for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is positively associated with academic achievement during elementary school.
METHOD. To estimate the association between reported medication use and standardized mathematics and reading achievement scores for a US sample of 594 children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, we used 5 survey waves between kindergarten and fifth grade from the nationally representative Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—Kindergarten Class of 1998–1999 to estimate a first-differenced regression model, which controlled for time-invariant confounding variables.
RESULTS. Medicated children had a mean mathematics score that was 2.9 points higher than the mean score of unmedicated peers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Children who were medicated for a longer duration (at >2 waves) had a mean reading score that was 5.4 points higher than the mean score of unmedicated peers with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The medication-reading association was lower for children who had an individualized education program than for those without such educational accommodation.
CONCLUSIONS. The finding of a positive association between medication use and standardized mathematics and reading test scores is important, given the high prevalence of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and its association with low academic achievement. The 2.9-point mathematics and 5.4-point reading score differences are comparable with score gains of 0.19 and 0.29 school years, respectively, but these gains are insufficient to eliminate the test-score gap between children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and those without the disorder. Long-term trials are needed to better understand the relationship between medication use and academic achievement.