Recommending Accommodations to Teens: an Unconventional Method that Works

By Luke Trayser

Female teacher working with female student on an Apple computer

Here’s some news that will most definitely NOT shock you. If you tell teenagers what to do, chances are good that they’ll do the exact opposite.


If you’re the parent or teacher of teenagers, you’re likely nodding vigorously right now. But if you want evidence to support the claim that teenagers aren’t huge fans of unearned authority, look no further than anti-smoking campaigns of the past. The “D.A.R.E.” and “just say no” programs had good intentions, but the approach was completely wrong. Both campaigns tried to tell teenagers what was up.


This bossy tone made sense at the time. Adults had science on their side (smoking is really, truly bad for you) and the benefit of more time on this earth. That combination surely made a “Don’t smoke” demand seem like a no-brainer that all teens would understand, right? But as it turns out, neither “D.A.R.E.” nor “just say no” reduced teen smoking.


The campaigns gave kids peer pressure scenarios in an effort to boost their self esteem. Countering “Come on, don’t you want to be cool?” with “Not doing drugs IS cool!” sounded great to a classroom full of 10-year-olds, but once they used that line as a teenager in the real world, they were quickly laughed at. So those past campaigns, which were created with the best of intentions, proved remarkably out of touch in the end.


Telling teenagers not to smoke didn’t work. So what would?

Enter the “truth” campaign

The word Truth appearing behind torn brown paper

You know the ads well. They have a gritty, aggressive tone. They never flat-out say “DON’T SMOKE.” Instead, each ad visually communicates that only fools and suckers are duped into smoking. If you smoke, you die. Your loved ones die. Meanwhile, powerful executives get richer.


Some of the ads are downright shocking in how they depict smoking addiction and the destruction it wreaks on the human body.

Some talk about how tobacco messes with your money.

And some even urge viewers to protect their furry friends by not smoking.

The results are astounding. The “truth” campaign was innovative and effective, and it was named as one of the top ad campaigns of the 21st century by Advertising Age. As the publication put it, “The push encouraged rebellion and, for the first time, made it cool not to smoke.”


That’s huge. Instead of pitting well-meaning teenagers against their peer pressuring peers, “truth” united ALL teenagers against evil, power-hungry adults. Ironically, that living, breathing villain known as Big Tobacco is what finally caused teenagers to smoke less than before.

The power of a good story.

Hashtag Youth Power written over a group of happy teens forming a hand pile

A powerful call to action from current “truth” ads urges teenagers to “BE THE GENERATION THAT ENDS SMOKING” with the hashtag #FinishIT thrown in for good measure. This anti-authority, anti-establishment message effectively gives kids permission to fix what previous generations screwed up.


The call to action puts the power in teenagers’ hands, with the understanding that they’re free to make their own decision after considering the evidence.


As “truth” put it, teenagers have two choices. They can start smoking, waste money, get sick, and die early. Or they can not smoke, destroy the tobacco industry, and change the world. When it’s put in those terms, the choice is easy.

Give teenagers information, not demands.

Teacher points to something in a notebook helping student at desk

Up to age 12, kids typically listen when an authority figure tells them what to do. But when they become teenagers, a rebellious switch flips in their developing brains. They veer away from their parents and take big steps toward independence and being in charge of their own lives. This switch is exactly why telling teenage students what they should be doing often backfires.


Let’s say you’ve observed the reading skills of one of your students, and you’re pretty sure he needs read aloud accommodation. If you tell him flat-out that he’s getting read aloud accommodation to help with his reading skill, it makes sense from your perspective. Your intuition and expertise combined to give him a recommendation that makes sense and will help him.


But from your student’s perspective, he does not have a choice. Your subjective opinion trumps his simply because you’re the authority figure and he’s not. He feels dumb, and forced into something he doesn’t want to do. Pretty lame. And definitely not the state of mind he needs to be in if you want him to grow as a student.

uPAR to the rescue. Turn the subjective into data-driven.

Teachers and students smile around data that says 78% 7 of 9 Benefit from Accomodation

As is often the case, both of you are probably right. Your student may need accommodation, but your opinion is indeed subjective. That’s where the Universal Protocol for Accommodations in Reading (uPAR) comes in. It automates the process of assessing student reading levels with and without accommodations. You can implement it in classroom-size groups, there is no staff training required, and it automatically scores reading skill from 1st to 10th grade levels. Bottom line: IEP teams see which students would benefit and which would be disadvantaged by accommodations.


Sadly, students frequently receive incorrect accommodations when teachers rely on subjective judgement. But uPAR turns that process into a data-driven diagnostic process that anyone on your team can implement. Your students perform their best, they actually use their accommodations, and teachers and parents are in lockstep.

Before uPAR:

The big problem with technology implementation is that there’s no data to share. You’re telling students, “Here are some tools I’d like you to start using to help with reading and writing.” Students quickly counter with, “Okay, but WHY?”


But, if you learn from “truth” by presenting information and letting students decide, here’s what happens.

Boy in blue shirt smiles next to uPAR data results

After uPAR:

An 8th grade student who reads independently at a 5th grade level learns he can handle 8th grade text when hearing it read aloud. It’s now up to the student to decide. Instead of saying, “You should use these tools,” you can now say, “Here’s the data and what it means. You can handle 8th grade reading when you use this tool, or 5th grade reading when you don’t. Your call. I’m sure you’ll choose what’s best for you.”


An underrated aspect of uPAR is that the accommodation recommendation is far less personal. Instead of coming from the teacher, it’s coming from an automated tool.

The universal truth:

Teenagers are fickle but not unpredictable. The more we push our opinions onto them, the more their resistance mechanisms kick in. When we can share personalized relevant information that shows the path to finding success, they will often reward parents’ and teachers’ with the wise choice.


For more information and to request a trial click here.

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