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Norm- vs. Criterion-Referenced Scoring: Advantages & Disadvantages

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  1. 0:04 Using Assessments
  2. 0:40 Raw Scores
  3. 1:34 Criterion-Referenced Scores
  4. 3:08 Norm-Referenced Scores
  5. 3:43 Age/Grade Equivalent,…
  6. 6:20 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Melissa Hurst

Assessment results allow educators to make important decisions about students' knowledge, abilities and future educational potential. There are multiple ways to summarize and interpret assessment results. This lesson will discuss ways to summarize norm-referenced assessments and criterion-referenced assessments.

Using Assessments

Teacher: Thank you for coming in today to meet with me regarding your child's progress in school. I want to provide you information on the multiple types of assessments we take in the classroom and explain how we score and use the results for various purposes.

We take multiple types of assessments in our class, and there are many ways I summarize the results of these assessments. These summaries provide feedback regarding your child's level of mastery and understanding. These assessments also give me a way to address any areas of weakness for individual students or in the class as a whole.

Raw Scores

The most basic way to summarize an assessment is through a raw score. A raw score is the score based solely on the number of correctly answered items on an assessment.

For example, this is your child's most recent math test. His raw score was a 96 because he got 96 items correct on the assessment. Raw scores are often used in teacher-constructed assessments.

The potential drawback to the use of raw scores is that they may be difficult to interpret without knowledge of how one raw score compares to a norm group, which is a reference group used to compare one test taker's score to similar other test takers. We'll talk about using norm-referenced scores in a moment. Raw scores may also be difficult to understand without comparing them to specific criteria, which we will discuss now.

Criterion-Referenced Scores

I want to discuss another method of scoring: criterion-referenced scoring. This refers to a score on an assessment that specifically indicates what a student is capable of or what knowledge they possess.

Student scores can be tied to an equivalent age or grade level
Age Grade Equivalent Chart

Criterion-referenced scores are most appropriate when an educator wants to assess the specific concepts or skills a student has learned through classroom instruction. Most criterion-referenced assessments have a cut score, which determines success or failure based on an established percentage correct.

For example, in my class, in order for a student to successfully demonstrate their knowledge of the math concepts we discuss, they must answer at least 80% of the test questions correctly. Your child earned an 85% on his last fractions test; therefore, he demonstrated knowledge of the subject area and passed.

It's important to remember that criterion-referenced scores tell us how well a student performs against an objective or standard, as opposed to against another student. For example, a learning objective in my class is 'students should be able to correctly divide fractions.' The criterion-referenced score tells me if that student meets the objective successfully.

The potential drawback for criterion-referenced scores is that the assessment of complex skills is difficult to determine through the use of one score on an assessment.

Norm-Referenced Scores

Now let's discuss the type of score that compares one student's performance on an assessment with the average performance of other peers. This is referred to as norm-referenced scores.

Norm-referenced scores are useful when educators want to make comparisons across large numbers of students or when making decisions on student placement (in K-12 schools or college) and grade advancement. Some familiar examples of norm-referenced assessments are the SAT, ACT and GRE.

Age/Grade Equivalent, Percentile, Standard

Standard deviation units show the normal distribution for a set of scores
Standard Deviations Mean

There are three types of norm-referenced scores. The first is age or grade equivalent. These scores compare students by age or grade. Breaking this type down, we can see that age equivalent scores indicate the approximate age level of students to whom an individual student's performance is most similar, and grade equivalent scores indicate the approximate grade level of students to whom an individual student's performance is most similar.

These scores are useful when explaining assessment results to parents or people unfamiliar with standard scores. For example, let's look at your child's raw score on a recent math standardized assessment. Looking at the chart, we see that your child's raw score of 56 places him at an 8th grade level and an approximate age of 13.

The potential disadvantage of using age or grade equivalent scores is that parents and some educators misinterpret the scores, especially when scores indicate the student is below expected age or grade level.

The second type of norm-referenced scoring is percentile rank. These scores indicate the percentage of peers in the norm group with raw scores less than or equal to a specific student's raw score.

Percentile rank scores can sometimes overestimate differences of students with scores that fall near the mean of the normed group and underestimate differences of students with scores that fall on the extreme lower or upper range of the scores.

For example, let's look at your child's percentile score on a recent math standardized assessment. The percentile indicates he scored a 55. This means that he scored better than 55% of other students taking the same assessment.

The final type of norm-referenced scoring is standard score. These scores indicate how far a student's performance is from the mean with respect to the normal distribution of scores (also referred to as standard deviation units). While these scores are useful when describing a student's performance compared to a larger group, they might be confusing to understand without a basic knowledge of statistics - which is covered in another lesson.

We see here from your son's score he falls about one standard deviation away from the mean (the average scores of the population that took the same assessment). This information tells us that his score is slightly above the scores of the other students.

Lesson Summary

Okay, so let's recap what we have discussed in our meeting. First, there are multiple ways to score assessments. The scores tell us different things about a student's progress.

Raw scores are simply the number of items correct on an assessment. Criterion-referenced scores tell us what a student is capable of because the score is reflective of successful demonstration of knowledge or failure to demonstrate knowledge in a specific area.

Norm-referenced scores are a bit more complicated. These scores compare one student's score to other students across large groups. Scores can be compared by age and grade, referred to as age or grade equivalent scores. Scores can also represent a percentile ranking, which indicates the percentage of peers in the norm group scoring equal or lower to a specific student's score, referred to as percentile scores. Finally, scores can be compared to a mean, referred to as standard score.

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