What is a criterion-referenced test?
A criterion-referenced test is designed to measure a student’s academic performance against some standard or criteria. This standard or criteria is predetermined before students begin the test. Schools or districts choose a standard, such as a percent of items answered correctly or a state test benchmark, as the criteria for the test. The student’s score then shows the progress they have made toward the agreed-upon standard–if they fall short, they must continue to work toward the standard. An example: When you take your temperature, the accepted healthy standard is 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. If your temperature is higher, you are not meeting the standard for health and are likely ill
In addition to criterion-referenced tests, teachers can also use norm-referenced tests in order to learn different things about their students’ progress.
What are these tests used for in schools?
Schools use criterion-referenced tests to assess the specific knowledge and skills students have most likely learned in order to assess how close a student is to mastering a specific standard. We say “most likely” because there is no absolutely perfect way to measure things we cannot directly see without some error.
Why are criterion-referenced tests important?
We want to know what students have already learned and what we can do to help them achieve proficiency or meet the desired learning standard. For example, performance on state assessments is often of critical importance for districts. Criterion-referenced tests will show you where students are in relation to state test benchmarks (or other agreed-upon standards) at any given time, letting you structure instruction and intervention for students who need it.
Where can I learn more?
Psychometrics—or the science of measuring mental processes—is complicated, we agree. This definition is just the beginning of what criterion-referenced tests are and what they do for teachers and students. To take your knowledge to the next level, check out our psychometrician supervisor Catherine Close’s blog post “Giving meaning to test scores.”