Scores from norm-referenced tests are used to compare students’ progress to others in their peer group. This group may contain students in the same grade across the nation, or other categories such as special education, disability status, English learners, gifted students, and more. Most commonly, norm-referenced tests use a national peer group.
The key goal of these tests is to compare one student’s performance to others in a predetermined peer group. Students take an assessment. Teachers can then analyze their scores to learn more about the students’ performance. In addition to norm-referenced tests, teachers can also use criterion-referenced tests in order to learn different things about their students’ progress.
What are these tests used for in schools?
By analyzing norm-referenced test scores, you can gauge where each student is in relation to other students similar to themselves. For example, if a third-grade student scores in the 90th percentile rank, they are performing better than most of their peers. Although this does not have a direct influence on instruction, knowing where a student performs in relation to peers can be useful.
Why are norm-referenced tests important?
In certain instances, it’s not always about what students know, but how they look in the crowd as well. Imagine you are the third-grade teacher from our example above. You use an assessment that is nationally normed to gain more insight. Your class is performing well within your own state’s standards, but these norms will tell you how ALL of the third-graders in the U.S. are doing. By looking at normed data, you can see how well your students are competing on the national level. This could also give you valuable insight about how you are performing compared to your own peers.
A note about the norming process
How are tests normed? The creators of the test compute norms based on standard scores for the entire nation (for example, this can give us a percentile rank from 0 to 99). It’s possible to gather norming information for just about any benchmark, but test creators also take into consideration that some groups, like special education students, may have outliers in the norming study. You can learn more about gathering scores in norming studies in our psychometrician supervisor Catherine Close’s blog post “Giving meaning to test scores.”