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Norm-referenced refers to standardized tests that are designed to compare and rank test takers in relation to one another. Norm-referenced tests report whether test takers performed better or worse than a hypothetical average student, which is determined by comparing scores against the performance results of a statistically selected group of test takers, typically of the same age or grade level, who have already taken the exam.
Calculating norm-referenced scores is called the "norming process," and the comparison group is known as the "norming group." Norming groups typically comprise only a small subset of previous test takers, not all or even most previous test takers. Norm-referenced scores are generally reported as a percentage or percentile ranking. For example, a student who scores in the seventieth percentile performed as well or better than seventy percent of other test takers of the same age or grade level, and thirty percent of students performed better (as determined by norming-group scores).
Norm-referenced tests often use a multiple-choice format, though some include open-ended, short-answer questions. They are usually based on some form of national standards, not locally determined standards or curricula. IQ tests are among the most well-known norm-referenced tests, as are developmental-screening tests, which are used to identify learning disabilities in young children or determine eligibility for special-education services. A few major norm-referenced tests include the California Achievement Test, Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Stanford Achievement Test, and TerraNova.
The following are a few representative examples of how norm-referenced tests and scores may be used:
To determine a young child's readiness for preschool or kindergarten. These tests may be designed to measure oral-language ability, visual-motor skills, and cognitive and social development.
To evaluate basic reading, writing, and math skills. Test results may be used for a wide variety of purposes, such as measuring academic progress, making course assignments, determining readiness for grade promotion, or identifying the need for additional academic support.
To identify specific learning disabilities, such as autism, dyslexia, or nonverbal learning disability, or to determine eligibility for special-education services.
To make program-eligibility or college-admissions decisions (in these cases, norm-referenced scores are generally evaluated alongside other information about a student). Scores on SAT or ACT exams are a common example.