Norms vs. Standards
I've found myself trying to explain the difference between norm and standards reference multiple times in the last few weeks, which means it's time to write about it. A lot of people get this distinction-- but a lot of people don't. I'm going to try to do this in plain(ish) English, so those of you who are testing experts, please forgive the lack of correct technical terminology.
A standards-referenced (or criterion-referenced) test is the easiest one to understand and, I am learning, what many, many people think we're talking about when we talk about tests in general and standardized tests in particular.
With standards reference, we can set a solid immovable line between different levels of achievement, and we can do it before the test is even given. This week I'm giving a spelling test consisting of twenty words. Before I even give the test, I can tell my class that if they get eighteen or more correct, they get an A, if they get sixteen correct, they did okay, and if the get thirteen or less correct, they fail.
A drivers license test is also standards-referenced. If I complete the minimum number of driving tasks correctly, I get a license. If I don't, I don't.
One feature of a standards-referenced test is that while we might tend to expect a bell-shaped curve of results (a few failures, a few top scores, and most in the middle), such a curve is not required or enforced. Every student in my class can get an A on the spelling test. Everyone can get a drivers license. With standards referenced testing, clustering is itself a piece of useful data; if all of my students score less than ten on my twenty word test, then something is wrong.
With a standards-referenced test, it should be possible for every test taker to get top marks.
A norm-referenced measure is harder to understand but, unfortunately, far more prevalent these days.
A standards-referenced test compares every student to the standard set by the test giver. A norm-CURMUDGUCATION: Norms vs. Standards: