*An alumnus offers to finance a trip to a national track meet for all
team members who have the ability to compete at that level. The track
coach holds tryouts. He picks everyone whose time in the 100 yard dash falls
above the 90th percentile. This is norm-referenced testing. His requests
for funds is rejected because he does not know whether his runners can compete
at the required level.
*

*
He runs a second tryout, having established that 10 seconds in the 100
yard dash is competitive in the event. He now picks those who run the dash
in 10 seconds or less. This is criterion-referenced testing. He knows the
runners he selected can compete. He gets the funds.*

**Valpar's products rely heavily on criterion-referenced testing**,
as opposed to norm-referenced testing. Criterion-referenced testing,
unlike norm-referenced testing, uses an objective standard or
achievement level. An evaluee is required to demonstrate ability
at a particular level by performing tasks at that degree of
difficulty. Scores on criterion-referenced tests indicate what
individuals ** can** do — not how they have scored in
relation to the scores of particular groups of persons, as in
norm-referenced tests.

Norm-referenced tests compare an individual's performance to the performances of a group, called the “norm group.” For the results to be meaningful, it is necessary to know the specific composition of the norm group. For example, if an individual scores at the 87th percentile on a math test, what can you say about his or her math abilities? Nothing, until you know something about the norm group. One conclusion will be reached if the norm group is a collection of fourth graders. An entirely different conclusion will be reached if the norm group is a collection of university seniors majoring in physics.

Even knowing about the norm group is no guarantee of proper test interpretation. The TABE is a norm-referenced test published by McGraw Hill. It reports test performance in terms of grade levels, and it gives scores as high as grade 12.9. An analysis of the test items reveals that none of the questions are above the eighth grade level (no algebra, no geometry, no trigonometry), so what does a score of 11 mean? McGraw Hill says it means that the individual performed on the test like the average 11th grader, NOT that the person is doing 11th grade math. Many users of the TABE incorrectly make the second interpretation. The TABE relies on the notion that an 11th grader can do more simple problems in 15 minutes than an eighth grader can.

Criterion-referenced testing avoids all this confusion. Concrete
criteria are established and the individual is challenged to meet
them. For example, in a math test, the 11th grade proficiency
criteria might be to solve algebra,
geometry or trigonometry problems. The test will give such problems
and award a score of “11th grade” only if the test taker succeeds on
these particular problems.

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