Criterion referenced tests are tests where a student's performance is compared to a pre-specified standard instead of to other pupils' performance. Most tests that teachers write at the end of units are criterion referenced. These test results can be used to drive instruction.
Mainstreaming and Criterion Referenced Tests
If your students are mainstreamed into the regular classroom for classes such as social studies and science, then they are probably taking criterion referenced tests. Some of your students may have accommodations and modifications written in their IEPs for test taking, such as having the test read to them or being allowed to use notes or study guides. With these modifications, the information you gather from criterion referenced tests should show you how well students understand the material they are learning in content area classes. You can use this information from assessments to offer additional support to students through study guides, extra reading assignments, or even computer software.
For example, if a student with an IEP is mainstreamed into a fourth grade classroom and takes a science test that is read to him, the test results should accurately show how much information the student understands about the science unit. Since the questions are read, teachers can gauge whether or not students understand a vocabulary word--not if they can read it. The same would be true if a student's IEP stated that he could dictate his answers to a paraprofessional. Teachers can assess whether the student understands the science information--not if the student can write answers and spell vocabulary correctly.
Some students with special needs do not have testing modifications in their IEPs, and so science and history tests may be more difficult for them because they do struggle with reading or writing skills. In these cases, it is harder to use criterion referenced tests to drive instruction and see what objectives students still need to master. They may know all the facts necessary for the science test, but they are limited by their reading and writing abilities. As a special educator, you can go over the graded assessment with students to see if they understand concepts but need help with reading and writing.
Using Test Results
When you receive criterion referenced tests' results for your students, you can use these results to aid instruction for your students in the following ways:
- Offer more support in the subject area for your student. For example, you can read material from the textbook in your class before he goes to the regular classroom. You can also provide a study guide with the information most needed for the test highlighted.
- Provide information for IEP meetings and even writing IEP goals. If students are doing well on criterion referenced tests, then they may be meeting some of their IEP goals. They may not need test accommodations any more, or they may need fewer. If students are consistently failing criterion-referenced tests, these results may need to be discussed with the IEP committee and additional testing may need to be conducted to modify the IEP.
- Discover your students' interests. Criterion referenced tests may be an opportunity for special educators to discuss topics with students from historical figures to animal habitats. If students show a strength or particular interest in a certain subject matter, you can use this interest to teach objectives such as test taking or study skills.
Special educators can use criterion referenced tests to help their students succeed at their own levels.