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Norm-Referenced or Criterion-Referenced? You be the Judge!

written by: Elizabeth Wistrom • edited by: Elizabeth Stannard Gromisch • updated: 8/2/2012

Do you like to be compared to others or only yourself? That is the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessments. Read on to learn more.

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    Norm-Referenced Versus Criterion-Referenced

    Did your parents ever say to you, “I wish you could be more like your brother," or, “your sister always got good grades"? I am sure that many of has heard something like that before. Is this fair to be compared to someone else? No, it is not. Each person is their own individual and should only be compared to themselves. This is the basis of criterion-referenced instruction. Teaching students based on standards and objectives and assessing them on their knowledge of the standards and objectives.

    There are several advantages to teaching based on criterion-referenced. First and foremost, students learn based on their needs. Teachers can give the students a needs assessment to see what they need to learn and then establish goals and objectives based on what their needs are.

    Another advantage is that students are only compared to themselves. Their grades are solely dependent based on how they perform against their goals and objectives. Instead of comparing students to other students their same age, they are just compared to their prior performance. Many students with disabilities are not at grade level, so why would it be fair to ask them to perform at the same level as their typical aged peers.

    Studying and practicing their own goals and objectives is another advantage to criterion-referenced instruction. Students do not have to study every single little detail, they only study for goals and objectives that they have not yet mastered.

    A fourth advantage is that criterion-reference instruction is IEP based. IEP’s are developed based on the needs of the students with which goals and objectives are formed. These goals and objectives are what the teachers then use to create lesson plans for the students. As goals are mastered, they are changed with the needs of the student.

    Another advantage is that students are expected to achieve realistic goals. The whole concept of criterion-based instruction centers around what the students need. Only achievable goals will be set for the student. When students reach their goals, they feel a sense of accomplishment, which will encourage them to keep trying their best and will eventually, lead to better scores.

    Tests based on the student’s needs are known as criterion-referenced assessment. These tests are the formed based on the goals and objectives for the students. The students will not have to take the same tests as everyone else in their class. It is almost as if they are taking a test just for them. If they do not do well, then the teaching would begin again. If students do well on their test, then it is time to work on new goals and objectives.

    As you can see from all the advantages that are listed, student’s only progress once they have mastered a concept. They are not just pushed through to get through the content. If they master a concept quickly, they move on, if not, they spend more time on that concept. Although this can be tricky for the teacher in planning a variety of lesson and changing lesson plans based on the student’s needs, the students will get more out of their education since it based solely on what they need.

    The whole concept of criterion-referenced instruction means that teaching the students comes away from grade-level content to content based on what the students need.