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Which test is which? A guide for parents of tweens and teens

Page 3 of 5

By GreatSchools Staff

2. Tests that show how a student compares to her peers

Many states use these tests, called norm-referenced tests, as part of their testing programs. They are designed to measure students against a representative sample of their peers. The results fall on a bell-shaped curve and are frequently reported in percentiles, with 50% being average. If your student gets a 60%, for example, she scored better than 60% of the students in the sample.

What the results mean

A national norm-referenced test can be useful in making national comparisons of how students perform. But it doesn't tell you much about the success of your school. Because these tests are written so that results can be sorted on a bell curve, for example, these tests include very difficult questions designed so that only a few students will be able to answer. As testing expert W. James Popham explained in a National PTA newsletter, these tests "actually measure what students bring to school, not what students are taught in school. Such tests, of course, should not be used to evaluate a school's success. A school should be judged primarily by what students have learned there."

Questions parents should ask

Find your school on, click on the Test Scores tab where you'll see an explanation of your state's tests and what they measure. Ask your principal how the results are used to improve learning and teaching.

Comments from readers

"Hello my daughter is in 10th grade and struggles with testing in school, she does all her work, she says she studies, but the scores on her test don't show this at all. Please if you can give us some advise as to what we should do to help our daughter with testing skills we would appreciate any suggestions you may have. Thank you Brenda Stemwell"
"Thank you for a succinct an easy to understand explanation of the myriad tests facing my family. I feel more prepared to guide my two sons as we navigate public and private school requirements. My husband and I plan to put this information to good use. It is unfortunate that excellent educational options are difficult to access in DeKalb County GA. "