Arguments Against Norm Referenced Testing

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Norm-referenced tests can be valuable tools when used as formative rather than summative assessments. They can provide valuable information regarding a student’s possible need for special supports or enhancements, or what areas may need more, less, or revised instruction. They can help evaluate a student’s readiness for grade advancement or entrance into college. However, assessors must be cautious in analyzing the results of such tests so as not to fall into the trap of labeling or tracking students based solely on these scores. These should be a guideline toward meeting students’ needs, not a limitation of their potential. Additionally, careful consideration of the factors used in creating the “Norm” groups is key in avoiding “apples to oranges”…show more content…
They have the same ideals at the core, but each side believes that their views are absolute. The Glossary of Education Reform, in its definition of norm-referenced testing, illustrates some of the main arguments for each side. Those who support norm referencing see the tests an efficient and unbiased element in the evaluation of student needs and abilities, while pointing out that “as long as the results are used alongside other measures of performance, they can provide valuable information about student learning” (“Norm-referenced Test,” n.d.). The idea that norm-referenced testing of any skill is not meant to serve as a definitive statement on a particular student’s abilities is common to both proponents and critics. Those against fear that norm-referenced tests can inaccurately classify students and restrict their access to education due to the fact…show more content…
If students are being measured against a norm that is skewed too far toward one demographic, such as high SES, ELL, or suburban students, a true norm will not be established, and as a result, the validity of the assessments suffers. There are times, such as when arranging work groups within classrooms, placing students with various teachers within their grade, and performing formative assessments based on instructional units, when a narrower range would be acceptable and useful. However, placing too much significance on these test scores as a measure of ability is not an appropriate use of norm referencing. Similarly, as both proponents and critics of the method agree, these scores cannot stand alone as a criterion for placing or classifying students. In the forward to Denny Taylor’s Learning Denied, William L. Wansart writes

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