Criterion-referenced tests and assessments are designed to measure student performance against a fixed set of predetermined criteria or learning standards—i.e., concise, written descriptions of what students are expected to know and be able to do at a specific stage of their education. In elementary and secondary education, criterionreferenced tests are used to evaluate whether students have learned a specific body of knowledge or acquired a specific skill set. For example, the curriculum taught in a course, academic program, or content area. If students perform at or above the established expectations—for example, by answering a certain percentage of questions correctly—they will pass the test, meet the expected standards, or be deemed ―proficient.‖ On a criterion-referenced test, every student taking the exam could theoretically fail if they don’t meet the expected standard; alternatively, every student could earn the highest possible score. On criterionreferenced tests, it is not only possible, but desirable, for every student to pass the test or earn a perfect score. Criterion-referenced tests have been compared to driver’slicense exams, which require would-be drivers to achieve a minimum passing score to earn a license.

Criterion-referenced tests may include multiple-choice questions, true-false questions, ―open-ended‖ questions (e.g., questions that ask students to write a short response or an essay), or a combination of question types. Individual teachers may design the tests for use in a specific course, or they may be created by teams of experts for large companies that have contracts with state departments of education. Criterionreferenced tests may be high-stakes tests—i.e., tests that are used to make important decisions about students, educators, schools, or districts—or they may be ―low-stakes tests‖ used to measure the academic achievement of individual students, identify learning problems, or inform instructional adjustments. Well-known examples of criterion-referenced tests include Advanced Placement exams and the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which are bothstandardized tests administered to students throughout the United States. When testing companies develop criterion-referenced standardized tests for large-scale use, they usually have committees of experts determine the testing criteria and passing scores, or the number of questions students will need to answer correctly to pass the test. Scores on these tests are typically expressed as a percentage.

would have determined different passing scores for a certain test. academic program.”      To determine if students have learning gaps or academic deficits that need to be addressed. For a related discussion. that a given test-development committee. or learning experience by using “pre-tests” and “post-tests” to measure learning progress over the duration of the instructional period. and many have minimum passing scores. The teacher may design a test to evaluate student understanding of the criteria and determine a minimum passing score.‖ ―basic. see formative assessment. results may be grouped into broad achievement categories—such as ―below basic. see value-added measures.‖ and ―advanced‖—or reported on a 1–5 numerical scale. with the numbers representing different levels of achievement. If the criterionreferenced tests are used to make decisions about grade promotion or diploma eligibility. proficiency levels are judgment calls made by individuals or groups that may choose to modify proficiency levels by raising or lowering them. a history teacher may devise a test to evaluate understanding and retention of a unit on World War II. and the names and roles of certain leaders. It’s theoretically possible. As with minimum passing scores. . To evaluate the effectiveness of teachers by factoring test results into job-performance evaluations. To evaluate the effectiveness of a course. The criteria in this case might include the causes and timeline of the war. To determine if a student or teacher is qualified to receive a license or certificate. For a related discussion. For example. while another group might establish the cut-off score at 75 percent correct. For example. For a related discussion. the test results may also be scored or reported in alternative ways. Criterion-referenced tests created by individual teachers are also very common in American public schools. for example. they would be considered “high-stakes tests. the nations that were involved.‖ ―proficient. one group might determine that a minimum passing score is 70 percent correct answers. The following are a few representative examples of how criterion-referenced tests and scores may be used:  To determine whether students have learned expected knowledge and skills. the dates and circumstances of major battles. While criterion-referenced test scores are often expressed as percentages. For example. see proficiency. To measure progress toward the goals and objectives described in an “individualized education plan” for students with disabilities. if it had been made up of different individuals with different backgrounds and viewpoints.It should be noted that passing scores—or “cut-off” scores—on criterion-referenced tests are judgment calls made by either individuals or groups.

A few widely used examples of international-comparison tests include the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). To measure the academic achievement of students in a given country. CRTs typically sample the domain more thoroughly than norm-referenced tests (Mehrens & Lehmann. One of these is mastery. skills.  To measure the academic achievement of students in a given state. Definition: Criterion-referenced test is a term you won't often hear in schools. while CRTs usually have fewer domains but more items in each domain. 1991). A criterion-referenced test (CRT) measures a student's performance with respect to a welldefined domain (Anastasi. 1988. usually for the purposes of comparing academic performance among schools and districts. and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Criterion-referenced tests. instead of using norms. This specific range is referred to as a domain. the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). While it is possible to construct a test that is both norm-referenced and criterion-referenced. as with a norm-referenced test. The results of criterionreferenced testing are not dependent on the performance of other students. Berk. 1991). Typical norm-referenced tests survey a broad domain. nonmastery. . usually for the purposes of comparing academic performance among nations. However. called mastery. provide information on the performance of a student with respect to specific test items. teachers and other professionals must use caution when interpreting the results of these tests because it is difficult to combine both types of tests in one instrument. Performance on CRTs provides information on whether students have attained a predetermined level of competence or performance. Another distinction between criterion-referenced and norm-referenced tests is the breadth of the content domain that the test covers (Mehrens & Lehmann. These tests assess specific skills covered in class. CRTs can also be very useful in helping to make instructional planning decisions. they can provide more information about a student's levels of performance. Since they frequently cover a more restricted range of content than norm-referenced tests. While norm-referenced tests discriminate between the performance of individual students on specific test items. these tests are used daily in your child's classes in both regular and special education programs. 1988). criterionreferenced tests provide a description of a student's knowledge. or intermediate mastery (Anastasi. 1988). Performance can be interpreted as mastery. or behavior in a specific range of well-defined instructional objectives. There are several characteristics that distinguish CRTs from norm-referenced tests.

without regard to whether the items can be used to discriminate among students. Criterion-Referenced Assessment: A test or other type of assessment designed to provide a measure of performance that is interpretable in terms of a clearly defined and delimited domain of learning tasks. No attempt is made . and to measure progress toward IEP goals and objectives. Teachers create these tests based on the school's curriculum and learning expectations in a given subject area. Criterion-referenced tests measure specific skills and concepts. TheBrigance system is an example. Typically." (p. In addition to providing scores to measure progress. They also provide information on skills the student has not mastered.these test results give specific information on skills and sub-skills the student understands. to determine students' mastery of concepts and skills. Back to Special Education and Learning Disability Terms Examples: Criterion-referenced testing is used in both regular and special education programs. Teachers may also use professionally developed.. we can generally classify them into two main groups: Criterion-referenced assessments and norm-referenced assessments. Most assessments administered in schools are criterion-referenced. Students are earn points for items completed correctly. 42) These authors provide the following additional information about criterionreferenced assessments:  ". Both types of information are useful in determining what type of specially designed instruction the student needs and what the instruction should cover. they are designed with 100 total points possible. What is Criterion-Referenced Assessment? When we look at the types of assessment instruments.. Some tests are commercially produced and sold as part of a curriculum.criterion-referenced tests include items that are directly relevant to the learning outcomes to be measured. commercially produced tests. Linn and Gronlund (2000) define these two types of assessments in the following: "Norm-Referenced Assessment: A test or other type of assessment designed to provide a measure of performance that is interpretable in terms of an individual's relative standing in some known group. Criterionreferenced tests are the most common type of test teachers use in daily classroom work. Educators use these tests to evaluate the effectiveness of teaching programs.Teachers use criterion-referenced tests to determine what specific concepts a child has learned. The students' scores are typically expressed as a percentage.

we can (1) describe the specific learning tasks a student in able to perform (e. 43) There are multiple ways to score a criterion-referenced assessment. For example..g." (p. If the learning tasks are easy. The goal of the criterion-referenced test is to obtain a description of the specific knowledge and skills each student can demonstrate. These include:      checklists rating scales grades rubrics percent accurate .. counts from 1 to 100). then test items will be easy.. 43)  "Criterion-referenced interpretations can be made in various ways. performed at the proficient level). (p. or (3) compare the test performance to a set performance standard and decide whether the student meets a given standard (e.g.g. This information is useful for planning both group and individual eliminate easy items or alter their difficulty. spells 65 percent of the words in the word list). (2) indicate the percentage of tasks a student performs correctly (e.

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