Due to the recent and unprecedented emphasis on educational accountability, assessment selection has become an important consideration. There are various types of assessment that can be used to measure student performance. Criterion referenced tests and norm referenced tests are two types of assessments that measure performance, but relative to different criteria. Additionally, scores are reported in different formats, interpreted differently and target different content.


A criterion referenced test will measure how well he met objectives.

Norm referenced tests measure the performance of a group of test takers against the performance of another group of test takers. This type of assessment result can used to compare the performance of seventh graders in a particular school system to the performance of a broader, and perhaps more diverse (nationally or state-wide), group of seventh graders. Criterion referenced tests measure the performance of test takers relative to particular criteria covered in the curriculum. In other words, criterion referenced tests can be used to determine if the test taker has met program objectives.


The content of norm referenced tests is much broader and superficial than the content measured by criterion referenced tests. Norm referenced tests may measure the acquisition of skills and knowledge from multiple sources such as notes, texts and syllabi. Criterion referenced tests measure performance on specific concepts and are often used in a pre-test / post-test format. These tests can also be used to determine if curriculum goals have been met.


There is more flexibility in the administration of a criterion referenced test.

Norm referenced tests must be administrated in a standardized format, while criterion referenced tests do not necessitate a standard administration. Since norm referenced tests measure the performance of test takers to other test takers, it is essential that testing conditions closely match those of the norm setting test takers. Therefore, the test administration is scripted. This is in sharp contrast to criterion referenced testing administration.

Score Reporting and Interpretation

51% would not be a good criterion referenced score.

Scores are reported differently for criterion referenced and norm referenced tests. Criterion referenced test results are reported in categories or range. For instance, performance may be reported as not proficient, proficient or very proficient. The interpretation of this performance is obvious and directly related to the acquisition of stated curriculum objectives. The reporting of results for a norm referenced test is accomplished by a percentile rank. A test taker who scores in the 95th percentile has performed better than 95% of the individuals taking the test. In general, scoring at the 50th percentile is average and indicates that the test taker has scored better than 50% of the individuals testing.