What Is a Criterion-Referenced Test?

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Criterion-referenced tests (known as CRTs) are used to evaluate an individual's comprehension and skills in regards to a specific subject and focus.

1 History

Criterion-referenced tests are administered to show whether a student has mastered the information that's taught to them in a particular topic or grade. Prior to taking a CRT, the students are familiar with what they are responsible to know. The tests are created from predetermined criteria. The criteria can be determined by determined by a school, state, city, government or independent organization.

2 Significance

In the education arena, CRTs are given by teachers to establish how well their students have learned the data and skills that were taught in the class. Via this method, instructors can judge the students' strong areas and those that need work. It may also give them insight into how they can teach more effectively. For example, a 5th-grade English CRT might include questions on grammar, vocabulary, sentence structure and reading comprehension. The questions on the test are directly correlated with the class's overall objective. There would not be any material that was unfamiliar or that was not gone over in the class. For the most part, all students who took that 5th-grade English class should be able to pass the test if they were taught effectively and absorbed the content.

3 Features

This is what makes criterion-referenced testing different from norm-based referenced tests. The CRT is based solely on an individual's performance and not in reference to the performance of others. The CRT would be comprised of questions involving a predetermined criteria and illustrate the individual's scores in relation to a designated point. The designated point or "cut-off" score is already determined. This means that it's subjective as opposed to objective. After a student completes the CRT, the teacher can immediately interpret the results.

If it were a norm-referenced test, the results would only be conclusive after the "norm group" was established. For example, if a student took a norm-referenced test in English and scored in the 75th percentile, her skill set would be assessed according to the norm group. The norm group could be made up of students from different classes, schools and grade levels. Some of the contents of the test may be unfamiliar to them, since it's not based directly on the curriculum that they followed and because they don't know ahead of time exactly what will be on the test.

4 Considerations

Criterion-referenced testing gets around a lot of the confusion that comes with norm-referenced tests. A student's grade on an NRT is attained in relation to the performance of a sizable collection of comparable students who were given the test. The percentile or score he receives is a rank within that group. If he scored a 58 percent, it would mean that he performed the same or better than 58 percent of the students who were in the norm group. Using this method makes it harder to determine the competency of an individual student, seeing as the legitimacy of the score will vary. The variation would depend on whether or not the NRT was consistent with what he was taught in the curriculum. The results of the CRT, on the other hand, would reflect a solid criterion that's relevant to the person taking the test.

5 Theories/Speculation

The influence of test scores (particularly those that have vital stakes like entrance exams), have remained a topic of debate for quite some time. A number of educational institutions place enormous influence on the results of such scores, while others don't consider standardized tests to be an accurate measure of one's overall standing and capability. There are many cases where the test standards have been criticized because of the inconsistencies or limitations they have. Still, test standards that are imposed by states tend to hold a sound impact on the core curriculum and teaching within the local levels. The Education Policy Analysis Archives is a peer-reviewed scholarly journal that contains invaluable information and data about issues such as these. Of particular note is their article "Educational Assessment Reassessed: The Usefulness of Standardized and Alternative Measures of Student Achievement as Indicators for the Assessment of Educational Outcomes," which can be viewed at: epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v3n6.html. Supplementary information can be found on the website of Practical Home Schooling Magazine at home-school.com.

Serena Spinello holds two master’s degrees and is pursuing her Ph.D. in medical science. She has been a professional writer and researcher for over 10 years and is an active member of the American Medical Writers Association, Academy of Medical Educators, and the National Association of Social Workers.