What is a norm? An educational norm is simply a picture of the typical level of performance for any given group of students based on characteristics such as age range, grade level, or geographic area. Interim assessments that provide high-quality norms allow educators to see their students’ learning in a wider context. Norms help educators see if a student is growing at an expected pace, regardless of where the student started. Both status and growth norms allow educators to compare students’ academic performance to peers.
Often, teachers use norms to help explain to parents and students what a given assessment score means, and to help make important decisions about placement in both Gifted and Talented and Response to Intervention (RTI) programs. Norms may also be used by schools for analysis and evaluation of performance and programs. In all cases, having accurate norms drawn from appropriate sample sizes from a representative student population is crucial for educators.
Some interim assessments provide achievement, or status, norms for each grade in math, reading, language usage, and science. Teachers can view these norms based on any number of instructional weeks through the year to gain a more precise estimate of a student’s current achievement relative to his or her peers. Status norms, presented as a percentile rank, can be useful for placing students into various programs.
Using growth norms, teachers can understand not only that a student grew, but how much that student grew in comparison to other students who had similar starting assessment scores and weeks of instruction. Growth norms provide teachers the necessary context for setting individual student growth targets, a powerful way to help students take ownership of their own learning. At the school level, growth norms express the progress of groups of students and can be useful for making inferences about programs and instructional approaches, and ultimately answer that all-important question – What’s Next?
Before using normative data, educators should ask and answer the following ten questions:
- Are the norms current?
- Do the norms represent the right population for your purposes?
- Is the sample population large enough?
- Is there a technical manual that documents procedures?
- Do the status norms account for instructional weeks or only provide one look at grade-level performance?
- What evidence is there that the percentile ranks provided are accurate for screening students for programs?
- Are growth norms available and easy to use?
- Are growth norms customizable to reflect individual student starting points as well as grade level?
- Are comparison groups available at the school level reflecting school characteristics?
- Are the growth norms sensitive to weeks of instruction or one size fits all?
Normative data is a powerful tool that can help put interim assessment scores into context and one way to make assessment more meaningful for teachers and students alike.