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What are the Benefits of a Criterion Referenced Test?

By Elizabeth Wistrom

Do you like to be judged against others? Most of us prefer to only be judged against ourselves. This is how criterion referenced tests work...comparing how well we do against ourselves.

A criterion-referenced assessment is one in which students’ are scored based on how well they know a standard or set of standards. In this type of assessment a student is only compared to themselves, it doesn’t matter how other students perform. There are many advantages of criterion referenced tests, particularly for special education.

First, students are only tested on their knowledge of specific goals or standards. For example, if you had taught a lesson on adding fractions, you will give the student a test on adding fractions. If he or she scores 85% that means that that particular student has learned 85% of that goal. If a student does not score particularly well, then the teacher can adjust their instruction accordingly.

Another benefit is that if students do not seem to master a particular standard, the teacher will be able to go back and teach that standard again until the student performs better. Let’s say that we taught a lesson on Fahrenheit and Celsius. A student understands Fahrenheit, as shown on an assessment, but their knowledge of Celsius isn’t so good. The teacher then can go back and teach Celsius again. In special education it is nice because we have the freedom to spend more time on specific content and not worry so much about meeting the state standards.

For special educators we have to focus our teaching based on the students’ IEP’s. Being able to focus our instruction based on the students’ needs is another benefit of criterion-referenced assessment. The students need to make progress toward their annual goals and objectives and the use of this type of assessment allows for that because again their scores are compared only to how they perform.

Another good reason to using criterion-referenced assessments in special education is that it only tests students on what they can do. Tests like the SAT’s, which are norm-referenced, score students in relation to how they score against other people. For students with special needs, norm-referenced assessments do not tell teachers much about their abilities because the material is higher than their level.

Criterion-referenced assessments are needs based, meaning the tests are created with what the students’ needs are. If a student really needs to improve their knowledge of proper nouns, then a test will be created on proper nouns.

Teachers can also create their own tests, which are criterion-referenced as well. Also, tests that come with textbooks are also criterion-referenced because they only test on specific areas of knowledge.

When discussing the advantages of criterion referenced tests, it is also important to mention that since students are only judged against themselves, they have a better chance of scoring high, which will help improve their self-esteem as well. Studies show that students with special needs tend to have lower self-esteem. Any way that we can help students feel better about themselves is a great opportunity.

One thing to remember is that each student is an individual and is different. By using criterion-referenced assessments in your classroom, you can meet the individual needs of the students and differentiate your assessments with the sole purpose of helping the students achieve to their fullest potential.