If you’ve finished spring testing and are diving into reporting data, you might be looking for a refresher on what norms are and why they are important. An educational norm is simply a picture of the typical level of performance for any given group of students based on characteristics such as grade level subject area. Interim assessments that provide high-quality norms allow educators to see their students’ learning in a wider context. For example, 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, or to help make important decisions about placement in both achievement and Response to Intervention (RTI) programs. Norms may be used by school administrators for analysis and evaluation of performance and programs. In all cases, having accurate norms based on large samples of students is crucial.
Interim assessments, like MAP® Growth™, provide achievement, or status norms, for most grades in math, reading, language usage, and science. Teachers can view these norms based on a defined set of instructional weeks throughout 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, among other things.
The real power of interim assessments like MAP Growth is in measuring growth over time and comparing each student’s measured growth to growth norms. Using growth norms, teachers can understand how much a student grew in comparison to other students in the same grade and subject area who had similar starting RIT scores and weeks of instruction. Accounting for instructional weeks in growth norms is something only the MAP Growth assessment offers and can make a big difference in determining where students are in their learning.
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, however, John Wood—a Senior Curriculum Specialist at NWEA®—suggests that educators need to ask and answer the following nine questions:
- Are the norms current?
- Do the norms represent the right population for your purposes?
- Is the sample 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 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.