Criterion vs. Norm-Referenced Assessments

Data-literate educators appreciate data in many forms and understand the primary uses and limitations of each form. These educators can distinguish between criterion- and norm-referenced assessments and explain the differences to other stakeholders.
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About this Micro-credential

Key Method

Educators must understand the various forms of assessments. Two of the major forms of assessments are criterion- and norm-referenced assessments. Data-literate educators understand and appreciate the distinctions between these two assessment types and can speak confidently about these differences with a variety of audiences.

Method Components

Students’ families are a primary audience with whom educators must often distinguish between criterion- and norm-referenced assessments. When distinguishing between these assessment types, data-literate educators will discuss, at minimum, the following major distinctions:

The purpose of each assessment type

Criterion- and norm-referenced assessments serve different purposes. Data-literate educators will narrate these purposes and illustrate the differences with clear examples parents are likely to be familiar with.

The interpretation of scores

Scores from criterion- and norm-referenced assessments must be interpreted differently. Data-literate teachers explain these differences clearly and leverage concrete examples to distinguish between the two types.

There are other distinctions between criterion- and norm-referenced assessments, but these are the two most important differences data-literate educators highlight when discussing assessments with students’ families. Effective educators also explain these distinctions to families in a manner that is both clear and respectful.

Research & Resources

Supporting Research

  • Bond, L. A. (1996). Norm- and criterion-referenced testing. Practical Assessment, Research & Evaluation, 5(2),
    Linn, R. (2000). Assessments and accountability. ER Online, 29(2), 4–14.
  • Popham, J. W. (1975). Educational Evaluation. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc.
    Sanders, W., & Horn, S. (1995). Educational assessment reassessed: The usefulness of standardized and alternative measures of student achievement as indicators for the assessment of educational outcomes. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 3(6).


  • Glutting, J. (2002). Glutting’s Guide for Norm-Referenced Test Score Interpretation, Using a Sample Psychological Report,
  • Huitt, W. (1996). Measurement and evaluation: Criterion- versus norm-referenced testing. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University.
  • Stiggins, R. (2011). Classroom Assessment for Student Learning: Doing It Right—Using It Well, 2nd ed. Assessment Training Institute.

Submission Requirements

Submission Guidelines & Evaluation Criteria

To earn the micro-credential Criterion- vs. Norm-Referenced Assessments, you must submit a short video that demonstrates how to distinguish between criterion- and norm-referenced assessments for families. Given the audience, the evaluation includes criteria associated both with the correctness of the distinction AND with how that distinction is communicated. (Would a generally uninformed, but intelligent, parent or guardian appreciate the description?)

Note: The video should be shorter than five minutes and does not need to include an actual family.

Your artifact submission will be assessed on the following rubric. You must earn a (3) Proficient or (4) Exemplary to earn the micro-credential.

Except where otherwise noted, this work is licensed under:
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-ND 4.0)


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