By Michelle Storie
So you just received your child’s State ELA or Math Assessment scores. Or your child just underwent a psychological evaluation and completed individually-administered norm-referenced tests. What do the scores mean?
How do you make sense of the information provided? And what do the test results tell you? How can they help your child? In this blog, we hope to answer the basics to these questions.
Standardized tests are norm-referenced tests. This means that the tests are given the same way to all children. Evaluators follow rules for test administration and are not permitted to alter materials or reword questions. This allows you to compare your child’s score to that of other individuals his or her age who were part of the norming sample. When the tests are created, they are administered to groups of students of varying ages and the results are used to determine what was considered an Average score, a Below Average score, etc. A standardized test allows you to draw a comparison between your child’s score and the scores of other individuals of the same age (or grade, if using grade-based scores).
Tests are often broken down into subtests, which assess different areas or domains. Each subtest yields a scaled score, which has a mean of 10 and standard deviation of 3. Therefore, scores between 7 and 13 are considered to be in the Average range, while scores below 7 and above 13 are considered Below Average or Above Average, respectively. The ranges vary slightly according to the particular test. Many subtests combine to form a composite score, also known as an index score. An index score (or composite or domain score) often provides an overall picture of a child’s skills in a particular area. For example, on the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition, two subtests (Math Problem Solving and Numerical Operations) combine to form the Mathematics Composite. This score is a standard score, which has a mean of 100 and standard deviation of 15. Scores between 85 and 115 are considered Average. Again, these scores indicate how your child is performing in a particular area when compared to other children his age.
Now let’s move on to percentile rank. Consider if you were to rank order your child’s performance amongst the other individuals in the norming sample that also took the test. That score would be the percentile rank and tells you where your child fell in the rank order. Let’s say your child earned a score at the 75th percentile. This tells you that your child is performing at or above 75 percent of other individuals her age in a particular skill. This should not be confused with percentage correct, which indicates how many items a student answered correctly out of possible items administered. This does not allow you to compare your child’s performance to other students his age.
A stanine is another way of looking at information, and stands for “standard nine”. It breaks scores into 9 areas, with 9 being the strongest score and 1 being the lowest. Scores between 1 and 3 represent below average performance, scores from 4-6 indicate average performance, and scores of 7 or above are reflective of above average performance.
Tests may also produce age and grade equivalents, though these should be interpreted with caution. There are psychometric weaknesses with age and grade equivalents which limit their reliability and validity for interpreting test performance, and therefore these scores should not be used for diagnostic or placement decisions. An age or grade equivalent is the median raw score for a student’s age or grade on a particular test. One of the difficulties with these scores is that the acquisition of skills occurs more quickly with younger students, therefore, raw scores tend to improve at a faster rate for younger children as compared to older. In some cases, answering one more question correctly can lead to a gain of half of a year. For this reason, standard scores provide a much more accurate depiction of a child’s ability since they are based not only on the mean at a given age level, but also on a distribution of scores.
Now what do these scores tell you? How can they be used in an effective manner? First of all, remember that scores are only a snapshot of what your child demonstrated on that particular day in that particular domain with that particular examiner. Kids can have an off day or they can be distracted by the setting or they can be nervous. Generally, testing is used to identify a student’s areas of strengths and weakness. In doing so, we are often testing a student to their point of frustration, and asking questions that they are unable to answer. Frustration tolerance plays a key role in testing; if your child is quick to give up when they do not know an answer, this could factor into the results and scores. Another key point is whether the student was putting forth full effort. By middle and high school, this can especially play a role in test performance. The important thing to glean from these tests is that they represent what your child demonstrated on that day, but it is not the full picture of who your child is.
If you believe your child was exerting full effort and the testing gathered an accurate depiction of what she can and cannot do, you can use that information as a baseline to determine what areas need to be addressed for remediation and instruction. Could your child decode consonant blends? Could he regroup on double-digit problems? Was your child using accurate capitalization and punctuation within sentences? This information can serve as a springboard for conversations with your child’s classroom teacher, homework help from you, or possible tutoring.
Children are tested for many different reasons. Often, testing allows schools and parents to make decisions regarding areas that may need further development, determine the need to continue or to modify interventions in place, and identify areas in which the student is performing well. Testing scores can also be used to drive instruction in a classroom or tutoring session. For example, if students perform low in a particular skill, lessons could address the area of weakness. Additional information, such as work samples, children’s ability to answer questions orally or in writing, and performance assessments should also contribute to determinations of whether or not the child has acquired a particular skill. Decisions should never be based off of a single score; rather, convergence of data from many sources and from many measures should be taken into consideration.
Still have questions? Contact us at http://www.educationalsolutionscny.com/ for a free fifteen-minute consultation so that we can help you review your child’s testing results and determine whether further testing would be beneficial.
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