Course: Postgraduate Certificate - Tertiary Level Teaching
Module: Assessing Student Performance
Page: 5 - Norm-referenced, criterion-referenced and ipsative assessment

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Norm-referenced, criterion-referenced and ipsative assessment

A second basic distinction is that between norm-referenced assessment, criterion-referenced assessment and ipsative assessment.

Norm-referenced assessment.

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This is assessment that is based on comparing the relative performances of students, either by comparing the performances of individual students within the group being tested, or by comparing their performance with that of others of similar age, experience and background. Such assessment may simply involve ranking the students, or may involve scaling their marks or grades so that they fall on a standard distribution of some sort.

It may also involve establishing arbitrary pass rates, mark distributions or grade distributions, eg telling the students that only 10% will be awarded 'A' grades, 20% 'B' grades, 35% 'C' grades, and so on. Norm-referenced assessment has a long tradition of use in national and professional examinations, and is widely used in schools and colleges in the United States. It is, on the face of it, a rather unfair approach to assessment, since only relative attainment, not absolute attainment is being recognised. Since the late 1980's, the term has been applied to virtually all assessment in which students are assigned a percentage mark - or, indeed, a numerical mark of any sort - as opposed to being assessed with respect to set performance criteria of some sort, as in criterion-referenced assessment.

Criterion-referenced assessment.

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Here, the performance of students or trainees is assessed against pre-determined criteria, without regard to their performance relative to one another. Such assessment generally involves determining whether the student or trainee can carry out specific tasks or activities, within a particular situation or context, and to a set minimum standard. It is normally carried out on a 'pass/fail' basis, or, in modern parlance, on a 'competent/not-yet-competent' basis, with no attempt being made to assign numerical marks to the performance.

Criterion-referenced assessment of this type is used in all competence-based courses, and is also used in the assessment of vocational qualifications. The standard driving test is a good example of criterion-referenced assessment.

Ipsative assessment.

weights.jpg (8107 bytes) In this mode of assessment, a person's performance is compared with their own earlier performance, with a view to determining whether any improvement has been made, or any 'added value' brought about. Such assessment might involve setting a learner the same test prior to and after undertaking a course or unit thereof, keeping track of how a student's average percentage mark or overall grade average changes as they progress through an entire course, or seeing how an athlete's 'personal best' time, distance, etc improves with training. In all cases, however, the benchmark against which any change in performance is measured is the person's own performance -not the performance of other people.


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