Criterion Referenced vs Norm Referenced
Poor Norm. He is doomed to be compared against whoever signs up for the same class as him.
Doesn’t matter what he can do, it seems, it only matters how he measures up to what everyone else can do.
Norm-referenced assessment is still the norm (pardon the pun) in many, if not most university classes. We have come to assume that letter grades should be allotted to students based on a statistically normal distribution, but what if everyone in the class manages to meet the stated course objectives?
Criterion referenced assessment (CRA) involves an independently determined set of standards for achievement. So long as the student meets the criterion, they should earn the grade promised.
How does that compare with our usual, norm-referenced assessment (NRA)?
In a typical course when a student earns 65% (which is a pass in most institutions) it is meant to imply that they have mastered approximately 2/3 of the course content, but is this really true? In a course where 60% or more of the final grade comes from exams their grade is in fact only a measure of the percentage of the content of the exams that they have mastered. Of necessity the exams include only a fraction of the course material that was taught.
In a gamified design students are assessed on the work they do over the term, and although final exams are still possible, they should could towards the final ‘score’ in the same way as all other work. If students manage to earn 1000 points throughout the term, then why should they be made to write a final exam? Haven’t they already demonstrated their mastery of the material?
I’ve heard people express concerns over rigor & accountability in criterion referenced assessment but that can be done quite easily by setting appropriate standards for the work that is submitted.
I suspect that many of the concerns come from experience with the kind of assessment that I’ve seen myself in some education programs where it is assumed that everyone who tries at all gets an A. I’ve been in classes like that. It’s really annoying for those who want to EARN their A’s, and yes, it can make it seem like CRA lacks rigor. Done right, it actually has MORE rigor & accountability than NRA.
Just to keep things organized: these are Reigeluth’s 8 core ideas for a new post-industrial paradigm of instruction:
- Learning-focused vs. sorting focused.
- Learner-centered vs. teacher-centered instruction.
- Learning by doing vs. teacher presenting.
- Attainment-based vs. time-based progress.
- Customized vs. standardized instruction.
- Criterion-referenced vs. norm-referenced testing.
- Collaborative vs. individual.
- Enjoyable vs. unpleasant. 
- C. M. Reigeluth, “Instructional Theory and Technology for the New Paradigm of Education,” Revista de Educación a Distancia, vol. 11, Sept. 30 2012 2012.