Guest Blogger Emma Savino: What Do These Scores Mean?!

Preface: I am so grateful that Emma Savino wrote this piece for EdGeeks. I cannot tell you how many times a parent has come to me saying, “I got these test scores in the mail, but I don’t know what it all means!” Even worse, most teachers are often confused by the jargon. How can we know how to help our children if we don’t understand their strengths and weaknesses?

What Do These Scores Mean?! A Brief Overview of Standardized Assessment Interpretation

by, Emma Savino, NYS Certified School Psychologist

Data collection is becoming more common in schools to monitor student progress and to guide instruction.  Many of the assessments given to students produce a variety of scores that can be confusing to those who do not know what they mean.  Not every test is the same, nor do they yield the same type of scores.

Most tests have a comparative point.  Therefore, student scores are either compared to students within their class/school, a nationally normed sample or sometimes both.  A nationally normed test (typically called a standardized test), compares student performance across a test group that is representative of the country’s population.   Therefore, a certain percentage of genders, races and ages are put through the same test, administered in the same format.  Ranges of scores are developed, where present levels of performance can be determined comparative to the norm.

The following is an overview of some possible scores you may see on assessments.

  1. Raw Scores: This is the total number of points earned on a particular test.  If there are 50 items on an assessment and 44 out of 50 are correct, the raw score is 44.
  2. Standard Scores: A standard scores is a converted raw score, representing performance relative to a testing sample. For the standardized assessments that I use, average scores are typically those from 85-115 or 90-110.  The standard bell curve is a useful tool that displays a visual representation of how scores are distributed.
  3. Percentiles: Percentiles represent student functioning as a percentage.  If a student’s performance falls at the 46th percentile, this indicates performance better than 46% of the students who took the same assessment.  Average percentiles are those generally between the 25th and 75th percentile, however, this can vary depending on the assessment.
  4. Grade Equivalents: Grade equivalents attempt to represent the grade level which a student is performing.  However, these scores are often misleading and misinterpreted.

For example, a 3rd grade student may take a test and receive a grade equivalent score of 5.1 (5th grade 1st month).  This does not mean they are working at a 5th grade level.  It simply means that the 3rd grade student tested performed as well as a 5th grader who would have taken the same test.  This 3rd grade student would not receive the same score if given a 5th grade level test.  If interpreted incorrectly, this can cause misplacement or poor intervention planning. Standard scores and percentiles are the best way to interpret scores.

5. Qualitative Descriptors: These descriptions are an easy way to understand standard scores. A specific range of scores is given a term to sum up performance.  Once again, this varies from test-to-test, but qualitative descriptors are typically presented in this order: Extremely Low, Borderline/Low, Below/Low Average, Average, High Average, Superior and Very Superior.

When reviewing test scores it is important to keep the following ideas in mind:

  • Testing can be negatively impacted by many factors.  Therefore, be sure to account for error.  These can include environmental factors (i.e. lighting, temperature, noise level, location) or motivational factors (i.e. inattentiveness, disinterest, fatigue, sickness).
  • Test scores give a general idea of where a student is performing and scores are not the end-all- be-all of their capabilities.  They provide insight to individual strengths and weakness which should help guide intervention and instruction.
  • Very often students are referred to me, evaluated and performance is found to fall slightly below or within the average range. Score patterns such as this show that a student possesses similar skills as same aged peers that took the same test.  Students who perform average on these assessments and struggle in the classroom may require changes to their environment (i.e. seating) or additional, Tier 2, AIS supports, but not necessarily special education.
  • Don’t expect perfection from students or for all students to perform within the average range.  Focus on growth and improvement.  I have worked with a wide range of students with varying abilities and some students innately struggle.  This does not mean they cannot learn, but may require more time and support than your average student.
  • Any decisions made regarding educational placement or programming should be done only if data is consistent across measures and should be evaluated by a team of professionals.

A special thanks to Emma Savino.

The more you know…

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