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Posted By: Moreen Carvan on June 4, 2002
Of course every student is not capable of excellent performance in a norm-referenced system. By definition, only 2% of students will perform to this degree of deviation from the mean. The question is, what does the mean performance represent? A lot of assumptions about the biological and psychological nature of learning are embedded in a norm-referenced system, few of which have actually been tested. Statistically, if your sample is very small and not randomly assigned, "normative" performance in that class is not a valid or reliable predictor of performance relative to the population. Since both of those conditions apply in classrooms, norm-referenced grading simply does not make sense. Thus, classroom norms vary according to the expectations of each teacher, the context of schooling, and the relative knowledge, skills, and performance of the students in any given class. This is a system that is open to inequities.

As both the concepts and processes that students are expected to learn evolve over time, so too must our means of assessing learning. Why stick to a system that is not valid or reliable simply because it is traditional? At least national, state, and especially district-level standards-based curriculum, instruction and assessment systems are less subjective than grades based on individual classroom norms.

Moreen Carvan
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 High-stakes testing and standards by Samantha Murray on April 13, 2002
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