Analytic Quality Glossary


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Citation reference: Harvey, L., 2004-21, Analytic Quality Glossary, Quality Research International,

This is a dynamic glossary and the author would welcome any e-mail suggestions for additions or amendments. Page updated 22 September, 2021 , © Lee Harvey 2004–2021.


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Norm-referenced assessment

core definition

Norm-referenced assessment is the process of evaluating (and grading) the learning of students by judging (and ranking) them against the performance of their peers.

explanatory context

Norm-referenced assessment is contrasted with criteria-referenced assessment. The former tends to be relative to performance of others while the latter is based on performance against pre-set criteria.

analytical review

According to the North Central Regional Educational Laboratory site (undated), the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (1996) defines norm-referenced assessment as:

An assessment where student performance or performances are compared to a larger group. Usually the larger group or 'norm group' is a national sample representing a wide and diverse cross-section of students. Students, schools, districts, or even states are then compared or rank-ordered in relation to the norm group. The purpose of a norm-referenced assessment is usually to sort students and not to measure achievement toward some criterion of performance.


Mississippi State University (2004) notes:

Norm-referenced scores derive their meaning only from comparisons with other scores – scores of other students, scores of the same students at different time periods, or scores from other colleges and universities.


For Huitt (1996), the purpose of norm-referenced assessment is:

To rank each student with respect to the achievement of others in broad areas of knowledge.

To discriminate between high and low achievers.


According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (undated):

Norm-referenced tests (NRTs) compare a person's score against the scores of a group of people who have already taken the same exam, called the ‘norming group’. (2012) states:

Norm-referenced test: This type of test determines a student’s placement on a normal distribution curve. Students compete against each other on this type of assessment. This is what is being referred to with the phrase, ‘grading on a curve’.

Wojtczak (2002) refers to norm-references standards:

A norm-referenced standard is a standard based on the representative group of the candidates' population. Credentialing organizations may use norm-referenced orientation, in which the standard is based on the performance of an external large representative sample (norm group) equivalent to the candidates taking the test. The norm-referenced standard will be somewhat unstable and will shift according to the performance of the norm group, as large as it may be. Shift of the standard over time is a concern


The University of South Australia (2011) refers to normative assessment, which it defines thus:

Normative assessment: An assessment where grades are awarded on the basis of a predetermined distribution. Each student's grade is determined in part by how well other students do in the same assessment task or course. The most common form of normative assessment assumes that grades/marks are distributed according to a standard distribution curve.

associated issues

related areas

See also

absolute standards

academic standards

assessment [of quality]

assessment of student learning

assessment of teaching

formative assessment

criteria-referenced assessment

performance standards

relative standards


standards of competence

summative assessment

Sources, 2012, Secondary School Educators, Norm-Referenced Test , accessed 20 September 2012, still available 4 January 2017, not found 26 June 2019.

Huitt, W., 1996, Measurement and evaluation: Criterion- versus norm-referenced testing. Educational Psychology Interactive. Valdosta, GA: Valdosta State University,, accessed 20 September 2012, page not available at this address 4 January 2017.

National Center for Fair & Open Testing (undated) FairTest,, accessed 20 September 2012, still available 26 June 2019.

North Central Regional Educational Laboratory (undated) Norm-referenced,, accessed 20 September 2012, page not available 4 January 2017.

Mississippi State University, 2004, Office of Institutional Research, Results of the Academic Profile Assessment,, updated October, 2004, accessed 3 February 2011, not available 6 July 2012.

University of South Australia, 2011, General Definitions available at, accessed 23 July 2012, still available 4 January 2017, not found 26 June 2019.

Wojtczak, A., 2002, Glossary of Medical Education Terms,, December, 2000, Revised February 2002, accessed 2 September 2012, page not available 30 December 2016.

copyright Lee Harvey 2004–2021

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