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Testing Options


As children head into the middle school years, many families have to deal with a new factor: testing. No matter what your family’s approach to education may be, the idea of testing introduces a wide array of thoughts and emotions ranging from pride in a score to frustration over what to do with the results. Fortunately, the latter can be eased simply by understanding what testing accomplishes and learning to choose tests based on the results you desire.

Norm-Referenced Test

All standardized tests taken in public or private schools, college-entry exams such as the ACT and SAT, and tests generally given in states where annual testing is required for homeschool students fall into this category.


To determine the standard or norm of scoring for a norm-referenced test, test developers use statistics to take the scores of a small subset of test-takers and establish a baseline of sorts by which all other test performances are measured.

When your child completes this form of test, his scores are measured against this “normal group,” as it is called, to determine where he ranks. The normal group may be a national, regional, or even local standard, depending on the test given and the norms chosen for that test.


After each child’s test is scored, schools and/or parents receive a letter with information regarding the child’s score. Here is some of the information you may find regarding your child’s test scores, often listed by subject:

  • total number of questions asked
  • number of questions answered correctly
  • National Percentile Rank, based on a nationally established norm pulled from a representative sample of students
  • National Stanine, based on a standard of nine groups with 1-3 being below average, 4-6 being average, and 7-9 being above average
  • grade equivalence, showing how the student performed based on the standard norm for grade levels and the number of months completed in that grade
    standard score, or raw score
  • composite score, or the average of all scores for all subjects

Score reports do not include information about which questions were missed, nor do they indicate which skills need to be improved.


Norm-referenced tests are generally used to indicate whether a student is performing below, at, or above the average performance level for a student in his or her grade. For college-bound students, these tests can be used to determine college admission eligibility, placement in regular or remedial courses, or scholarship eligibility.

Assessments and Placement Tests

Unlike a standardized test, assessment and placement tests determine a student’s achievement level strictly based on the student’s own ability to answer a series of questions. Because these tests explore specific knowledge rather than a comparative ranking, fewer questions are required. As a result, the tests often end up being much shorter than a typical standardized or norm-referenced test.

Questions on assessment and placement tests tend to range greatly in complexity. For instance, a college student testing for exemption or advanced placement for foreign language studies will find questions well below, at, and well above his skill level. This range helps determine whether or not he has sufficiently learned enough to bypass the first semester or year of the language course.

Some of these tests intermingle simple and complex questions, while others begin simply and grow increasingly more complex. Often the tests that increase in complexity allow a tester to continue until he or she misses a certain number of questions in a row.


Most tests are scored on a percentage basis, calculating how many questions were answered correctly and how many were missed. When determining placement, this percentage is typically the only factor considered, based on the assumption that the missed questions were above the student’s level of understanding. Most of these tests do not take into consideration questions missed due to carelessness or lack of attention.

In situations where test-takers are allowed to continue testing until they miss a maximum number of questions, scoring is typically established based on the last level completed successfully rather than on a percentage of questions answered correctly.


Unlike norm-referenced tests, assessments and placement tests vary widely in their creation, usage, and reporting. There is no standardization for these tests, and they can be created and utilized in countless ways. Consequently, there is also no standardized method for reporting results. Some of these tests show missed questions immediately, providing the correct answer before the test-taker moves on to the next question. Others show missed questions at the end of the test so a student can see what he or she missed, while still others simply report the percentage.


Assessment and placement tests are typically used to determine a student’s achievement level for placement in a grade, tutorial, level, class, or even job position.

What about Well Planned Start?

Well Planned Start fits into the assessment/placement test category. Scoring is percentage based, and the questions help determine how well a student has learned material typically presented at his or her grade level.

Because it is an assessment instead of a norm-referenced test, Well Planned Start does not show where students rank on a national, regional, or local percentile. Consequently, it does not meet the testing qualifications for states that require annual standardized testing.

So, why should you use Well Planned Start?

Because you walk through the test with your student, you see immediately what questions he or she struggles with and which ones are simple. This process resolves the weakness of most assessment tests that do not take carelessness or lack of attention into consideration.

As the parent, you score the test yourself, so you know immediately where strengths and weaknesses lie and what concepts were not grasped through the course of the year. You can also see immediately if concepts being tested differ widely from concepts explored during the year, as curricula do tend to vary somewhat in their scope.

Even if you participate in standardized testing each year, Well Planned Start provides you the feedback you need to know exactly how to work with your child in the coming year to strengthen weaknesses, fill in gaps, and build on strengths.

With five kids in their teen and early adult years, Rebecca shares the many ups and downs of parenting, homeschooling, and keeping it all together. As the Well Planned Gal she mentors women towards the goal of discovering the uniqueness Christ has created in them and their family and how to best organize and plan for the journey they will travel.

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