Making Sense of What Test Reports Say

While no child should ever be seen as just a number on a test, psycho-educational testing can reveal important information about a person’s learning strengths and weaknesses.

Here’s a brief glossary of important terms you may see in an educational or psychological evaluation report.

Ability Test
Ability tests measure a person’s potential to learn. IQ tests, such as the Wechsler Intelligence scales are one type of ability test. When the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) is taken by children 13 and younger, the results are generally viewed as a measure of a student’s ability to critically think and solve problems at a level of instruction that they have not yet received.

Achievement Test
Achievement tests measure what a student has learned at a particular grade-level or within a subject area.

Criterion Referenced Test
CRTs, such as the Iowa Test of Basic Skills or the Terra Nova, are a type of achievement test that measures whether a student has mastered material at one specific grade level. These tests tend to be exhauastive in the content they cover and are generally administered over the course of days.

Norm Referenced Test
NRTs, such as the Woodcock Johnson Test of Achievement-IV, evaluates achievement in a broader manner. Students are allowed to test as high (or as low) as they can go, sampling just a few items of knowledge at each grade levels. These tests take much less time to administer.

Raw Score
The actual number of correct answers on a sub-test.

Basal
Establishing a basal means that a test-taker has answered a set number of answers correctly. Once a basal is established, it is presumed that the test-taker would have answered all the easier questions at 100% accuracy. Basals are used to minimize the amount of time spent testing and to prevent testing fatigue. In some cases, the basal is established by beginning with the first question in the sub-test.

Ceiling
The term ceiling has more than one meaning. A ceiling is reached when a test-taker has answered an established number of questions incorrectly in a row. At that point, the sub-test ends. Ceiling also refers to when a test taker has reached the maximum number of questions available to answer in a sub-test on a Norm Referenced Test. In a case like this, it is important to do a full error-analysis of the sub-tests. Younger students who correctly answer all the questions in a sub-test will have a different learning profile than an older student who answers all the questions but got half of them wrong.

Composite Score
A cumulative score that reports a student’s performance on a select set of sub-tests. Composite Scores are generally reported as Standard Scores and are more than just an average of the sub-tests.

Standard Score
Standard scores statistically transform a student’s Raw Score into a number that can be compared across groups of students.

Mean
The average score. The Mean score on most standardized achievement and ability tests is 100.

Percentile Rank
A score ranging from 1 to 99 that indicates how a student’s score compares to others who have taken the test. The higher the Percentile Rank, the better the ability or achievement level of a student.

Normal Curve Equivalent (NCE)
Similar to Percentile Ranks, NCEs measure a student’s performance on a particular test on a scale of 1 to 99. NCEs are generally reported on group achievement tests.

Standard Deviation (SD)
A statistical term that analyzes a percentage breakdown of scores across a sample of people who have taken the test. Standard Deviations are generally reported in 15-point increments. Occasionally you will see 10-point SD breakdowns.

Grade Equivalent (GE)
Often a misunderstood score, GEs do not state that a student is able to perform work at a certain grade level. Instead, Grade Equivalent scores tell us that a student has accurately answered a high percentage of questions at the same rate as students in that particular GE. In other words, a 5th grade student earning a 9th grade GE is not necessarily expected to achieve at the 9th grade level in that academic subject. Rather, the student correctly answered the same percentage of questions as 9th grade students did taking the 5th grade test.

Age Equivalent (AE)
Similar to Grade Equivalents. An AE score may be reported instead of a GE for very young children, adults no longer attending school, homeschoolers, or those with asynchronous development.

Stanine
A statistical way of describing test scores that breaks scores into nine percentage groups. The 5th Stanine includes scores that fall within the 40th – 59th Percentile.

Standard Error of Measure (SEM)
Offers a range of scores for a test-taker, based upon a 5-10% degree of confidence.