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Interpreting and Applying Test Results

by Cindy Short and Sue Welch

Interpreting Test Scores

Glossary of Terms

These basic terms will help you understand your child’s test results. For definitions of additional terms see Pearson’s Glossary of Measurement Terms.

Types of Tests

  • Criterion-referenced tests compare a student’s performance to set criteria, such as state standards, rather than to the performance of other students.
  • Norm-referenced tests compare a student’s performance to a national reference group of students at the same grade.
  • Standards-based tests assess students’ knowledge and skills in relation to the state content standards.

National Percentile Rank

Percentile does not refer to the percent of questions that were answered correctly.

Percentile ranks individuals within a group on a scale of 1 to 99 with 50 being average. A percentile rank of 60 means the student scored better than 60 percent of the other students in his comparison (norm) group, and 40 percent scored as well as, or better than, he did.


This score shows a comparison of student scores, from a low of 1 to a high of 9. It may be thought of as groupings of percentile ranks.

Grade Equivalent

This is the most commonly misunderstood term in interpreting test scores.

The first digit represents the year of the grade level and the digit after the decimal represents the month of that grade level.

The grade equivalent is not an estimate of the grade in which your child should be placed! Rather it shows that the score your child achieved was the same as the average score made by students at that grade level who took the same test.

For example a 2nd grade student scoring 4.7 on a math subtest, scored the same as the average 4th grade, 7th month student did who took the 2nd grade test. It does not mean that the 2nd grade student can do 4th grade math work.

Read online article by BJU Press, “What do Tests Really Tell?,” for more information and examples.

Applying the Results

BJU Press presents the following suggestions.

If your child receives a low score, always compare that information with your own observations. If the low score is consistent with your personal observation and evaluation of your child's skill, develop a plan to strengthen this skill.

Your plan could include checking to see if the skill was taught, reteaching the skill from a different approach, checking curriculum content and methodology, and evaluating the effectiveness of your teaching methods.

Reading Comprehension

If reading comprehension (inferences, analyses, interpretations) scores are low, but mental ability and facts scores are higher, make sure your teaching and curriculum include questions that require interpretation, thought, inference, and other higher levels of thinking as well as literal-recall questions.

See The Teaching Home Newsletters #23, 25-26, 28-30 for ways to teach higher-level reading comprehension skills.

Math Problem Solving

If math problem-solving scores appear low, make sure your teaching and curriculum include visualization, meaning, and understanding in addition to facts and drills. Your curriculum should provide adequate opportunities for practice in solving story problems.

See The Teaching Home Newsletter #38 for many ideas to use in teaching math and how to solve story problems.

Math Computation

If math computation scores are low, check for your child’s command of the basic facts and his understanding of mathematic procedures. Also, check for student carelessness while working problems and note how many questions were not answered at all, indicating your child may need to increase his speed as well as his accuracy.

Use “Holey Cards” for timed speed drills of addition, subtraction, division, and multiplication facts. Drill facts in related combinations of addition/subtraction or multiplication/division. Print triangular math facts cards or use ordinary flashcards.


If spelling scores are low, check for evidence that your child is convinced that spelling is important. (This conviction is developed by emphasizing correct spelling in all subject areas.)

Your methodology should teach your child how to spell using spelling principles, rather than just memorizing word lists. Employ a variety of ways to use each lesson’s words over the whole week of study.

See The Teaching Home Newsletter #32 for information and ideas in teaching spelling.

Maps and Diagrams References and Study Skills

If these skills are low, check for whether you are taking time to read and interpret maps, graphs, and tables in texts and other sources.

Check that you are teaching library, reference, and dictionary skills.

Language Usage and Expression

If aspects of language usage and expression are low, make sure you are teaching writing skills and requiring frequent written work. The proofing of writing assignments is excellent preparation for these tests.

See The Teaching Home Newsletter #36-37 for tips on how to teach writing.

Copyright 2008 by Reprinted by permission

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