By Paul Temple
When education students are taught about the difference between norm-referenced and criterion-referenced assessment, the example often given of criterion referencing is the driving test. The skills you need to demonstrate in order to pass the practical test are closely defined, and an examiner can readily tell whether or not you have mastered them. So you have to do a hill start without the car running backwards, reverse around a corner without hitting the kerb or ending up in the middle of the road, and so on. The driving test could then, in principle, have a 100% or a 0% pass rate. (A non-education example of a norm-referenced examination is the football league: to stay in the Premier League, a team doesn’t have to be objectively brilliant, just fractionally better than that year’s weakest three teams.) But the driving test is also a threshold assessment: the examiner expects the candidate to be able to negotiate the town centre one-way system competently, but not to show that they can take part in a Bond movie car-chase. You have to cross the threshold of competent driving: you don’t have to show that you can go beyond it.
This seems a clear enough distinction: so why do so many academics apparently have difficulty with it? Continue reading