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Guide to standardized tests Bell Curve

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These tests are designed to compare individual students’ achievement to that of a “norm group,” a representative sample of his or her peers. The design is governed by the normal or bell-shaped curve in the sense that all elements of the test are directed towards spreading out the results on the curve (Monetti, 2003; NASBE, 2001; Zucker, 2003; Popham, 1999). The curve-governed design of norm-referenced tests means that they do not compare the students’ achievement to standards for what they should know and be able to do—they only compare students to other students who are assumed to be in the same norm group.


This summary is based on a guide prepared by Ruth Mitchell for the Center for Public Education. Mitchell, a freelance consultant and writer, specializes in education research and policy.

Posted: Feb. 15, 2006

© 2006 Center for Public Education

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Home > Evaluating performance > A guide to standardized testing: The nature of assessment > Guide to standardized tests Bell Curve