Earlier today, I was driving 60 miles an hour. Was that too fast? Too slow? That depends on the speed limit, but without having something to compare my speed to, it’s impossible to evaluate it.
The same concept applies to student test scores — without a basis of comparison, we can’t evaluate the score.
Two forms of comparison, norms and benchmarks, are essential to Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) frameworks, FAST™ and assessment in general. For best results, it's important to note the details and differences between the two ideas to better understand the circumstances in which each proves most useful.
Common Educator Questions About Norms and Benchmarks
What is the difference between a norm and a benchmark?
This is a common question and can be confusing because many FAST™ screening reports display both norms and benchmarks to support your decision-making.
A normative comparison allows you to compare a student’s score to that of her peers. When driving for instance, the flow of traffic is a normative comparison. Depending on the location and time of day, the flow of traffic may change given other drivers on the road. FAST has both local and nationally representative norms, allowing you to compare students’ scores to both local peers and students nationwide.
Benchmarks, on the other hand, support the comparison of norms to a predetermined criterion. The speed limit is an example of a benchmark. It doesn’t change based on who is driving on a given road. It provides a constant comparison to determine if your speed is safe in the given setting.
Why do my norms and benchmarks tell me different things?
Let’s return to the driving example. If we compare my speed of 60 miles an hour to a speed limit of 55, we may decide that I was driving too fast. However, if we compare it to the fact that all other drivers on the road are passing me and driving faster than 60, we may decide I was driving too slowly. The comparison we make may lead to different decisions. A police officer may be more attuned to the criterion, the speed limit, while a passenger in the car may pay more attention to the flow of traffic, or norm.
Similarly, when comparing screening data to norms or benchmarks, you may see some different patterns. For instance, if your school has students who are high performing, you may have students whose scores are low when compared to local norms. Those same students’ scores may meet low risk benchmarks and be within the average normative range nationally, though.
By contrast this data from FAST™ displays a situation in which the local population has more students with scores at high risk; you may see that some students may appear to be in the average range when compared to local norms but be at risk of not meeting standards in reading or math when compared to benchmarks.
While this can be confusing, these different types of information are essential when deciding who may need additional intervention to be successful.
Which does FastBridge Learning® recommend: Norms or benchmarks?
It depends on the question you’re asking and the decision you’re making. Norms are best used when decisions are being made that require you to compare a student’s score to that of other students. When you want to determine if a student is at risk of not meeting standards, benchmarks should be used. We recommend using benchmarks to determine which students need additional support, then using norms to decide if that support needs to be supplemental or provided through Tier 1 core instruction.
Norms and Benchmarks within FAST™
How were the normative ranges set in FAST?
The normative ranges in FAST™ were set to show where most students’ scores fall and align with typical resource allocation in schools. Most schools do not have the resources to provide supplemental intervention to more than 20% - 30% of students. FAST™ norms make it clear which students fall in those ranges. Additionally, if a student’s score falls between the 30th and 85th percentile ranks, the score is consistent with where the majority of students are scoring. That range includes students who are likely receiving core instruction alone.
Remember, norms are not able to be used to indicate risk of poor reading or math outcomes.
So, students whose CBMreading score is at the 35th percentile rank may be at-risk in the area of reading, even though they will likely not receive additional support outside of core instruction. That’s why FAST™ recommends that benchmarks are used in conjunction with norms to make decisions about how to meet student needs. For example, a core intervention may be appropriate in cases where a large number of students score below benchmark but are within the average range compared to local norms.
Can we set custom benchmarks in FAST?
FAST™ allows for District Managers to set custom benchmarks. If your school has done an analysis to identify the FAST™ scores associated with specific outcomes on your state tests, you can enter those custom benchmarks into the system. The Knowledge Base has an article that provides instructions to set custom benchmarks. When completed, these will be displayed on all FAST™ reports.
Why are local norms missing from some of my reports?
Since norms compare students’ scores to those of other students, if only a portion of a school or district is assessed, those comparisons could be misleading. For instance, if we only screen students who we have concerns about, a student’s score may look like it’s in the middle of the group, when in reality, the student is at-risk of not meeting expectations in reading or math. Because of this, FAST™ will only calculate and display local norms when at least 70% of the students in a group have taken the screening assessment. If you have fewer than 70% of students screened with a specific assessment, we recommend using national norms or benchmarks to identify student risk.
Why are CBMreading benchmarks higher than those for other published assessments of oral reading fluency?
Benchmarks are used to determine risk of not meeting standards. Similar to a speed limit changing depending on the setting (e.g., highway versus school zone), benchmarks will differ depending on the conditions of the measure used. In CBMreading, specifically, one of the reasons FAST™ passages have extremely high predictive validity is due to their highly-structured nature. The FAST™ CBMreading passages include decodable words as well as high frequency English words so that they are as easy to read as possible. They were developed specifically to be able to screen and monitor student progress with both predictive validity and high sensitivity to growth. As with any assessment, you should compare scores on FAST™ assessments with only FAST™ norms and benchmarks.
How are growth rates for goals and the group growth report set?
The growth rates used in the FAST™ Progress Monitoring groups are based on research documenting typical improvement by students who participate in progress monitoring. The growth rates in the Group Growth Report are based on the scores corresponding to the FAST™ benchmarks, however, they can be customized when accessing that report.
How are rates of improvement (ROI) related to norms and benchmarks?
The rates of improvement (ROI), or growth rates, you’ll find in various parts of FAST™ are derived from FAST™ normative data. The growth rates are developed based on the typical performance of students in the FAST™ national norms at every fifth percentile ranking. You can find these growth rates in the normative tables in the Training and Resources tab within FAST™. This section of the system also contains information about interpreting FAST™ norms and benchmarks.
Ultimately, while the two ideas have different applications, we know schools use norms and benchmarks together and separately to aid in decision-making. Because of that, you can see both on many of our reports.
Have additional FAST™ questions? Visit the Training and Resources page to learn more about our convenient, on-demand resources for learning and training.