The Top Terms You Need to Know to Interpret Test Scores

Get the definitions of terms such as "average" and "borderline"

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Understanding how to interpret test scores is a valuable skill for parents of students with and without learning disabilities. That's because test score interpretation enables parents to understand how a child's performance on tests compares to other students.

This can give parents a sense of how much progress a child needs to make. On the other hand, it can give parents a sense of a child's strengths.

Test scores may reveal that a child has both weaknesses and strengths or that a child appears to be on target across the board. Students with learning disabilities, of course, need more support in some areas.

Usually both mainstream and special education assessments include scores from standardized tests. While these scores alone don't completely define a student's abilities, they do provide insight. Accordingly, it's important that parents learn the top terms associated with standardized test scores. Familiarize yourself with the terminology typically used to describe test scores with the definitions that follow.

What Is an Average Test Score?

Average test scores generally are in or around the 50th percentile. When groups of roughly 100 children are assessed, about 68 of them will fall within the average range. "Average" is another way of saying "typical for most children." Some students will fall below or above average.

The farther away from average a student scores in either direction increases the odds that he will need special education services--be it in a program for gifted students or in one for students with learning disabilities.

Distinguishing Above Average Test Scores

These scores fall above the average range.

Approximately 16 out of 100 students score in this range. Those at about the 85th percentile are considered high average. At the 98th percentile, students may be considered gifted in some programs. It's possible for a student to be gifted in one subject area and to have a learning disability in another.

Below Average Is a Warning Sign

These scores fall below the average range. Approximately 16 out of 100 children assessed on standardized tests score within the below average range. A child may perform below average on a test for a number of reasons. Perhaps she simply was having a bad day when she took the test, has fallen behind in a subject or has test anxiety. Retesting the child and giving her the academic and emotional support she needs in the meantime may yield a different result.

Borderline Spells Trouble

These scores approach the lower 5th percentile and are suggestive of learning problems.  Scoring in this range doesn't necessarily mean a child has a learning disability, however.

Low Scores Typically Signal Learning Disabilities

Scores that approach the lower 5th percentile are suggestive of significant learning problems or potential learning disabilities.

At this point, school officials may refer a child for special education services, conduct more testing or review his body of work to determine for certain if the student has a learning disorder.

Wrapping Up

While it's helpful for parents to learn the terms above to better understand test score results, parents should never rely exclusively on their own knowledge to decipher what test scores indicate about their child. If you're unsure about what exactly a set of test scores reveal about your child's learning abilities, talk with the student's teacher, counselor or administrator to get more details.

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