Criterion Referenced Assessment

Criterion referenced assessment: This type of assessment is a highly effective means of obtaining information about students' ability to perform specific language tasks. Criterion referenced assessment has an advantage over norm referenced assessment in that it is precise in identifying what students can and cannot do with daily oral and/or written language tasks.

This form of assessment is often naturalistic and allows clinician's to focus on a student's language difficulty, which enables them to create accurate, targeted language intervention plans. For instance, a clinician may use an age appropriate picture book to determine a student's reading fluency and devise a checklist of interpretive and inferential questions to examine the same student's reading comprehension skills.

In the above example, though the information gleaned is not norm-referenced, it potentially provides a much greater insight into a student's functional language abilities than a widely used standardized assessment such as the CELF-4.

Let me explain.

A reading miscue and fluency analysis provides accurate information on how well and efficiently a student reads text and how much attention and energy is directed to decoding unfamiliar words. If the student struggles with decoding do they also struggle with comprehension of the text? Targeted inference questions can help determine this.

When a student struggles with both reading fluency and reading comprehension on age appropriate books, the clinician will have a range of potential intervention areas to target.

Why is a criterion referenced assessment potentially more useful than a norm referenced test?

Norm referenced assessments provide clinicians information about how a child's overall language abilities compare to their typically developing peers. It provides a window into what a particular child is able to do at that point in time. What norm referenced tests don't do particularly well is demonstrate how a child functions in a natural setting (the classroom), or how they use oral and written language in a real life situations.

In contrast to norm referenced assessments, criterion referenced assessments don't compare students' standard scores versus their peers scores. Usually the student's performance on a test is compiled into raw scores, which is a tally of their correct responses. The tallied score provides a practical guide as to how well a student performed on a distinct language task.

Criterion referenced assessments enable a clinician to plan meaningful and detailed intervention which focuses on a student's difficulty, as it applies to their daily academic and social life.

Also, this type of assessment is generally quick to deliver and can be used to retest a student's performance at the end of a therapy block, to establish whether a student's targeted language skill has improved.

To gain a true insight into a student's language disorder, it's often recommended that both types of language assessments are used: norm referenced and criterion referenced. The information provided by both forms of assessment tells us how well a student is performing in contrast to their peers, but also what functional language areas are best to target in language intervention.


Kaderavek, J.N. (2011) Language Disorders in Children: Fundamental Concepts of Assessment and Intervention, Allyn & Bacon

Paul, R. (2006) Language Disorders from Infancy through Adolescence. Assessment and Intervention. Mosby

Content Updated 10/11

Return from Criterion Referenced Assessment to Speech Language Assessment

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