Q. Recently, my third-grader was given a norm-referenced test. She scored in the 95th percentile overall, and her teacher was really pleased, saying she should be in the Gifted & Talented program. Is this an accurate measure of her ability?
— Smart Kid
A. A norm-referenced test measures a student’s score against the scores of a group of students who already have taken the test. Your daughter was not compared to ALL the students who have taken this test, but to this norming group, and she scored higher than 95 percent of the test-takers in the norming group. The test is designed so that most students score near the middle; only a few receive high scores and a few receive low scores.
Your daughter probably is very bright. However, all tests have measurement error. Her 95th percentile is an estimate. Some test results are reported in score bands showing the range within which the test-taker’s “true” score probably lies. Remember, too, that what was on the test is only a sample of a whole subject area. Plus, getting one or more questions right or wrong can result in a fairly large change in a student’s score.
You should be pleased your daughter can be in a Gifted & Talented program. Norm-referenced tests often are used for this purpose. She likely will take many norm-referenced tests during her school days. Most college admissions tests fall into this category, as well as such widely used tests as the California Achievement Test, the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills, the Iowa Test of Basic Skills and the Stanford Achievement Test.
Q. We’re not sure if our child, who is going to preschool soon, is right- or left-handed. Is there any quick and easy way to determine this? He uses his left hand for most tasks.
A. Usually, a child favors one hand over the other by the age of 3. Many of us use different hands for different tasks throughout our lives, and this includes children. However, a task, like handwriting, that takes a lot of practice usually is done by a preferred hand. Just observing your child might not give you the answer to which hand he prefers. However, you’ll get an idea by noticing which hand he uses to throw balls, fit puzzle pieces or hold a spoon. If you want to be a bit more scientific, measure the difference in accuracy and time for him to put pegs in holes using each hand.
Try this helpful technique with your children when they are having difficulty with math word problems. Young children, who are just learning how to solve story problems, can draw pictures or use hands-on materials so that they can visualize a problem.
Many students can’t solve story problems because they can’t visualize the big numbers. This difficulty first appears in second grade, and if it’s not addressed early, it just gets worse as kids go up in the grades. Here’s why I suggest: If the problem has three numbers, have kids substitute 2 for the smallest, 6 for the largest and 3 for the other. If four numbers are used, they should substitute 2 for the smallest, 12 for the largest, and 3 and 6 for the others. By using these numbers, the answer always comes out even with no remainders.
Many times, students get the answer, but don’t know how they did it — perhaps it’s just intuition. By writing the equation and their answer, students can figure what process they used to get there. Then, they can substitute the original numbers in the equation and get the correct answer. For example, if John is going from South Charlotte to Greensboro, a distance of about 150 miles, and traveling at 50 miles an hour, how long will it take him to get there? If 6 is substituted for 150 miles, and 2 for 50, the answer (3) becomes apparent, and so does the process (division).
— Math Teacher