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  • Writer's pictureStephanie Tsapakis

What do my Students Test Scores Mean? - Interpreting the data and when to get help

Updated: Nov 30, 2022

Three times per year, our local schools administer the MAP test. We are given a report similar to the one below:

(image from

If the picture above makes you scratch your head, you are not alone. Schools administer all types of assessments to our students - standardized, formal, informal, formative, summative - and the results of those assessments are often confusing to parents.

Interpreting the data does not need to be complicated!

We can help you understand what to look for.

In order to truly understand test results, the first thing to understand is the difference between the various forms of assessment.

  • Standardized/Formal: a test with predetermined questions and score possibilities that is administered in a consistent manner. Scores are compared to other scores of students in the same group (usually age or grade) based on the average score of all students who have taken the test.

  • Informal: a way to measure progress and understanding based on non-standardized tests, observations, projects, or other data collected from a student. These are usually more personalized, but can also be influenced by bias or judgement.

  • Formative: lower stakes assessments with the purpose of informing instruction. These are typically used as progress monitoring along the way at various parts of a unit of instruction.

  • Summative: a longer type of assessment usually given at the end of a unit, or end of semester covering information from the entire unit(s) of study.

Interpreting the results from each type of assessment

The first question you will ask yourself when interpreting test results is what kind of assessment was given to your student.

Informal, Formative, and Summative Assessments:

These types of assessments are usually relatively straight forward. They typically have a grade associated with them, and each question has a specific point value. If a student is struggling on these assessments, it usually means they are having trouble understanding the material being taught.

Of course, there are other factors such as test anxiety, testing environment, and ability to read and understand test questions. If you are seeing low grades on these types of assessments regularly, it is best to reach out to your child's teacher for additional data such as their observations about your child's understanding via class discussions and other independent work.

Formal/Standardized Assessments:

This is usually where parents get confused, but it is easier than you think to understand these results.

Since standardized assessments are based on scores of a standard group, they are reported based on their relationship to the mean - or the average score of the group. This is most easily explained by the Gaussian Bell Curve:

SD: -3 -2 -1 0 +1 +2 +3

SS: (70-79) (80-89) (90-99) (100-109) (110-119) (120-129) (130+)

(SD = standard deviation; SS - standard score)

In the above image, the mean is represented by the middle line or the number 0. This is thought of as the average score, or totally normal compared to the rest of the group.

Anything in green also represents average; and includes anything within one standard deviation away from the mean. (A standard deviation is how we describe how far a score moves away from the mean.) The part of your score report showing "Standard Score" should have numbers between 90-110 (sometimes 85-115). Your child could be scoring a bit lower, or a bit higher than the mean score and still be considered within the normal range. A standard score of 100 means the child's score is the same as the mean (average).

As we move more than one standard deviation away from the mean, we get into scores that are outside the average range. The orange color shows the area qualified as being "below average" or more than one standard deviation below the mean (in other words, further away). The part of your score report showing "Standard Score" should have numbers between 80-89 (sometimes 70-85).

The red area would be qualified as "well below average" or more than two standard deviations away from the mean. If you are seeing your students scores fall in this part of the bell curve picture, or scores that are 79 (sometimes 75) or below, this would be in an indication that they are struggling.

On the other side of the mean would be the above average scores. Anything with a standard score of 110-119 would fall in the blue area, and be classified as "above average". Anything in the purple area with a standard score of 120 and higher would be classified as "well above average". Scores in these ranges would indicate a student is scoring better than the majority of their peers on these standardized assessments. These scores also fall one or two standard deviations away from the mean, meaning they move in another direction away from the average of the group.

How do I know if my child needs help?

We hear it a lot in our consultations with families, a parent saying they just "KNEW" something was off, but the school kept telling them to wait before getting additional help.

(Expert tip: Don't wait. Trust that gut!)

It is important to understand that there could be a variety of reasons why a student scores low on any single given test. However, if a student is showing a *pattern* of weaknesses in a specific area, then it is important to seek intervention and additional support. If your student is falling within the "below average" or "well below average" range, or you are seeing scores consistently lower than 85 on standardized assessments, that is a good indication of them needing additional support.

The same applies for informal assessments coming home from the teacher. If you see one bad grade on a spelling or math test - don't panic! If you start to see a pattern forming with consistent low grades, this is the time to start seeking help. You could start by reaching out to the teacher for suggestions, but if they tell you to wait... insist on the opposite.

You could also seek private intervention, such as the services provided by LD Expert to help your child reach their full academic potential!

*note: standard deviation calculations will vary from test to test. Typically they will be in increments of 10 or 15.

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