In a previous blog we discussed how grade-level benchmarks are used to direct students into intervention, and that meeting a benchmark could mean that they leave small group instruction. Your child’s percentile rank will tell you how he performs in comparison to other students in his grade. For example, if the benchmark measures reading fluency, and your student is at the 25th percentile, what does that tell you? That number does not mean that he obtained a score of 25% on the measure. The 25th percentile means that your child did better than 25% of his peers on the curriculum-based measure of reading fluency. You may wonder if that is a secure place to be, in terms of reading skill. The 25th percentile is the beginning of the average range, and the 75th percentile is the very top of the average range on any test, including the ACT, IOWA or Key Math Test.

Let’s say your 2nd grader was assessed using a curriculum-based measure of Reading Fluency in the fall, and was at the 25th percentile. A good question for the teacher would be, “What score will my daughter need to achieve in order to stay at the 25th percentile on the winter assessment?” In order to remain at the beginning of the average range, your daughter will need to read more words correctly when assessed in the winter. If she had to read 59 words correctly in the fall, in the winter she may need to read 84 words to stay at the 25th percentile. Her speed and/or accuracy will need to increase to stay at the beginning of the average range. We expect that student performance will continue to improve, but the percentile rank may remain the same because the performance of peers is also improving. As parents, we expect that the result of instruction will be improvement!

Realistically, the beginning of the average range may not reflect secure skills in the area of assessment. It would be ideal for a child to rank closer to the 50th percentile, in the middle of the peer group. If you have a child in the low end of average, your school may indicate that intervention will not be offered because his score was an average one.

A child at the low end of the average range would benefit from additional practice in the area that was assessed, be it reading or math calculation. By no standard could it be said that the student is “disabled” or qualifies for Special Education. As a parent, however, you want your child to feel confident in his skills, whether reading unfamiliar words or working on subtraction problems. Ask the teacher for suggestions on how to support your child’s progress in reading or math. Communicate that you understand that the student’s score is average, but you want to encourage continued growth. 

Blogger Mary Ann Mulcahey, PhD, shares her expertise in assessment and diagnosis of learning disabilities and ADHD, and the social/emotional adjustment to those issues. If you have questions, please contact Mary Ann at mmulcahey@springer-ld.org.

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