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[Assessment Literacy Video Series] Unpacking National Percentile Rank

[Assessment Literacy Video Series] Unpacking National Percentile Rank

Our assessment literacy video series aims to demystify, unpack, and connect assessment concepts and principles to help you make more sense out of your assessment data. Maybe you’re just learning the ropes of some of the more complicated metrics reported in educational assessments, or perhaps you’re hoping to see how an assessment concept applies to Edmentum’s suite of assessment programs. Either way, let our top-notch research team of former educators and subject-matter experts be your guide.

Following every student assessment administration, you get some sort of reporting, and those reports contain a lot of different metrics. It can be confusing to know where to start when it comes to unpacking the details. Take a scale score for example: Have you ever seen a student’s scale score and thought—is this high or low? Maybe you’ve wondered how that score compared to other students in the same school, district, state, or even the whole nation. Without any added context, the score itself doesn’t tell us how many students earned the same score, a lower score, or a higher score.

A student might be high performing relative to their school but low performing relative to the state—sort of like a big fish in a small pond—or vice versa. When reports include some sort of comparative measure, the added perspective helps you interpret the data in meaningful ways! Let’s take a look at one of the metrics that can provide this information—percentile rank.

Defining National Percentile Rank

A student’s percentile rank tells you the percent of peers the student scored higher than.

Imagine that Jacob is a 5th grade student, and his score report says that he has a national percentile rank of 83. This means that Jacob is scoring higher than 83 percent of other 5th graders, nationally. Since Jacob is scoring higher than most of other 5th graders nationally—83 percent of them to be exact—Jacob is doing well compared to his peers.

Lower percentile ranks, as low as 0, correspond with lower scores, and higher percentile ranks, as high as 99, correspond with higher scores. A middle-of-the-road score, also called the median, is the 50th percentile rank.

Calculating National Percentile Rank

Now that you understand what percentile rank is—how do testing programs go about calculating them? This all starts with defining the norming group. A student’s percentile rank tells you the percent of peers the student scored higher than. The norming group is the population of students on which the percentile ranks are based. In the case of Edmentum, research scientists conducted a norming study, where the national population of test takers is balanced so that it is representative of the nation as a whole. This is called creating a nationally representative sample.

Reporting National Percentile Rank in Exact Path

Let’s take a look at how national percentile ranks are reported in Exact Path. Currently, they are reported in aggregated reports for the class, school, and district.

Keep in mind that, in Exact Path, the national percentile rank is reported based on how students perform in the spring of the same grade level. This means that students’ national percentile ranks from fall and winter are based on comparing those fall and winter scores to scores from the spring norming group. Students’ national percentile ranks will increase as students show growth in their scale scores across the school year. If a student has a high national percentile rank in fall or winter, that student is doing particularly well because they are already scoring higher than other students nationally that tested during spring.

When looking at the Student Summary Report, the national percentile rank will be noted with either the label “National Percentile Rank” or abbreviated as “NPR.” In this example, Jessica’s NPR of 42 means that Jessica scored higher than 42 percent of 3rd graders that tested in the spring. 

On the Class Results Report, the teacher can sort by national percentile rank to determine which students are generally scoring higher or lower than other students across the nation.

Finally, on the Aggregated Results reports, administrators can also see the percent of students that fall into four percentile rank categories.

The next time you look at the scale scores students earn from an assessment, look for a comparative measure to help make sense of the data. National percentile ranks do just that, so you can quickly keep tabs on how students stack up against others.

Interested in more assessment literacy topics? Check out our Edmentum Assessment Literacy video series, and continue to follow along on the blog as we dig deeper, making you assessment experts along the way! Want to learn more about Exact Path? Get more information about our award-winning program on our website.

audra.kosh's picture

Dr. Audra Kosh began her career in education as an eighth-grade math teacher. After transitioning out of the classroom to pursue her passion for research, Audra completed a Ph.D. in Learning Sciences with a focus on educational measurement and mathematics education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Now working as a Research Scientist at Edmentum, Audra does psychometric analyses and assessment research for Edmentum’s suite of assessments.

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