Psychological testing norms can be described as the average scores of individuals tested from a certain population set which provide the basis by which the scores of other individuals within a similar population set can be evaluated against (Geddes & Callister, 2007). As such, the process of norm based evaluations is more or less a way in which test scores are utilized in order to determine how a person can be ranked as compared to average set of norms for their population set (Lindbeck & Nyberg, 2006).
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The first type of norms utilized in psychological testing are the percentile rank norms commonly utilized as a means of measuring the rate in which a particular individual measures against others within their norm group (Jacobson, 2011).
This type of norm utilizes terms such as: “99th percentile”, “ranking”, from a scale of….” etc. In terms of psychological testing this is often utilized to measure the concept “degree of” in terms of how a person conforms to a particular psychological profile for the normative group that they belong to (Jacobson, 2011). This can either represent their degree of intellectual development, emotional quotient, and other such factors meant to determine the degree by which a person conforms to a set archetype.
The last types of norm that will be examined in this paper are age and grade norms. Typically, these types of norms are commonly utilized in educational settings in order to determine the level by which a particular student is performing (Petty & Cacioppo, 1996). In effect, these particular types of norms allow a researcher to determine at exactly what level a student is at the present (i.e. are they performing above, below or at the median of the national average of a student at the grade level and at that age?).
Nearly every student undergoes the process of being classified under such norms through the various evaluative tests they take per year. It must be noted though that studies such as those by Schneider (2002) indicate that despite age and grade norms having been utilized for years as a means of measuring the intellectual growth and advancement of students, they are technically not the best method of truly measuring intellectual growth due to the variances in which it is now interpreted as today (Schneider, 2002).
This comes in the form of students with a high degree of EQ but relatively low or average IQ which would create results that are misrepresented.
Taking such factors into consideration, it must be questioned whether psychological norms are an effective method of evaluation or if they are somewhat lacking in terms of the accuracy of their results due to the variances by which human psychological and intellectual development can occur.
It is based on this that the hypothesis of this paper is that while psychological norms can be utilized as a means of effectively measuring various aspects of an individual’s psychology, this method of normative evaluation should be combined with other testing procedures so as to create more accurate results.
One of the inherent problems associated with norms and their interpretation in psychological tests is that as time goes on the characteristics by which a particular population/group is defined tends to change and as such this calls into question the accuracy and applicability of a set of norms that can no longer be succinctly applied to the population set they were attached to.
For example, Foote (2008) in her examination of the evolution of the American education system explains that the amount of knowledge that a student has to learn at the present and the rate in which it is internalized trumps that of students 10 or 15 years ago (Foote, 2008). This is due to the steadily increasing body of knowledge that has been labeled as generalized rather than specialized.
This means that information that used to be labeled as exclusively belonging to specialist programs in higher education has now been incorporated in the lower levels of the educational system as being a part of a student’s general curriculum (i.e. computer sciences, advanced chemistry, mechanical engineering etc.).
Such a case of changes induced by an increasing body of knowledge is not limited to the current system of education alone, rather, it encompasses a wide range of social systems wherein through increased connectivity and technological advancements people are changing at a far more rapid pace than ever before. When taking this into consideration, it is obvious that norms are in effect subject to the necessity of constantly changing in line with a dynamic rather than static population set.
Another inherent limitation of norms is the fact that in order for them to be considered accurate in terms of the veracity of the information provided, a sufficiently large population set is needed in order to create the desired results. Wichardt (2012) explains this by indicating that in a psychological test a norm group is meant to represent the entire target population that is being examined (Wichardt, 2012).
If the norm group that is utilized in the testing procedure is too small, then this casts doubt on the accuracy of the research since a relatively small norm group creates far less variability and accuracy in terms of the results provided as compared to a relatively large norm group. While Wood (2007) indicates that there is actually no “perfect size” for a norm group for particular psychological studies, it is usually the case that most norm groups are in the hundreds if not thousands when it comes to creating accurate results (Wood, 2007).
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Lastly, another inherent limitation of psychological norms is that only a specific set of norms are applicable to a select group of individuals. This means that during the process of psychological testing the researcher must ensure that the proper norm groups are utilized when administering a psychological test to a test taker, if they are not this often leads to results that are either misrepresent the results or are wholly in accurate.
From the study of Bar-Eli & Tenenbaum (1988) which evaluated norms and their use in psychological testing results, Bar-Eli & Tenenbaum (1988) argues that one of the main problems with their use originates from the assumption that they are applicable to all cases within a particular population set (Bar-Eli & Tenenbaum, 1988).
States that while such an assumption can be considered applicable when it comes to generalized results, when delving into the specifics of individual cases it can be seen that there are distinct characteristics possessed by individuals that do not fall under a specific normative category and as such cannot be accurately evaluated based on the norms themselves (Kirkpatrick & McLemore, 1977).
This means that when interpreting normative test results they fail to accurately interpret an individual’s mental state due to variances in the way in which their mental and cognitive development significantly differs from the general population. Such individuals are often interpreted by the testing procedures as being mentally “deficient” when in fact the opposite is true wherein they possess a great deal of intellectual capacity albeit in a manner that does not fall under the generalized measurements utilized by most normative examinations.
Another way of looking at this is from the perspective of the previous section in this paper which elaborated on the limitations of normative methods of examination. As stated in the previous section, the characteristics by which a particular population/group is defined tends to change and as such this calls into question the accuracy and applicability of a set of norms that can no longer be succinctly applied to the population set they were attached to.
In the case of the interpretation of psychological test results, it can be assumed that due to the way in which population groups continue to rapidly change based on a variety of external environmental circumstances, the way in which normative test results are normally examined should be changed as well due to the possibility that they have reached a point that they are no longer able to accurately gauge the population set that they are attributed to.
As such, an appropriate use of a psychological test result is one where it is used to examine people based on a comparative examination against a proscribed set of norms after which it is followed by an a more specific type of examination should they produce results that are either far below the normative average or far above it.
By implementing a testing procedure that is outside the normative method of testing, this ensures that an individual is evaluated utilizing methods that seek to determine if they possesses attributes that differentiate them from the rest of the population but do not make them any less intelligent or psychologically capable. One way in which this is applicable can be seen in the case of high functioning autistics and individuals who suffer from mild cases of some forms of mental disorder.
While on the surface, based on a normative examination, they may seem below average, the truth of the matter is such individuals often times possesses a significant degree of intellectual capacity, the only inherent problem is that the testing method utilized to evaluate them was insufficiently adapted to recognize such traits and as a result labeled them as “deficient” when in fact nothing could be farther from the truth.
Based on the various facts and arguments that have been presented in this paper, it can be stated that while psychological norms can be utilized as a means of effectively measuring various aspects of an individual’s psychology, this method of normative evaluation should be combined with other testing procedures so as to create more accurate results.
By their own norms lack the ability to be able to sufficiently examine an individual’s “uniqueness” in terms of intellectual traits that do not fall under the traditional “mold” that normative testing creates. Not only that, it must be noted that due to the manner in which population sets change over time as a direct result of various external circumstances, this calls into question the accuracy of certain norms and as such necessitates the need to utilize additional forms of examination.
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