What You Need to Know About PSAT/NMSQT Scores, Percentiles, and College Readiness Benchmarks
What You Need to Know About PSAT/NMSQT Scores, Percentiles, and College Readiness BenchmarksCyndie Schmeiser, Chief of Assessment
This post originally appeared on Forbes.com on Feb. 18, 2016. Read the original here.
Over three years ago, the College Board embarked on the process of redesigning the SAT, PSAT/NMSQT, and PSAT 8/9. The new exams are focused on what research tells us students need to know to be ready for college and career, and they better reflect what students are learning in class. All three exams in the SAT Suite of Assessments are on the same score scale, so students and educators can easily track student progress toward readiness over time.
Last month, PSAT/NMSQT results were sent to over four million students. The paper and online score reports include richer information than ever before, with new details about scores, percentiles, and college readiness benchmarks. To help make sure students and educators understand the significance of these new pieces of data, we’ve summarized what they mean, why we’ve included them, and how they should be used.
Scores: Scores are the most important summary of a student’s knowledge, skills, and academic achievement. They communicate how ready students are for college and career, and they’re what colleges use in the admission process. PSAT/NMSQT scores, not percentiles, are used to determine a student’s National Merit Selection Index, and they provide the best indicator for how a student would perform on the SAT.
Percentiles: Percentiles are provided to help students understand their scores compared to how other students performed on the test. They show the percentage of students in a particular grade whose scores fall at or below a specific score. Educators and students can now see two types of percentiles on the score reports: user percentiles and national percentiles. Because October 2015 was the first administration of the redesigned PSAT/NMSQT, the percentile ranks reported for that administration are based on preliminary research. The user percentiles will be re-created using actual test-takers’ results in 2016.
- User percentile ranks have historically been based on students who took the PSAT/NMSQT in previous years. This year, preliminary user percentiles were based on a research study that includes students who took the old exam in 2014 and the new exam in 2015. The preliminary user percentile ranks will be replaced by actual user percentile ranks based on students who took the PSAT/NMSQT in 2015. These percentiles are most useful for students, parents, and educators in understanding how a student performed relative to other test-takers
- New this year, national percentile ranks are also reported. These percentile ranks are based on a representative sample of all U.S. students. National percentile ranks allow educators to compare a student’s performance to the performance of a representative sample of all students in the U.S., some of whom are planning to go to college and some of whom are not. Because of this, the national percentile ranks will look, on average, higher than students’ user percentile ranks.
Benchmarks: Along with the redesign of our assessments, the college and career readiness benchmarks for each assessment — including the PSAT/NMSQT and the SAT — have been redesigned to make it easier to track student progress over time, and to provide educators and students with more actionable feedback on academic strengths and weaknesses. These preliminary benchmarks are based on actual student success in entry-level college courses and will be revised as more student results become available. Specifically, the benchmark score for each exam in the SAT Suite of Assessments represents a 75 percent likelihood of a student achieving at least a C in a first-semester, credit-bearing college course in a related subject.
On the new score reports, a color-coded message underneath each section score tells students whether they’re on track to be ready for college-level work in that subject area. Green = on track; yellow = almost on track; red = skills need strengthening. And now, because scores from the SAT and PSAT-related assessments are on a common scale, students can follow their progress from one exam to the next.
In redesigning our assessments, we worked with educators and drew from the most current research and evidence that show what students need to know in high school to be prepared for college. We also rigorously pretest each assessment to make sure it’s fair and valid for every student. This is part of our commitment to making assessments that are focused, reliable, and connected to information and tools that will help more students graduate from high school prepared for college and career.