The new norm is not the 50th percentile; well, what does that mean? According to this theoretical bell curve, 68% of the population falls between the -1 SD and the +1 SD of the mean score. The mean score would be the score that is the average score, the score that 50% of the population attained.

So, traditionally speaking, many standardized test such as cognitive and academic measures will use standard scores and report a mean of 100, and your SD would have a standard error of measurement (SEM) between 15/16 points in either direction. Therefore, average would be between the -1 and +1 SD from the mean. Many school assessments may report scores as scaled scores or T-Scores, but the reporting is still the same. Ask yourself: what is the mean performance (50th percentile), and where does your child fall in reference to that mean (average) performance.

Now, you also have to understand that your child’s percentile rank is different from their earned percentage or score. Your child may have a 85% on a spelling test but fall at a different percentile rank when compared to their peers who took the same spelling test. The percentile ranking would be calculated according to how your child did compared to those peers. (I hope I have not totally lost you!) Therefore, if your child scored 85% on the spelling test, and fell at the 50th percentile, this means what? If you said that your child scored within the average range for their class, you are correct. You can also say out of the blank number of children in that class your child scored better than half of them.

Which brings me to my next point. Apparently, doing better than half of the class has become, “They ONLY did better than half, or ONLY at the 50th percentile rank”. I have struggled with this concept for some time as a school psychologist, receiving request for educational evaluations because a child has Bs. Many parents will say, but I know he/she can do better than that! Surely a B is JUST a B, and we have astrophysicists in our family. What are we saying about our values, how we value and what we value? I have often wondered about whether students in these high performing schools are more a reflection of the exemplary educators or more about the resources that their wealthy parents can afford. Are the soaring SAT/ACT scores or the high student percentage in Advance Placement/International Baccalaureate programs a reflection of the 3 to 5 times a week of intense private tutoring, or the fine educational system.

You see, it is a system that becomes cyclic. The higher one student goes, the higher the other one goes. No one wants to be out done (that is parents I am talking about). So, if Johnny just scored at the 99th percentile on his MAP scores, then surely Joey can do it to; so where do you go for tutoring? Now, here goes the sprint to the top, which includes pressure to be like Johnny and Joey. Next thing you know, the entire district is “high achieving” and “Blue Ribbon” recognized. As a result, average is no longer good enough, actually average makes you look real slow compared to your peers.

I could go on about my thoughts, but let me just end with this: those kids at the top? Some are JUST average too. Parents have used their means and might to make sure average (a dirty word) became superior at the expense of their child. There are so many children with anxiety, nervous, and over medicated so they can give their parents bragging rights.