"Norm and criterion referenced assessment are two distinctly different methods of awarding grades that express quite different values about teaching, learning and student achievement. Norm referenced assessment, or 'grading on the curve' as it is commonly known, places groups of students into predetermined bands of achievements. Students compete for limited numbers of grades within these bands which range between fail and excellence. This form of grading speaks to traditional and rather antiquated notions of 'academic rigour' and 'maintaining standards'. It says very little about the nature or quality of teaching and learning, or the learning outcomes of students. Grading is formulaic and the procedure for calculating a final grade is largely invisible to students.
Criterion referenced assessment has been widely adopted in recent times because it seeks a fairer and more accountable assessment regime than norm referencing. Students are measured against identified standards of achievement rather than being ranked against each other. In criterion referenced assessment the quality of achievement is not dependent on how well others in the cohort have performed, but on how well the individual student has performed as measured against specific criteria and standards. Underlying this grading scheme is a concern for accountability regarding the qualities and achievements of students, transparency and negotiability in the process by which grades are awarded, an acknowledgement of subjectivity and the exercise of professional judgement in marking."
(Lee Dunn, Sharon Parry and Chris Morgan, 2002)