Decoding Standardised Tests in Primary School

Every year parents contact me asking for help in understanding the standardised (STen) tests in Primary School. In Ireland there are several standardised tests in primary school; the Drumcondra, the Micra T & Sigma T Tests. They must be conducted during May and June.

The first thing to remember is that they are a test rather than an exam. They are not a diagnostic tool either. The tests are information gathering exercises to see how children are performing against their peers throughout the school system.

What do they mean?

Interpreting the results of these tests can be done in various ways and some schools inform parents of the results giving the Standard score and STen score from these tests, while others just use the STen scores. Standard scores usually range from 55 to 145 with the average score being 100. STen scores are derived from Standard scores and give a ten-point scale with 1 representing the lowest category and 10 the highest.
Interpreting Standard Scores:

Range Descriptor
130 & above Well above average
120 – 129 Above average
110 – 119 High average
90 – 109 Average
80 – 89 Low average
70 – 79 Below average
Below 70 Well below average
Interpreting STEN Scores:

Standard Score Range STEN Score Range Descriptor
116 & Above 8 – 10 Well above average
108 – 115 7 High average
93 – 107 5 – 6 Average
85 – 92 4 Low average
84 & below 1 – 3 Well below average

Sten Test Drumcondra testNot Allowed

Teachers are NOT permitted to teach or prepare students as “teaching to the test” or cramming for a few days before, essentially invalidates the results. Usually, the students will find that they haven’t covered everything that was in the test. This is to be expected, but the tests are standardised to take account of this, so an average child should get an average score and an exceptional child who may be able to get those extra questions will get an above average score.

The content of the test is not supposed to be discussed after and the less talk and focus on the tests with a child the better as they may become anxious the next year. A child should never be asked to take the test a second time.

It’s A Requirement

Since 2012, schools are required to use standardised tests at three identified stages – 2nd, 4th and 6th classes. English-medium schools are required to implement standardised testing in English reading and maths, while Irish-medium schools are required to implement standardised testing in Irish reading, English reading, and maths.

Many schools conduct standardised tests in every class and use the results as a tool to help the teacher assess whether additional teaching resources are required or if a child is gifted in the subjects tested.

It is important to remember that it is only English reading and Maths (and Irish, if an Irish medium school) that are tested. Nothing else. It does not consider emotional intelligence, common sense or how kind and loving your child is. What I’m trying to say is; it is a very narrow examination of your child’s abilities, based on a certain set of questions and your child’s answers at a particular time, on a particular day, which is now in the past. It doesn’t account for the child’s mood or anxiousness or if they were feeling unwell.

That is why it is important that the results of your child’s standardised tests are not taken in isolation but as part of the entire year’s tests and teacher observations.

If you have any questions or concerns regarding your child’s Sten scores, give me a call and I will be happy to discuss them with you and explain how our programs can help.

Elaine Sparling is the CEO of the award-winning Hummingbird Learning Centre®. Based in Adare, Co Limerick and Tralee, Co Kerry, she works with students and adults on a one to one basis and can be contacted on 087-2996054 or through their website

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