Standardised Tests are Back for 2021

While standardised tests were not administered during the 2019/20 school year due to school closures because of the COVID-19 pandemic, these tests will be administered as normal for the 2020/21 school year.

Impact of School Closures

This test can help schools to evaluate progress in literacy and numeracy, help to pinpoint areas for improvement and support teachers in ensuring that literacy numeracy learning experiences meet pupils’ needs.

The Department of Education recognises that the school closures have had a significant impact on teaching and learning, which may be reflected in the standardised test results for primary schools this year. In the interpretation of results, teachers will be mindful of the impact that the school closures may have on pupils’ test scores.

What Standardised Tests are Used?

There are several standardised tests in Irish primary schools; the Drumcondra, the Micra-T & Sigma-T tests. They must be conducted during May and June and can be very confusing for parents.

The most important things to know are that (a) they are NOT a diagnostic tool and (b) they are a test rather than an exam. The tests are an information-gathering exercise by the Department of Education to see how children are performing against their peers throughout the school system. Results should be communicated carefully to parents and explained in that context. Results of any one standardised test should not be used in isolation, nor used as baseline data for predicting future achievements, nor for solely informing decisions regarding the provision of interventions or targets within learning plans for pupils.


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

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.

I hate Average as a score. We tend to equate average with not so good e.g. my meal was only average. If your child has a score of Average, then that is wonderful! It means that they are doing well. 

Afterwards, the content of the test is not supposed to be discussed 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.

When are Tests Undertaken?

Since 2012, schools are required to use standardised tests at three identified stages – 2nd, 4th and 6th classes. 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 only English reading and Maths (and Irish, if an Irish medium school) 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.

Not in Isolation

That is why the results of your child’s standardised tests mustn’t be 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 how our programs can help.

Elaine Sparling is the CEO of the award-winning Hummingbird Learning Centre®. Based in Adare, Co Limerick and nationwide online, 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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