What to Know about Standardised Tests in Primary School

In Ireland there are a number of state standardised tests in primary school; the Drumcondra, the Micra T & Sigma T Tests. They are conducted during May and June and every year parents and grandparents ask me about them!

Not an Exam!

The first thing to remember is that they are a test rather than an exam.

All of the tests are information gathering exercises to see how children are performing against their peers throughout the school system.  Teachers are NOT 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 a really 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.


Schools are required to use standardised tests at three identified stages during your child’s time at primary school:

  • English-medium schools are required to implement standardised testing in English reading and maths during the period May/June for all children in 2nd, 4th and 6th classes with effect from 2012 onwards
  • Irish-medium schools are required to implement standardised testing in Irish reading, English reading and Mathematics during the period May/June for all children in 2nd, 4th and 6th classes with effect from 2012 onwards.

However, most schools now use standardised tests in other classes too as a tool to help the teacher assess whether additional teaching resources are required or if your child is gifted in the subjects tested. Although this was not the reason that the tests were devised and are not the reason that they are done!

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


It is really 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 take into account 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 really 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.

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 www.hummingbirdlearning.com.


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