To assess the impact of your school’s teaching and pupils’ learning, it’s important to understand what standardised tests are, how they work and the implications of using them.
A standardised test is any form of test that requires all test takers to answer the same questions in the same way, before being scored in a ‘standard’ or consistent manner. This makes it possible to compare the relative performance of individual pupils or pupil groups. The term is most widely used in relation to large-scale tests administered to sizeable pupil populations.
Standardised assessment tests follow a rigorous development process that involves pretesting and statistical analysis of the results. This allows schools using the final published tests to benchmark and compare their pupils’ performance against the nationally representative sample used in the standardisation process.
Standardised tests are a useful way of comparing how pupils are performing relative to others, monitoring pupils’ performance over time and in relation to pupils nationally. They enable school leaders and governors to benchmark their school’s performance against other schools within a group, cluster or academy chain and at a national level. They allow performance to be evaluated in core subjects and key skills, and can help identify gaps in learning within a class or more widely within a group of schools – something that can be very helpful in spotting where interventions or teacher CPD may be needed.
Since they involve all pupils taking the same test, standardised tests are generally perceived as being fairer than non-standardised tests. They are best used termly, or at the start and end of the school year, to monitor progress over time and help inform teaching strategies.
HOW SHOULD THEY BE ROLLED OUT?
If they’re to produce reliable results, standardised tests must be administered and marked according to the accompanying test guidance, and taken at the point in time for which they’re intended, such as at the beginning of the school year. Failing to do so will risk compromising the reliability and comparability of the results. It’s advisable to research the available options to see which will best meet the school or chain’s needs. Devise a whole-school strategy for using standardised tests – this will enable a consistent approach and help everyone understand why the tests are being used, the type of information they will produce and how they will be used to inform teaching and learning. It can be helpful to trial tests with one or two year groups over the course of a year before adopting them more widely. Standardised tests won’t measure everything a pupil has been taught in a particular subject. Moreover, they’re a snapshot of a point in time, and not necessarily a true reflection of what a pupil knows. They are therefore best used alongside other forms of assessment, such as homework, peer and teacher assessment and summative tests, among others. Ongoing in-class formative assessment remains particularly important, since it provides teachers, pupils and parents with valuable, real-time information about what pupils know and can do, and what they need to do to improve.
WHAT CAN STANDARDISED TESTS TELL YOU?
There are three main types of numerical information that be obtained from standardised tests which, with the exception of the raw score, can’t be obtained from other forms of testing. The three are independent of each other, providing different information about a pupil’s performance.
- The standardised score
This is derived from the pupil’s raw score (ie the total number of marks that a pupil has scored in the test) and placed on a scale that compares the result with the nationally representative sample of pupils for whom the test is intended. Most standardised tests will produce scores with a mean (average) of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. Scores in the range 85 to 115 are considered ‘to be expected’, or average relative to the national standardisation sample. When interpreting standardised scores, the EEF recommends thinking in terms of thresholds, rather than small differences in numbers. Within those bands, pupil performance can be considered similar, even if their standardised score differs slightly.
- Age-standardised score
This is the pupil’s raw score adjusted for age in months and placed on a scale that compares it with those involved in the standardisation trial. This can be a useful starting point for further work in understanding those areas in which they need support, and the type of help that will be most appropriate. Note, however, that age is less likely to have an impact on performance in tests designed to assess curriculum knowledge and understanding rather than skills, since all pupils within the year group are being taught the same thing. In curriculum tests, age generally has less of an impact on performance in KS2 than KS1.
- Reading/Maths age
This is the average chronological age of the pupils who obtained each raw score in the standardisation trial. The reading or maths age can be used as a quick indication of a child’s reading or maths ability, as it will show if they are working at, above or below the average for their age and is also useful for monitoring the impact of interventions. This score can also be valuable as a quick measure for new pupils entering the school, and used to identify whether they’re likely to need additional support. Note that reading or mathematics ages are not the same as reading or mathematics attainment. Most standardised tests will be supported by data analysis tools that enable the results to be interrogated further. Tests of this kind can therefore be used to monitor and provide evidence regarding the impact of teaching within the school for parents, governors and Ofsted, and be helpful when comparing the performance of different schools within a chain or cluster.