What do standardised tests offer that teacher assessment can't? 

The short answer to this question is the best of standardised tests can offer increased objectivity, validity and reliability. Yet, while standardised assessments can provide higher quality assessments than teacher assessments, they are limited in the scope of what they can assess, they are often time-consuming, and often come with extra costs. Moreover, teachers often find it difficult to interpret and make use of the data they receive from the assessments.

Assuming that the data are readily interpretable, the results of many standardised assessments will tally with teachers’ assessments. From time to time, however, they flag-up anomalous results which deserve a second look; from the point of view of identifying those children whose needs are often hard to spot, they offer a useful tool to schools, and their use should be considered as part of an overall approach to assessment. Standardised tests can operate as something of a ‘health check’ test: using their potential for greater objectivity and reliability can help triangulate a view of student achievement.

How to interpret standardised scores

Standardised tests vs. Key Stage 2 SATS

Many secondary schools use standardised tests with their new Year 7 intake as a means of gathering additional data on their pupils. For pupils without KS2 scores this is particularly useful, but it can also help to highlight if individual pupils seemingly over or underperformed on SATS test day. Occasionally there will be large discrepancies between the two tests for certain pupils, in which case this can be worth a closer look. However, as an FFT Research paper noted, the overall correlation between the two tests is very high, so if an individual pupil achieves very different scores on the two tests, it could suggest that the pupil was having a bad (or good) day for one of them. It doesn’t automatically mean that one of the tests is wrong. Schools could view both tests as additional data to help create the right learning structure for that child. However, if schools do not have the resources to buy standardised tests for the Year 7 cohort, they should not believe they are missing crucial data.

There is a lot schools can  - and should - do to improve the quality of their teachers’ assessment practice, but are teacher assessments any better or worse than standardised tests? Ultimately, this is not the right question to ask. Both types of assessment have strengths and weaknesses, but each can be improved through increased validity and reliability, as well as greater focus on the specific purposes and value of the assessments used.

 The question on which to focus is:

How can a sensible, cost-effective combination of good standardised assessments and good teacher assessment be used to promote learning?


1. Do you use standardised tests for the purposes they were intended in your school?

2. Does everyone who uses standardised test data in your school understand how to interpret it?

3. Are standardised tests used in your school integrated into your assessment policy, or do they act as a bolt on?