Key stage 2 tests: standard setting

Information for schools about the standard setting process for key stage 2 national curriculum tests.

After a new national curriculum was introduced in 2014 the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) developed new test frameworks to be used when developing the national curriculum tests in 2016.

The new expected standard performance descriptor in the test frameworks meant that a standard setting process had to take place for each test after their first administration in 2016.

STA used the internationally-accepted practice, ‘the Bookmark process’ to set standards.

The same process was used to set the standards on the phonics screening check, the English grammar, punctuation and spelling tests and the level 6 tests when they were first introduced.

This process involves convening teacher panels to recommend where the standard should be set.

Standard setting process

There were 2 panels for each subject, operating independently from each other. They were comprised of experienced teachers, who had no involvement in setting the questions.

Participating teachers completed a preparation activity to ensure they had fully engaged with the tests, test frameworks and performance descriptors for the expected standard. The first part of the standard setting meeting established a common understanding of the standard and what is required of pupils as indicated in the performance descriptor in the test framework.

Each panel looked at the test questions in order of difficulty (as determined by the live test performance of pupils). They decided whether, in their professional opinion, two-thirds of the pupils working just at the expected standard would get each question correct.

This is a necessarily technical process – making judgements about performance on each question and the likelihood of a pupil working at the expected standard getting it right.


STA considered the recommendations of the 2 panels before setting final standards.

STA test development and psychometric experts, as well as the chair of its technical advisory group (a group of international experts that supports STA in technical decisions) attended the meeting. Representatives of the teacher and headteacher unions also observed the confirmation meeting.

For tests in future years the 2016 standards will be maintained using rigorous psychometric methods.

Published 5 July 2016
Last updated 4 July 2017 + show all updates
  1. Updated for the 2017 test cycle.

  2. First published.