The term ‘Stanine’ is short for ‘STAndard NINE’ and relates to scaling test scores along a nine-point scale.

Stanines are useful as they can convert any test score into a simple, single-digit score by assigning a number to a group member relative to the rest of the group members.

However, while other systems for doing this, like z-scores and t-scores, can include decimals such as 4.5 or 6.18, Stanines are always positive whole numbers from 0 to 9.

What makes Stanines useful?

Stanines offer a way to distill more complex information into a simple score that can be immediately understood.

In the Stanine system, the fifth class is the average and takes the middle 20% of the scoring range. Each bottom and top 4% of the scoring range falls into the first and ninth classes, respectively.

In this way, teachers aren’t directly presented with assessment scores, which can be confusing. For example, if an exam paper is differentiated, the different papers may contain other numbers of questions. At first, glance, is scoring 67 out of 100 better than scoring 53 out of 80?

In this way, Stanines work to eliminate potential errors by taking the marks from across the class into account and grading the job based on how students performed in the context of their group.

It can also help make the scoring system fairer. For example, if a student scores 70% of the marks in a school where the average is 40%, this is arguably more impressive than scoring 80% in a school where the standard is 80%.

Stanines can therefore be used to grade students in terms of how they perform in the context of their peers rather than necessarily through an objective set of grading criteria.

Where is the Stanine system used?

The Stanine system crops up in various contexts in different assessment forms worldwide. A few of these contexts are:

  • The South Korean high school system uses Stanines to calculate its students’ grades.
  • The IDF (Israeli Defense Force) uses the Stanine grading system to rank the intelligence of its soldiers as determined by standardized tests.
  • The New Zealand Council for Educational Research uses Stanines.
  • The University of Alberta, located in the Canadian province of the same name, used the Stanine system until 2003. It’s used a 4-point scale, in contrast to the 9-point Stanine system, ever since.
  • The Educational Records Bureau reports test scores as Stanines and percentiles in the USA.

What are some alternatives to the Stanine system?

There are a few potential alternatives to the Stanine system to express how children have performed in assessments. Some of these are:

  • Percentile scores. Performance can be expressed in terms of the percentage of their classmates this student outperformed. For example, if a student scored in the 71st percentile, it would mean that they had fared better than 71% of the other children who had taken the test.
  • Grade-equivalent scores. These scores express a student’s performance in terms of the academic demands of a year they’d be able to meet. So, for example, if a student were in Year 3 and received a Year 1-level grade on a test, that would indicate that they had the academic abilities of a Year 1 student in the subject in question.
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