Frequently asked questions


A central finding of the Gonksi Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools  was that learning progressions can help teachers tailor their teaching to support students’ achievement through continuous learning growth. The Review found that aligned, online and on-demand assessments, combined with professional learning and resources, will aid the use and interpretation of learning progressions in order to maximise the learning growth and attainment of every student every year.

At the end of 2018 all states, territories and the Commonwealth signed the National School Reform Agreement and agreed to progress a ‘learning progressions and online formative assessment national initiative’ (the initiative) to investigate this recommendation.

In March 2019, three education agencies – Education Services Australia (ESA); Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA); and the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) under the governance of the Education Council – were tasked to undertake a six-month discovery phase to inform this national initiative, which began in May 2019. The findings from the discovery phase will be reported to education ministers in December 2019.

In the discovery phase, there are three main foci: learning progressions and aligned assessments; engagement with teachers to understand what they need and how they want to be able to work; and research into evidence of effective practices.

Why are we having a discovery phase?

The first step of the national learning progressions and online formative assessment initiative is to undertake a thorough discovery process where we will map the current landscape and assess both the opportunities and barriers to success. The priority of the discovery phase is to listen carefully to the views of teachers and school leaders from a variety of schools across Australia. If the project proceeds beyond the discovery phase, it is critical that it delivers resources that teachers want and find useful.

Ultimately, what are the anticipated benefits of this initiative for teachers, students, parents and principals?

  • Teachers will have easy access to online and evidence-based assessments, supporting them in making better judgements about student learning and in tailoring their teaching so that each student progresses in their learning.
  • Students will be clearer about their learning progress and will benefit from more insightful feedback and targeted instruction from their teachers.
  • Parents/carers will have more timely information about a student’s learning progress, which will enable them to have conversations with teachers about the next steps for their child’s learning
  • School leaders will have access to more consistent and reliable data about student learning, which will help them to better plan for school improvement.

Who will be involved in this work?

At the national level, the work is being undertaken by three education agencies – the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), the Australian Institute for Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL), and Education Services Australia (ESA)under the authority of the education ministers.

It is critical to the success and future implementation of this project that it be collaboratively designed with teachers. A Teacher Practice Reference Group (TPRG) has been established, which will be the main forum for engaging with teachers, school leaders, their school communities and the broader profession.

Other stakeholders will also be engaged at different stages of the initiative, including government and non-government education authorities.

What is the research methodology and design?

Read more about our research methodology on the discovery page

What are learning progressions?

Learning progressions describe the skills, understanding and capabilities students acquire as their proficiency increases. They help teachers identify the stage of learning reached; identify any gaps in a student’s skills and knowledge; and then to plan for the next challenging but achievable learning step.

In Australia, recent work on learning progressions has focused on literacy and numeracy with ACARA (in partnership with the New South Wales Department of Education) developing and publishing the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLP).

The discovery phase will look at other existing learning progressions in literacy and numeracy, such as those developed by the Australian Council for Education Research (ACER) and Brightpath, and investigate their alignment to the NLNLP. Research on the development of learning progressions for critical and creative thinking will also be explored.

What is the purpose of the learning progressions? What is their relationship to the curriculum?

The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions describe common pathways or developmental sequences for the acquisition of aspects of literacy and numeracy development. The learning progressions are a resource to support implementation of the Australian Curriculum. They do not replace the curriculum. The content and achievement standards of the curriculum continue to be the focus for planning, programming, teaching, learning and assessment in relation to the Australian Curriculum.

What is the difference between learning progressions and a scope and sequence?

Learning progressions describe the learning pathways along which students typically progress in their learning regardless of age or year level. They provide a frame of reference for teachers to identify where each student is in their learning and for monitoring learning growth over time. A scope and sequence identifies what curriculum content students need to be taught and the sequence in which it should be taught, usually organised in years or stages of learning. The development of a scope and sequence can be informed by referral to a learning progression, so that curriculum content is taught in an effective sequence.

What is the relationship between ACARA’s F–10 literacy and numeracy continua and the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions?

The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions are different from the general capability literacy and numeracy continua in scope, structure and intended use.

The continua for the general capabilities describe what can reasonably be expected of students at particular year levels and are organised by year levels or stages of schooling, whereas the progressions describe the steps of literacy and numeracy development and are not organised by year levels or stages of schooling.

The general capabilities continua were initially developed to inform the writing of the learning area curricula (Foundation to Year 10) and to ensure the strong and coherent inclusion of the general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum learning area content. They were designed to support the broader application of literacy and numeracy across learning areas. The progressions are more fine-grained than the general capabilities continua and describe a detailed sequence of literacy and numeracy development.

The progressions can be used to help teachers locate the literacy and numeracy development of students and identify next learning steps. The progressions assist teachers to be more explicit and targeted in their teaching.

How does ESL/EALD progression differ from the national literacy learning progression?

The National Literacy Learning Progression complements ACARA’s English as an Additional Language or Dialect Teacher Resource EAL/D Learning Progression (Foundation to Year 10), which describes important features of second language development.

If learning progressions and online assessments are ultimately developed, will their use be mandatory?

No. There is no expectation that any learning progressions and online assessment resources developed under this national initiative will be mandatory.

What is formative assessment?

Formative assessment is any form of purposeful classroom interaction that assists teachers to adjust teaching and learning.  

Formative assessment assists teachers to use their professional judgement to understand how well students have learnt what has been taught, the progress they have made and the progress they need to make.

Teachers currently use a range of tasks, from routine observations to structured assessments, to undertake formative assessment.

The discovery phase will identify assessments schools currently use for measuring students’ literacy and numeracy that align with the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLP) and also explore current work being undertaken across the country to assess critical and creative thinking.

Why is online formative assessment a good idea?

Currently, formative assessment ranges from routine observation and questioning to quality structured assessment. The design, delivery and analysis of structured formative assessment tasks takes significant time and skill, as does the analysis of results to make informed decisions.

Online and on-demand assessment resources, as recommended by the Excellence Review, will assist teachers to administer quality assessment quickly and easily to inform their professional judgement of a student’s progress and confirm next learning steps. It will also help teachers to record a student’s learning progress in a form that can be shared with students, parents and other teachers.

Will the initiative include diagnosing critical and creative thinking skills?

We are exploring this in the discovery phase. There are some examples of attempts at describing learning progressions for the development of critical and creative thinking skills; for example, the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority (VCAA) has developed content descriptions and achievement standards for the critical and creative thinking component of the Victorian Curriculum F–10. There are also examples of assessments that have been designed to assess the critical and creative thinking skills demonstrated by students; for example, the VCAA has developed Critical and Creative Thinking assessments with sample schools across Victoria to support the Education State Targets, and Brightpath, who developed writing assessments used by teachers in WA, SA and NT schools, are in the process of developing scales to assess critical and creative thinking. Nationally and internationally, development of creative and critical thinking progressions and assessments are less developed than literacy and numeracy progressions and assessments and have less empirical evidence behind them.

In the discovery phase, we are exploring whether learning progressions and formative assessment can be applied to critical and creative thinking as an example of a general capability other than literacy and numeracy, but we recognise there is less empirical evidence for this work.

Will teachers be provided with any support to build their formative assessment capability?

One of the activities in the discovery phase is to identify the most effective professional learning approaches for teachers and school leaders to support the adoption and successful use of learning progressions and online formative assessment. Identification of the most effective models of professional learning and implementation support for schools will be through research and consultation with a range of local, national and international professional learning developers and providers as well as through engagement with teachers, school leaders and other users.

Will existing assessment practices, tasks and tools etc. be replaced by this initiative?

No, existing assessments and tools will not necessarily be replaced. It is more likely that existing assessment practices will be adopted or adapted. This initiative is about developing quality opt-in online resources, not mandatory resources. We want a system that will integrate with existing quality systems, assessments and data collection processes.

Teachers currently undertake formative assessment of student learning in a range of ways, from routine observations and questioning to quality structured assessment tasks. However, the design of quality assessment tasks takes significant time and skill, as does the analysis of results to make informed decisions.

We hope this work will help us describe the design characteristics of good-quality assessments and identify online and on-demand assessment solutions that will assist teachers to administer quality assessment quickly and easily to inform their professional judgement of a student’s progress and to confirm next learning steps.

Is this just about data collection?

No. The key benefit of this initiative will be the ability for teachers, students and parents to better support learning progress. An online system that integrates what needs to be learned (learning progressions) with quality assessments of learning will mean that teachers will have access to timely and reliable information about what students know, to inform their teaching. The focus of the initiative is on the use of information about student learning progress to inform more effective practice and better learning outcomes.

How can data from an online system be used/integrated with existing school systems?

We will look to identify how data can be integrated with existing systems. For example, the PLAN2 system in NSW records student learning and progress data used in the learning progressions. This information can help teachers to identify patterns, analyse what works best and strengthen practice in response. It can also be used to inform school planning and professional learning. Teachers in WA, SA and NT are using Brightpath, which allows them to compare their students’ work in writing to calibrated exemplars to arrive at a scaled score.

Will it increase the burden on teachers?

This initiative will relieve an existing burden on teachers by offering intuitive, accessible online resources that help them to work with more ease and precision. In most classrooms, teachers monitor student learning using assessments they have designed for themselves or with colleagues. This initiative aims to deliver high-quality, online, on-demand, validated assessments linked to learning progressions, to generate insights that can be shared with students, parents and other teachers.

Won’t this work distract from the core business of teaching and learning?

This initiative is all about helping teachers to enable students to reach their potential. It’s about agreeing the content of what is to be taught (learning progressions) and confirming whether the learning is happening (formative assessment). The aim is to make these core tasks of teaching and learning more efficient, effective and engaging so that learning will improve.

What will happen in 2020?

At the end of the discovery phase, a report will be provided to Australian education ministers, who will decide on next steps. If the outcomes of the discovery phase are promising, it’s likely there will be an ‘alpha’ phase in 2020. In that phase, tools and systems will be prototyped and trialled in a small number of schools. If that phase is successful, a third ‘beta’ phase in 2021 would involve trialling a simulation of the online system. That simulation would follow the cycle of teachers as they complete the professional learning, become familiar with learning progressions, make use of the assessment resources, and use the reports to identify learners’ areas of strength and those requiring improvement, as well as identify appropriate next teaching and learning steps tailored to the student.