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Talking about growth: Measuring achievement over time

Feature 6 minute read

Project Director of School Engagement, Daniel O’Loughlin, presented a webinar focusing on the third phase of ACER’s Progressive Achievement approach: tracking progress and monitoring the growth of student achievement over time with the PAT suite.

How do we define and track growth?

Focusing on learning growth improves student confidence while also providing teachers with the ammunition to make progress visible to parents and improve their understanding of the context of growth.

To track progress, it is necessary to first define what learning growth looks like for your students. It is important to do this using the same unit of measurement, which for PAT is the scale scores. Context for the scale scores is provided by the achievement bands, which give us that understanding about learning growth.

Key points to consider:

  • Consistency of practice – it is important that tests are administered or invigilated similarly, with similar processes and policies in place to ensure you are making comparisons with consistent and reliable data. This includes recording any adjustments afforded to students so that the narrative around how students are progressing over the years includes this critical information and provides an accurate picture of their learning growth.
  • Consistency of unit of measurement – it is recommended that when measuring learning growth, tools that report achievement using the same unit of measurement should be used as tracking progress requires evidence from multiple points in time. Using the scale scores in PAT report means that the same unit of measurement is used across different forms or levels, enabling easy tracking and comparison of data over time.

What does long-term progress look like?

Establishing where students are in their learning first requires an understanding of what long-term progress looks like in a learning area. This can be achieved through a progress map, learning progressions or a described scale, which will tell you the skills and knowledge a student has and what they need to learn next.

‘PAT supports these ideas of progress maps through the use of the PAT achievement bands and band descriptions which are describing a scale of learning associated with that learning domain,’ explained Mr O’Loughlin.

Mr O’Loughlin stressed that the focus should be on gaining a clear understanding of where a student started and where they are now in terms of their skills and knowledge.

 ‘A learning progression typically describes what it looks like for learners to move from early knowledge skills and understandings to more advanced knowledge skills and understandings. As the learning progressions conceptualise and organise these elements, they will help you identify what progress looks like beyond the scores.’

It is this critical connection that makes the learning growth visible.

As the student progresses, teachers can start talking about growth, but also set different targets or learning goals. It is important that students and the learning community are given a clear purpose, so they can also understand what that learning journey looks like and what those targets are so they know what is next. In doing this, teachers can set challenging, personal stretch targets that are ambitious and will engage students in new learning activities and concepts based on where they are currntely at in their learning.

Different factors that can impact student learning

It’s important to understand that there will be a diverse range of factors that can influence a student, a cohort or a school’s learning growth. These include, but are not limited to:

  • students’ personal attributes and aptitudes
  • social interactions with peers, teachers, families
  • socioeconomic status
  • school qualities
  • learning community problems
  • risk factors associated with students’ families such as poverty, family conflict, poor parental supervision
  • community issues such as crime, violence, limited resourcing
  • environmental factors such as COVID, floods, fires
  • CALD/EALD status.

School, home, social and health factors are all going to impact student learning to various degrees and need to be considered when setting targets or tracking students based on their learning growth. Draw on your knowledge of those students from a range of different sources such as consulting colleagues or looking at social-emotional wellbeing survey data.

How do we set expectations?       

Avoid placing limits on achievement, placing the importance of statistics over real learning and setting expectations that are likely to demotivate teachers and/or students. When looking at individuals or cohorts, there is no such thing as an ‘expected growth’ number. Students grow at different rates, influenced by the aforementioned factors and it is ultimately unfair to measure students without considering their individual circumstances. It is still possible, however, to measure and monitor learning growth validly through scale scores, and provide comparisons between normative data and comparison between cohort information and school context (using your own professional judgement), and use these to set personalised stretch targets.

Find out more

If you would like to learn more about PAT and using PAT data, you can find out more at 

To watch the full webinar, register for the recording.

To book an appointment to discuss PAT and measuring growth, contact

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