Learning Progression Explorer
ACER-GEM and the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS) are collaborating to support global efforts to meet the fourth of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – ‘Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all’ – by 2030.
The partners are developing tools, methods and approaches to obtain globally comparable measures of learning outcomes and to strengthen countries’ capacity to monitor learning. The core of their collaboration is to develop common learning metrics – the UIS reporting scales – to describe and quantify learning progress in reading and mathematics.
The ACER Learning Progression Explorer
The Learning Progression Explorer is an online tool developed by ACER to enable education stakeholders to study and explore learning progressions, of which the UIS reporting scales are examples.
Watch this short video to learn more about the Learning Progression Explorer.
Frequently Asked Questions about the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales illustrated in the Learning Progression Explorer
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) for reading and mathematics have been developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) in collaboration with the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS), as part of the Global Alliance to Monitor Learning (GAML).
What are the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales?
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) for reading and mathematics are simply a map that describes how learning in these domains progresses. The reporting scales span a learning progression from foundational skills to upper secondary education, describing progression in terms of key skills, knowledge and understanding that are readily observable and practical to assess in a standardised manner. The detailed proficiency descriptions of the reporting scales meaningfully describe, interpret and compare learning outcomes from different assessment programs. Therefore, the UIS RS provide a meaningful way of consistently reporting learning outcomes in these domains to monitor progress towards achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal 4, to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.
What does ‘learning progression’ mean?
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) describe the progressive development of two domains of learning: reading and mathematics. In the context of the UIS RS, a learning progression is a continuum that maps key stages in the development of a learning domain (e.g. reading and mathematics) from simple beginnings through to complex interpretations and applications. The UIS RS span levels of increasing domain proficiency from low at the bottom of the progression, to high at the top of the progression. In each domain, progression is underpinned by a range of key skills.
The skill descriptions provided for the UIS RS are designed so that it is reasonably straightforward to determine the alignment between a particular assessment program and the reporting scales. The skill descriptions focus on the kinds of skills that are simple and practical for students to demonstrate in easily standardised tasks that allow for reliable comparisons across contexts.
What about learning progression in reading in other languages than English?
Reading is described as the development of comprehension skills and constrained skills such as decoding. The progression in the growth of comprehension skills is likely to apply in any language, but the constrained skills are language-specific. The current descriptions of constrained skills apply to English only. The length of time required to master the constrained skills and the complexity of what has to be mastered will vary significantly for different languages. It is proposed to describe this strand separately for different languages. The constrained skills strand ends at Level 7 of the reading scale where students have sufficient mastery of fluency to be able to focus on demonstrating the comprehension skills described at higher levels. This does not represent faultless fluency skill, just sufficient speed and accuracy to focus on meaning. For transparent, phonetic languages, mastery of the constrained skills strand will be much quicker than for languages with many complexities.
How have the reporting scales been developed?
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) have been developed based on the range of reading and mathematics skills that students from across the world in primary and secondary schools have demonstrated in respective international, regional and national assessment programs. Hundreds of test questions from a wide range of assessment programs were ordered by difficulty using statistical methods and expert judgment to compare data from different tests and to construct a single scale for each domain. The test questions were analysed to identify the kinds of skills required to answer each of the questions correctly. These skill descriptions form the basis of the UIS RS. Each level of the reporting scales describes the skills that sit in that region of the scale based on test data. The reporting scale descriptions were also informed by the analysis of other published learning progressions and expert judgments, especially in the lower levels.
The UIS RS are largely based on empirical evidence of skills demonstrated at similar points in the development of reading and mathematics, combined with expert judgments. These skills can only be demonstrated if children are given opportunities to learn. Theory, curriculum, and assessments may place a different emphasis on the importance of some of the skills in some levels, but they ought to be able to at least account for the skills underlying the UIS RS, both in terms of the order of skill development and the range of skills that can be demonstrated at a particular point. The potential scope of skills that could be taught simultaneously are illustrated in the Learning Progression Explorer tool.
The UIS RS development is described in detail in the forthcoming UIS RS Phase 1 Development Report.
How do the reporting scales relate to assessment programs?
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) have been developed based on the range of reading and mathematics skills that students from across the world in primary and secondary schools have demonstrated in respective international, regional and national assessment programs.
The UIS RS are not an assessment program and do not measure achievement. They are simply a tool for reporting learning outcomes in reading and mathematics in a meaningful and consistent way.
The reporting scales can be used to guide and support the development of good-quality assessment programs, and have the potential to alert systems and educators to key skills that ought to be included in their curriculum, teaching, or assessment program. The reporting scales can also help make reports of achievement meaningful. For example, tasks can be developed that match the skills described in some of the UIS RS levels and student achievement can be reported against those levels. Alternatively, tasks in existing assessment programs can be mapped against the skills descriptions and samples provided for the UIS RS to determine the alignment between the assessment program and the reporting scales.
However, there are many other important skills that contribute to learning in the domains which the reporting scales do not include, but which may be considered as part of an assessment program, such as motivation, engagement, discussion, strategies and the development of student background knowledge.
How do the reporting scales relate to curricula?
Reading and mathematics are a central focus in the first few years of formal schooling for children around the world and underpin the curriculum thereafter. Curricula, classroom assessments, and teachers’ instruction are all designed to foster the development and integration of reading and mathematics skills into a smooth, rapid and accurate process.
The UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) support key aspects of curricula. They are not intended to reflect the full scope of a comprehensive curriculum, nor do they advocate a particular approach to teaching reading or mathematics.
Reading curricula necessarily take a broad focus on language use that includes speaking and listening, writing and multimedia production, as well as reading in a wide range of contexts. Curricula usually include some detail about the early stages of learning to read in the first few years of school. After this, a curriculum may describe a wide range of reading tasks that require comprehension, but often with little detail provided about the skills students need to learn in order to do these tasks. Although there are many different curricula and instructional methods used to teach reading, they all reflect similarities in the underlying developmental progressions from simple to complex skills applied to familiar then progressively more complex texts. For example, the literacy curriculum frameworks in Australia, Singapore and the UK, and the USA Common Core State Standards are built on developmental continua of skills applied to increasingly challenging texts. Literacy assessment frameworks such as that developed by the South East Asian Primary Learning Network (SEA-PLM), Programme d’Analyse des Systèmes Educatifs de la CONFEMEN (PASEC) and the Southern and Eastern Africa Consortium for Monitoring Educational Quality (SACMEQ) also broadly reflect the learning progression in reading described in the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) for reading. The UIS RS for reading is focused entirely on reading as this is a core skill that underpins success in all other domains where there are written or oral texts to interpret. Systems, policymakers and educators need to know that students can comprehend texts.
Mathematics curricula in different countries and educational jurisdictions also tend to share very substantially similar content. Variations are observed in structural arrangements, labelling and grouping of content, and in the emphasis and sequencing used for different topics and parts of the curriculum. The UIS RS focus on the conceptual understanding, knowledge and skill development that would be the underpinning goals of most curricula. The UIS RS combine the content knowledge seen in most curricula with more general mathematical competencies that are key to the activation of procedural knowledge. In some curricula, these general competencies are treated separately (for example, as separate process outcomes).
What are the purposes of the reporting scales?
The major purpose of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS) is to enable meaningful and consistent reporting of learning outcomes in reading and mathematics to monitor progress towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4, Indicator 4.1.1, which considers the proportion of children at different stages of their education, achieving at least a minimum proficiency level in reading and mathematics.
The UIS RS are designed to support policymakers, curriculum developers, teacher trainers, school leaders, teachers and other educational experts who are working to improve reading and mathematics literacy in contexts where achievements are low. The UIS RS help to address three key issues that are likely to limit reading and mathematics improvement:
- Poor quality tests that lead to misleading claims about student achievement. The UIS RS describe key skills that will provide a valid measure of reading and mathematics skills at different points of development, providing sufficient overlap between a representative range of skills in the UIS RS and the assessment. It is not necessary that an assessment covers all the skills described in a level or strand for reporting. The UIS RS focus on evidence that is feasible to collect in a standardised manner, and provide samples of simple tasks.
- Limited understanding about the progression in the development of key skills that lead to inadequacies in the curriculum, teacher training, and teaching practices. The UIS RS provide a clear roadmap of how some key reading and mathematics skills develop. Curricula and instructional programs ought to include a representative range of these skills, along with other skills, across all the grades of schooling. The level of detail in the UIS RS supports educators, in contexts where there is a limited understanding of reading and mathematics, to better understand the scope of what they need to include in the curriculum, teaching materials and teaching programs.
- Lack of a framework to make sense of achievement data. Policymakers and educators need to know exactly what skills students can or cannot demonstrate. The UIS RS provide a reference framework for reading and mathematics assessments. Tests that assess a representative selection of skills across several levels of the UIS RS can report test data in relation to these levels and use the level descriptions and sample material to explain what the test scores mean. This adds meaning to reports of student achievement that support policymakers, school leaders and teachers to make effective, targeted interventions. It also supports teachers to explain student achievement to parents.
What is the Learning Progression Explorer?
The Learning Progression Explorer (LPE) has been developed by ACER as a tool to display and explore learning progressions. In the context of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS), development the LPE is used to display and explore the content of the scales in describing the order of skills development, and the range of skills that can be demonstrated at a particular point.
The LPE provides different layers of detail to describe learning progression in reading and mathematics as covered by the UIS RS:
- Layer 1: A general description of the domain (reading or mathematics)
- Layer 2: Proficiency descriptions for each level of the domain (the knowledge, skills and understandings that are typical for learners at each level).
- Layer 3: Proficiency descriptions for each level of a domain strand (the knowledge, skills and understandings associated with the different levels for each strand). Within each strand, progression elements highlight what changes as learning develops (i.e. across the levels).
- Layer 4: Skill illustrations of how the knowledge, skills and understandings associated with different levels can be operationalised.
The LPE in its current form is a prototype to facilitate the review of the UIS reporting scales. Substantial changes to layout and navigation are planned for the production version.
What are the purposes of the Learning Progression Explorer?
The Learning Progression Explorer (LPE) has been developed by ACER as a tool to display and explore learning progressions. In the context of the UNESCO Institute for Statistics reporting scales (UIS RS), development the LPE tool is used to display and explore the content of the scales in describing the order of skills development, and the range of skills that can be demonstrated at a particular point.
The LPE is not intended as an instructional tool or an assessment, nor does it advocate for a particular approach in reading or mathematics. The LPE is intended to support instructional and assessment programs but is not a replacement for such.
The LPE can help educators:
- locate reading and mathematics skills on a universal progress map;
- interpret ‘can do’ statements and assessment results according to reading or mathematics development and skill proficiency
- evaluate the developmental accuracy and comprehensiveness of sequential reading and mathematics curricula
- identify key skills that need to be taught throughout schooling to support skills development in reading or mathematics, and align appropriate instructional methods and topics with levels of reading and mathematics development
- compare relative levels of development around the world in each of the reading and mathematics domains.