Frequently asked questions

Questions

 Benefits of the initiative

The alpha phase

Who is doing the work?

National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions

Formative assessment

Support for teachers

How do I get involved in the initiative?

Benefits of the initiative

What are the benefits of this initiative for teachers, students, parents/carers and school leaders?

  • Teachers will have easy access to online assessments that are aligned to National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions and the Australian Curriculum, supporting them to make better judgements about student learning and to tailor teaching so that students make more progress in their learning.
  • Students will understand more 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.

How will this initiative help me as a teacher?

The initiative will develop an ecosystem that will become a ‘one stop shop’ for teachers, streamlining some activities that are undertaken almost daily. The ecosystem will help teachers who want to use online formative assessment identify where their students are in their learning and then work with students on their next learning steps by identifying and using effective teaching practices and quality resources. The system will offer access to quality assessments and digital resources that are aligned to the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) and the Australian Curriculum.

The ecosystem will also help teachers bring together information about student learning from a range of tools or resources that they might already be using, to create a coherent view of progress that can be shared with the students and parents.

The initiative will also support collaborative planning between teachers, by providing easily accessible, shareable, coherent and consistent views of student learning.

Will existing assessment practices and resources be replaced by this initiative?

No, existing assessments and resources will not necessarily be replaced. This initiative is about developing quality opt-in online resources, not mandatory resources. Quality systems, assessments and data collection processes already exist, and ideally these would be integrated into and complemented by the ecosystem.

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.

The initiative aims to 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. The initiative will complement and support existing good teaching, learning and assessment practices; it does not replace them.

How can this ecosystem be used/integrated with existing school systems?

The initiative is exploring how existing systems can be integrated with the ecosystem. A team from the National Schools Interoperability Program (NSIP) is consulting with jurisdictions, system owners and data holders to consider what conditions would be needed to facilitate integration, such as implementing consistent data standards. An Open Technology Framework is being developed that will enable existing school systems to ‘talk’ to the new online formative assessment system, giving teachers and school leaders great flexibility in how they choose to use it.

Will this initiative increase the burden on teachers?

No. The aim of the initiative is to make formative assessments easier and more effective for teachers to use in planning future learning for their students. In most classrooms, teachers already 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 incorporate with their own professional judgement and generate insights that can be shared with students, parents and other teachers.

The alpha phase

What is the 'alpha phase'?

The alpha phase is the second phase of work in the Online Formative Assessment Initiative. The alpha phase follows the ‘discovery phase’ of 2019, which explored how learning progressions and online formative assessment might be developed and implemented in Australia to assist teachers and support better learning outcomes for students. The alpha phase is expected to conclude in the first quarter of 2021.

At the end of the discovery phase, the project team developed a proposal that featured development of an ‘ecosystem’. The ecosystem will bring together a range of different functions teachers routinely attempt to undertake with unconnected digital systems and resources and varied technologies. In the alpha phase, prototypes of solutions will be developed and tested with teachers and other users of the proposed ecosystem.

By the end of the alpha phase it is planned that there will be a fully-scoped and tested set of design specifications to inform the build of a technical ecosystem. The ecosystem will bring together the important functions that teachers and students need, in an accessible and easy-to-use platform that integrates seamlessly with other valued tools and systems.

What was the outcome of the discovery phase?

The outcome of the discovery phase may be found in the Final Report in reports. The Executive Summary, including recommendations from the discovery phase and the proposal for the alpha phase can also be found in reports

The discovery phase produced important findings from user research, which have offered insight into the practices and needs of teachers. The findings are detailed in the Final Report. In the discovery phase, ACARA’s National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions were scrutinised, validated and refinements were made. Version 3 of the NLNLPs may be found in NLNLPs V3.

Other products and findings from the discovery phase form attachments to the Final Report. As a result of the work delivered in the discovery phase, Australian education ministers decided to progress to the alpha phase of the project.

What will happen in the alpha phase?

The alpha phase will see the initiative progressed to provide a testable prototype of the online formative assessment ecosystem that is an easy-to-use portal for all teachers and students.

Three main areas of work will be done in this phase:

  1. developing measurement scales to underpin the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) that allow assessments from jurisdictions and commercial providers to be aligned, and providing a set of quality assurance protocols to identify new assessments
  2. with the assistance of expert panels of teachers, school leaders, parents and students, the alpha phase will prototype and test potential solutions, including assessment materials, technologies, processes and support systems
  3. the design and production of prototype materials to help teachers with professional development and proficiency in using the new system.

What will success look like for this initiative?

Success may look different at different stages in this initiative. In the short term, in the alpha phase, user-research will continue with the aim of developing robust design specifications for building an ecosystem that will assist teachers and benefit students.

In the longer term, success would mean most Australian teachers being adept and regular users of the ecosystem that is developed, confident that they are making good and timely judgements about where students are and what they need. Students’ learning progress would accelerate and they would have a clearer understanding of their learning progress.

Who is doing the work?

Who will be involved in this work?

Under the governance a project management board established by the education ministers, the discovery phase (complete) and the alpha phase 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).

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 discovery, including students and parents and government and non-government education authorities.

National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions

What are learning progressions?

Definitions of learning progressions vary, as do the purposes for which they are used and the ways in which they can be developed and structured.

In December 2019, the Education Council agreed to a common definition of ‘national learning progressions’, i.e. the learning progressions developed by ACARA, aligned to the Australian Curriculum and used as a foundation for the Online Formative Assessment Initiative.

Common definition

National learning progressions describe the skills, understandings and capabilities that students typically acquire as their proficiency increases in a particular aspect of the curriculum over time. They describe the learning pathway(s) along which students typically progress in particular aspects of the curriculum, regardless of age or year level. Learning progressions are designed to help teachers ascertain the stage of learning reached, identify any gaps in skills and knowledge, and plan for the next step to progress learning.

What is the relationship between national learning progressions and the Australian Curriculum?

National learning progressions sit within the broader framework of the Australian Curriculum. They supplement and underpin the Australian Curriculum; they do not replace the Australian Curriculum. The content descriptions and achievement standards of the curriculum continue to be the focus for planning, programming, teaching and assessment in relation to the Australian Curriculum.

The Australian Curriculum identifies what students need to learn; national learning progressions describe the learning pathway(s) along which students typically progress in particular aspects of the curriculum regardless of age or year level.

What is the purpose of national learning progressions?

The primary purpose of national learning progressions is to support improvements in student learning of an aspect of the Australian Curriculum by enabling teachers to more accurately locate a student’s current achievement level and identify the learning that should follow. Teachers can use them in day-to-day classroom practice to inform and support their professional judgements about students’ learning progress and their conversations with students learning and next steps.

Teachers can use national learning progressions in their classrooms to help plan instruct, interpret evidence and make informed judgements about how students are progressing. Teachers can use them in the process of assessing a student’s current level of learning and inform scaffolding of next learning steps.

National learning progressions are also an important resource for teacher learning. They help deepen teacher understanding of student learning in a particular aspect of the Australian Curriculum by providing a shared common language. Teachers can find the learning progressions help to improve their skills in setting learning goals, interpreting student responses and responding with specific interventions that serve to move learning forward.

What are the defining features of national learning progressions?

In the discovery phase of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative, ACARA identified the following defining features of national learning progressions to guide the development of future progressions.

National learning progressions:

  • are primarily developed from empirical evidence about how learning progress is typically demonstrated by students; empirical evidence is also supported by theoretical understandings of the nature of progress and informed by the practices of teachers
  • describe observable student behaviours at increasing levels of sophistication or proficiency; and they include as many progression indicators at each level as can be supported by the empirical evidence
  • have a qualitative aspect (the description of observable student behaviours) and a quantitative aspect (the numerical scale that empirically positions assessments and student responses to them)
  • have a horizontal structure that identifies the different elements, threads or strands of learning, and a vertical structure that divides learning into the levels of increasing proficiency
  • are independent of a student’s year or age, but should show alignment of expected typical progress against the Australian Curriculum.

In which areas of the curriculum are there national learning progressions?

Currently ACARA has developed national learning progressions in literacy and numeracy and these have been mapped to the English and Mathematics Australian Curriculum.

The question of whether national learning progressions are developed for other aspects of the Australian Curriculum beyond Literacy and Numeracy is dependent on policy intent and the availability of empirical evidence to describe the learning pathway along which students typically progress in an area of the curriculum.

In the alpha phase of the initiative, ACARA will continue investigating whether there is enough empirical evidence to inform the development of a national learning progression for Critical and Creative Thinking.

Where can I find the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs)?

ACARA, in partnership with the NSW Department of Education, developed the first NLNLPs in 2016–17. These were published as Version 2 on the Resources section of the Australian Curriculum website in January 2018.

During the discovery phase for the Online Formative Assessment Initiative in 2019, ACARA mapped and compared Version 2 of the NLNLPs with other existing progressions and assessments in Literacy and Numeracy, and analysed available empirical data from current assessments to identify any areas for refinement. As a result of this work, ACARA revised the NLNLPs by the end of the discovery phase to produce an improved Version 3 of the NLNLPs.

Version 3 of the NLNLPs is currently published on the NLNLPs V3 page of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative website.

How were the NLNLPs developed?

ACARA, in partnership with NSW Department of Education, led the collaborative development of the progressions from mid-2016 to the end of 2017. Version 1 of the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) was developed during 2016, and trialled in 600 schools across the country. ACARA mapped NAPLAN test items to the progressions to support their validation. This resulted in improvements to Version 1. During mid-2017, further improvements were made after consultation with all state and territory school and curriculum authorities, key ACARA advisory groups and a selection of Literacy and Numeracy researchers and experts.

As a result of this work, Version 2 of the NLNLPs was approved for publication by education ministers in December 2017, and published on the Resources section of the Australian Curriculum website in January 2018.

In 2019, as part of the discovery phase for the online formative assessment initiative, ACARA mapped and compared Version 2 of the NLNLPs with other existing progressions and assessments in Literacy and Numeracy, and analysed available empirical data from current assessments to identify the level of alignment and any areas for refinement.

The mapping process during the discovery phase included five separate activities:

  • comparing the NLNLPs with the Reading and Mathematics learning progressions developed by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER)
  • cross-validating the NLNLPs with ACER’s Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) items for Reading and Mathematics
  • mapping and validating an additional 400 NAPLAN Numeracy test items and a similar number of items from the NAPLAN Reading domain test sourced from NAPLAN paper tests in 2012–16 to the NLNLPs
  • comparing Brightpath writing performance data and descriptors to the Writing element of the NLNLP
  • mapping jurisdictional assessment resources to the NLNLPs.

The mapping process confirmed that the NLNLPs were fit for purpose and robust in their current form and structure. It also provided evidence to support the need for some refinements to improve the content of Version 2.

As a result of these findings, Version 3 of the NLNLPs was finalised at the start of 2020 and is currently published is currently published on the NLNLPs V3 page of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative website.

How does Version 3 of the NLNLPs differ from Version 2?

The overall improvements made as a result of the evidence collated during the discovery phase resulted in:

  • better clarity of progression
  • consistent use of terminology within and across levels
  • improved level of specificity and clarity of indicators and examples
  • new content to cover identified gaps.

Fewer changes were made to the National Literacy Learning Progression than to the National Numeracy Learning Progression.

The main changes from Version 2 to Version 3 of the National Literacy Learning Progression were:

  • systematic representation of skill development across levels, particularly in the upper levels of Understanding texts and Creating texts
  • consistent use of terminology within and across sub-elements, particularly relating to text features
  • specificity and clarity of indicators and revised examples to ensure that they were not elaborations to the indicator
  • initial refinements, including early communication levels, to be more inclusive of a diversity of learners
  • another level added to the Text Complexity document
  • sub-element definitions refined in the introductory text for each sub-element
  • some indicators were moved to a more appropriate level based on available evidence
  • some indicators were moved within the level to provide a consistent sequence of indicators across levels.

The main changes from version 2 to version 3 of the National Numeracy Learning Progression were:

  • the sub-element Quantifying numbers was separated into two new sub-elements Number and Place value (to capture the structural aspects essential to building number sense) and Counting processes (adding in ordinality and cardinality)
  • the sub-elements Working with percentages and Comparing units were amalgamated into one sub-element called Proportional thinking, emphasising the core understanding of proportionality
  • Working with decimals was incorporated into Number and Place value, Additive strategies and Multiplicative strategies, where appropriate, and empirically supported
  • systematic representation of skill development across levels, particularly in the upper levels of each sub-element
  • review of sub-element content and amendments made to indicators in specific skill areas to eliminate gaps and ensure a complete and consistent developmental pathway
  • consistent use of terminology within and across sub-elements, particularly relating to the use of correct mathematical terms consistent with the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics
  • specificity and clarity of indicators and examples including rationalising groups of indicators within levels, such as in Additive strategies and Multiplicative strategies
  • inclusion of the practical application of knowledge and understanding to authentic problems, to identify the numeracy development within the progressions such as solving multifaceted problems.

How are the NLNLPs intended to be used by teachers?

The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) are intended for teachers to use as a supplement to the curriculum. They do not replace the curriculum; rather, they provide more detail about the Literacy and Numeracy knowledge and skills that are contained in the learning areas of the Australian Curriculum, particularly English and Mathematics.

The NLNLPs contain many indicators that describe what students do or produce as they acquire more knowledge and skills. They help teachers ‘drill down’ into specific areas of Literacy or Numeracy knowledge, to inform their planning and teaching. For example, a teacher could use the NLNLPs to help identify what students misunderstand or do not know, or to determine next steps in learning, or to group students for instruction.

The NLNLPs are not intended for use as a checklist or an assessment tool. They are a robust, evidence-based, empirically supported resource for teachers that help to break down the expectations of Literacy and Numeracy learning that are implied in the curriculum into small, sequenced indicators of student learning. For teachers, the NLNLPs represent a consistent shared understanding of the knowledge and skills students will need to learn as they progress through increasingly complex curriculum areas.

There are many ways the NLNLPs may be used effectively in classrooms. For example, a teacher may decide to administer a screening test for a new cohort of students, to gain some insight into areas of relative strength or weakness in their knowledge. The test would be aligned to the NLNLPs and provide insight into areas requiring attention, so that teaching can be well-targeted from the outset. Or a teacher may want to pinpoint a particular aspect that is impeding learning progress for a student or group. In most sub-elements, the NLNLPs provide a level of detail that is unavailable in the high-level curriculum documents.

The professional learning materials that are being developed in the alpha phase of the initiative will include examples of successful and recommended use of NLNLPs as a guide for teachers. These materials will make it clear that the NLNLPs are not intended for use as checklists or assessment tools. Alignment of assessments to the NLNLPs is also being undertaken in the alpha phase so that teachers will have access to aligned, quality assessments, calibrated to common measurement scales. These efforts are intended to ensure teachers are assisted to implement the NLNLPs in ways that will support more effective and efficient student learning.

How are the NLNLPs intended to be used by schools?

The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) are intended for teachers to use as a supplement to the curriculum. They do not replace the curriculum, rather, they provide more detail about the literacy and numeracy knowledge and skills that are contained in the learning areas of the Australian Curriculum, particularly English and Mathematics.

There are many ways the NLNLPs can be used by schools. Schools may use the learning progressions to inform teacher professional learning. Where school teams have identified a particular focus on Literacy or Numeracy development, the learning progressions can inform teachers’ understanding of learning development. Collaborative work sample annotation and teacher moderation activities, informed by the learning progressions, can support a more fine-grained understanding of these focus aspects of Literacy or Numeracy.

Schools may use information gathered from teacher assessments and observations using the learning progressions to identify patterns of students’ strengths and needs. This information may be included as part of a suite of data that informs targeting of student support and monitoring student progress.

How can the NLNLPs cater for the diversity of learners?

The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) have been designed to represent Literacy and Numeracy learning for the diversity of learners. The structure of the learning progressions recognises that students do not progress evenly across all elements or sub-elements. Teachers are able to identify the varied strengths and needs of each student. A student can be at any level on any sub-element independent of that student’s year or age. At the same time the progressions will also show alignment of expected typical progress against the Australian Curriculum.

Version 3 of the NLNLPs also incorporate the ‘pre-Foundation level’ indicators from ACARA’s existing Literacy and Numeracy continua to represent the early literacy and numeracy skills of students prior to Foundation level of the curriculum. ACARA has developed learning continua for each of the seven general capabilities in the Australian Curriculum, including Literacy and Numeracy, available on the general capabilities section of the Australian Curriculum website. For the Literacy continuum, levels 1a–1d represent the development of early literacy skills with a particular emphasis on communication. For the Numeracy continuum, levels 1a and 1b represent the progression from early numeracy to numeracy skills. Indicators from these early levels have now been incorporated into Version 3 of the NLNLPs to assist teachers of students needing extra support.

One of ACARA’s activities in the alpha phase is to investigate ways to support teachers of students with diverse needs access the Literacy and Numeracy learning progressions. ACARA intends to enter into a partnership with The University of Melbourne to investigate the extent to which the University’s SWANs materials are aligned with the NLNLPs.

SWANs is a series of online assessment and reporting instruments designed to enhance the learning of students with additional needs. SWANs includes a set of validated progressions and assessment instruments used nationally by Australian schools for students with additional needs. The SWANs research and development was undertaken in partnership with the Victorian Department of Education and Training and supported the design and implementation of ABLES (Abilities Based Learning and Education Support) and the pre-Foundation Victorian Curriculum for students with disabilities and additional needs.

In the alpha phase ACARA, in partnership with The University of Melbourne, will look to map the SWANS Progressions to the NLNLPs to see if SWANs can be aligned to the common measurement scales being developed for the NLNLPs.

Why hasn’t ACARA replaced Version 2 with Version 3 on the Australian Curriculum website? When will Version 3 be published on the Australian Curriculum website?

Consistent with Education Council agreement in December 2019 for Version 3 of the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) to be used for the alpha phase in 2020, Version 3 has been initially made available on the NLNLPs V3 page of the Online Formative Assessment Initiative website. 

This enables interested schools and jurisdictions to access Version 3, if they wish, and allows other schools and jurisdictions that are currently using Version 2 of the NLNLPs time to transition to Version 3 and update the nature of their implementation support.

It also allows ACARA to align the publication of Version 3 of the NLNLPs on the Australian Curriculum website with the proposed review of the Australian Curriculum and website upgrade.

What further developments are happening to the NLNLPs during the alpha phase?

In 2020 as part of the alpha phase ACARA will look to:

  • construct common numerical measurement scales to underpin Version 3 of the National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) and create milestones or signposts that indicate expectations of achievement against the Australian Curriculum
  • once measurement scales are developed, calibrate existing national and jurisdiction assessments to the scales, and test a process for quality assurance to identify new assessments aligned to NLNLPs
  • develop student- and parent-friendly language versions of the NLNLPs to feed back to parents and students on a student’s progress against the NLNLPs in the system
  • produce a machine-readable form of Version 3 of the NLNLPs which is consistent with the machine-readable Australian Curriculum (MRAC). This machine-readable version of the NLNLPs will support version management and will enable other vendors and agencies to develop and link resources to the NLNLPs as part of the Open Technology Framework
  • explore ways to better support teachers of students with diverse needs to identify and assess their students’ learning progress in literacy and numeracy.

How do the NLNLPs relate to other areas of the Australian Curriculum other than English and Mathematics?

Literacy skills are explicit in the Australian Curriculum: English, and the skills and understandings required to be numerate are explicit in the Australian Curriculum: Mathematics. The National Literacy and Numeracy Learning Progressions (NLNLPs) can help teachers to develop fine-grained understandings of student literacy and numeracy development in the English and Mathematics curriculum, especially in the early years.

The NLNLPs can also assist schools and teachers in all learning areas to support their students to successfully engage with the Literacy and Numeracy demands of the F–10 Australian Curriculum. The sub-elements of Listening, Interacting, Speaking, Understanding texts and Creating texts in the Literacy progression, for example, have specific relevance for learning areas other than English. Students also need opportunities to recognise that mathematics is constantly used outside the Mathematics classroom and that numerate people apply mathematical skills in a wide range of familiar and unfamiliar situations.

Advice on the literacy and numeracy demands of learning areas other than English and Mathematics is provided for Version 2 of the NLNLPs and can be found on the Resources section of the Australian Curriculum website.

Formative assessment

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 alpha phase will identify assessments schools currently use for measuring students’ Literacy and Numeracy that align with the NLNLPs and also explore current work being undertaken across the country to assess Critical and Creative Thinking.

Australian education ministers have agreed on a definition of formative assessment that is being used to support consistency of understanding about the Online Formative Assessment Initiative:

Formative assessment is an adaptive process where assessment evidence of student learning is used by teachers to modify their instructional practices or by students to adjust their learning strategies. An assessment functions formatively to the extent that evidence gathered during learning is interpreted and used, by teachers and students, to make better teaching and learning decisions.

Why is online formative assessment a good idea?

Formative assessment practices range from informal, routine observation and questioning to formal, structured assessments. 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 formative assessment resources will assist teachers to administer quality assessment quickly and easily to identify student learning and inform their professional judgement of the 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.

Support for teachers

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

The discovery phase identified that teachers and school leaders will need support to implement the Online Formative Assessment Initiative in schools. The most effective models of high quality professional learning and the kind of support needed for schools have been explored through research and consultation with a range of local, national and international professional learning providers as well as through engagement with teachers, school leaders and other users.
A range of professional learning approaches will be designed and tested in schools through the alpha phase of the project. Materials that will be developed are intended to assist teachers and school leaders to better understand their current practices and set achievable goals for individual professional development and school improvement. They will support teachers to improve their understanding and practice of formative assessment and the use of learning progressions to target their teaching and support their students. They will also guide leaders at all levels in schools to implement online resources and embed professional learning that is aimed at securing consistent, high-quality teaching and learning across schools.

Professional learning will be aligned to the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers and the Australian Professional Standard for Principals and in some cases tailored for individuals’ career stage, capability and school context.

How do I get involved in the initiative?

How can I get involved in the initiative?

Our aim is to keep users, stakeholders and education partners well-informed about the initiative, and to ensure that appropriate consultation and engagement enhances the design of deliverables in the alpha phase. Teachers, students, parents, school leaders and officials from each jurisdiction are involved in expert panels to advise the project team at every step of the process.

If you would like more information, or to express interest in becoming involved, please visit the contact page for more details.