About PAT and the Progressive Achievement approach

This article outlines ACER's Progressive Achievement approach to measuring, understanding, and supporting learning growth for every student.

The following topics are covered in this article:

The Progressive Achievement approach

PAT assessments, resources and professional learning are underpinned by ACER’s Progressive Achievement approach. As an organisation, ACER strongly believes that assessment can support every student to be appropriately challenged and demonstrate progress in their learning. This is achieved through gathering evidence that provides teachers with an understanding of where students are in their learning journey at a particular point in time in a specific learning area.

As part of the Progressive Achievement approach, ACER develops assessments that define what progress in the assessment construct typically looks like over time. This body of evidence can be used to describe broad levels of attainment or be analysed at the question level to identify students’ specific weaknesses and misconceptions.

The Progressive Achievement approach emphasises that:

  • the evidence obtained through assessment should infer where a student is in their learning
  • this evidence should inform the next steps in teaching and learning
  • students’ subsequent learning growth should be monitored using assessment instruments aligned to the same scale.

The Progressive Achievement approach provides reliable measures that enable a variety of interpretations about achievement and progress such as:

  • what students achieving specific levels of progression are likely to know, understand and be able to do
  • how much students have improved over time and what skills, knowledge and abilities they have been able to develop
  • how a student’s level of achievement compares with other students.

Learning areas

ACER's Progressive Achievement (PAT) assessments provide objective, norm-referenced information to teachers about their students’ skills and understandings in a range of key areas.

Each PAT assessment has its own proficiency scale with descriptors outlining the content and skills students are consolidating at any given point on that scale. Each PAT assessment provides quantitative and qualitative data on student performance, making PAT ideal for understanding students’ current strengths and weaknesses, informing teaching and learning, and monitoring progress over time.

How PAT tests are designed and developed

A test is said to be valid if it measures what it was intended to measure. The PAT tests are planned and constructed to assess the skills that are commonly accepted as important by expert teachers of the particular learning area. In constructing the tests, care is taken to include a range of item types, contexts, and skill areas to ensure that the breadth of students' abilities is being captured. All test items are subjected to intensive scrutiny, review, and revision by panels of experts.

What is an item?

We use the term ‘item’ as it is more accurate than the colloquially used ‘question’. Test items are not always questions, but instead statements or visual prompts to be responded to or instructions to follow (for example, ‘complete this sentence’ or ‘simplify the equation’). The type and format of each item is determined by the skill and knowledge being assessed.

In the course of selecting items for each PAT assessment, the best-performing material is retained from previous editions of the tests, if applicable. New items are trialled and the best-performing new material from the trial is selected. Calibration procedures identify items that also appear to be measuring skills other than those measured by the majority of items. Items 'misfitting' in this way are not retained. The items retained for the final assessment are shown to fit the Rasch measurement model satisfactorily. All test items can be regarded as measuring a student's location on a single underlying continuum of skills within the learning area.

PAT Teaching Resources Centre

The PAT Teaching Resources Centre offers thousands of evidence-based teaching activities and annotated questions developed to directly support your next steps after assessment. The resources are designed to help you differentiate teaching in your classroom, offering the perfect resources to challenge each student at the appropriate level.

Resources are directly mapped to the Australian, Victorian, and New South Wales curricula and are intended for immediate classroom application.

Annotated questions

Annotated questions are analyses of actual PAT assessment questions, providing detailed explanations of the skills being assessed.

Skill illustrations are exemplar items with additional information that explains the skills needed to provide the correct response. They do not explicitly use live PAT assessment questions. This ensures you can focus on the broader skills being tested rather than on specific PAT questions.

Use annotated questions and skill illustrations to:

  • gain a detailed understanding of the skills being assessed
  • explore reasons for unexpected answers on PAT assessments
  • identify targeted teaching resources to use in class.

Teaching activities

These are teaching ideas that cover specific mathematics and reading activities to help you develop your students' skills in areas where they are lacking, or to provide stretch challenges. They are not prescriptive, and they allow for your expert knowledge and interpretation of your students' ability levels.

Use teaching activities and concept builders to:

  • identify and set specific learning intentions
  • improve student learning of particular skills
  • identify curriculum links
  • improve student learning when unexpected answers are identified in PAT assessments.


The PAT Teaching Resources Centre includes an extensive range of videos for teachers and students.

Professional support for teachers: these videos provide an opportunity for professional learning around improving students' reading comprehension and using Teaching Resources Centre teaching activities in lessons.

Skills support for students: these short videos provide support for students around specific skills and can be used in either whole-class or small-group settings. Use them as warm-up activities at the start of a lesson, or to provide further guidance and clarification if required.

Professional learning

Visit the PAT Professional Learning website for more information about booking, dates, and pricing.

Understanding PAT

This one-day workshop, delivered online or in person, is designed for educators who want to develop their knowledge and understanding of PAT and the Progressive Achievement approach. It provides an overview of PAT implementation in the Maths and Reading domains, from accessing student data to identifying students' next steps in their learning, in a range of school environments.

In this highly practical workshop, you will learn how to effectively analyse student assessment data to determine their understanding of key skills and concepts and identify their teaching and learning needs. It is highly recommended that you arrange access to the data in your school’s online account for use in this session to make the learning as relevant and realistic as possible.

Video conferences and school visits

Aimed at educators keen to develop and further their knowledge and understanding of PAT or other ACER assessments. Particularly valuable for those responsible for administering or reporting on assessments, or for implementing teaching and learning strategies informed by assessment results.

  • Initial Consultation (20 minutes)
  • Extended Consultation (90 minutes)
  • Workshops (half-day and full-day)

Accredited online courses

  • Getting started with PAT
  • Data-driven decisions
  • Getting ahead with PAT


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