Achievement or Progress?

By Greg Whitby, 23 January 2019


Weekly Column from the Executive Director of Schools, Diocese of Parramatta

Like many parents, I had the opportunity to attend presentation ceremonies in December. While these school gatherings acknowledge effort over the year, it is often only a select few who are singled out to receive special recognition for academic achievement. The consequence of awarding achievement is that we inadvertently sideline those students who don’t get ‘top marks’. That’s a great shame when we only ever measure success in such a narrow way!

During one of those ceremonies, I listened to the principal speak passionately about their belief that with effort, every student can achieve great things. That may be true when the measures we use to assess achievement are not so narrow but marks and grades don’t tell the full story!

I want to challenge the traditional way that success is measured in schools. Learning and achievement should be lifelong. We need to stop referring to student achievement in favour of student progress. The starting point for measuring what we have achieved should always be where we started from. Progress tells students and parents something worthwhile. Improvement, milestones and learning gain is what really matters.

I remember visiting a primary school in Canada some years ago, where every learner’s progress was visible on the walls around the school hall. This makes a powerful visible statement to students, teachers and parents about each student’s learning. It recognises that although children learn at different paces, what should matter most for teachers and schools is to that the child continues to move in the right direction – not stopping, not moving backwards.

When teachers are focused on the learning journey and not the end point (often an exam or final assessment, mark or grade), they are in a powerful position to monitor where each child is at, when intervention is needed and the impact their teaching is having on each student.

So when you are talking to your child’s teacher(s) this year or next, ask them to talk to you about how your child is progressing across all areas not just what they achieved on a particular test or assignment. Learning progress can be measured in so many other ways than a number of a letter.


Greg Whitby
Executive Director of Schools – Diocese of Parramatta

Greg Whitby is the Executive Director of Schools - Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta
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