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Learning Progressions Focus Area

What are learning progressions? This focus page provides some definitions and links to many learning progressions resources.


In this Teachers’ College Reading Writing Project (TCRWP) video (11 min.), Alison, the teacher, uses a TCRWP self-assessment tool, deeper questioning, and descriptors within an informational writing learning progression to guide first graders to analyze and improve their writing.  


What are learning progressions?

Learning progressions, progress maps, developmental continuums, and learning trajectories are all terms that have been used in the literature over the past decade. While many variations on the definition exist, the concept generally refers to research-based, descriptive continuums of how students develop and demonstrate deeper, broader, and more sophisticated understanding over time.


A learning progression can visually and verbally articulate a hypothesis about how learning will typically move toward increased understanding for most students. There is currently a growing body of knowledge surrounding their purposes and use, as well as ongoing research in identifying and empirically validating content-specific learning progressions (Hess, 2010).


A conceptual view of learning progressions is one of overlapping learning zones along a continuum of learning. At the lower end of the progression are “novice” performers (at any grade level), who may (or may not) demonstrate the necessary prerequisite skills or understanding that is needed to be successful (e.g., essential skills/concepts that can be built upon over time). At the other end of the continuum are “expert” performers. Learning progressions descriptors help to “unpack” how learning might unfold for most students over time, moving from novice to expert performance (Hess, 2008).


Formative assessment is often mentioned in conjunction with learning progressions as well-designed interim assessments can “uncover thinking to show how student understanding is developing along the continuum of learning/learning progression.” (Hess, 2008).


Learning Progressions Resources


A Local Assessment Toolkit to Promote Deeper Learning [Module 4] provides an in-depth discussion and tools for developing and using learning progressions

March 2019 (Hess article/webinar) - Rethinking formative assessment: Use learning progressions to fuel student success

Hess Presentation - Learning Progressions 101 PowerPoint presentation by Karin Hess, defines learning progressions and identifies 4 interrelated guiding principles of learning progressions. 

Hess Tool #22 - Describing Learner Characteristics Along A Learning Progression (Analyzing Student Work)

Hess Tool #23 - Developing or Validating Learning Progressions (Guiding Questions)

Hess Presentation - Using a Research‐Based Learning Progression Schema in the Design of Performance‐Based Assessment Tasks and Interpretation of Student Progress 


Hess, K. (2008). Developing and using learning progressions as a schema for measuring progress. White paper presented at 2008 CCSSO Student Assessment Conference, Orlando, FL.

Hess, K. (2010). Using learning progressions to monitor progress across grades. Science and Children, 47(6), pp. 57-61

Hess, K. K. (2012). Learning progressions in K-8 classrooms: How progress maps can influence classroom practice and perceptions and help teachers make more informed instructional decisions in support of struggling learners (Synthesis Report 87). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. 


Read about the development of the Learning Progressions Frameworks (LPF)

Hess, K. (Ed. & Principle author) (2010). Learning progressions frameworks designed for use with the common core state standards in mathematics K-12. National Alternate Assessment Center at the University of Kentucky and the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. Available [online]: 

Hess, K. (Ed. & Principle author) (2011). Learning progressions frameworks designed for use with the common core state standards in English language arts & literacy K-12. National Alternate Assessment Center at the University of Kentucky and the National Center for the Improvement of Educational Assessment. 

  • Tracking Individual Progress: Hess Student Literacy Profiles (based on the LPF) - Grades K-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8, 9-12

White paper - Why Should Cognitive Learning Models Be Used as the Foundation for Designing Next Generation Assessment Systems. 

CPRE Research Report - Learning Trajectories in Mathematics

Research Report /Conference Presentation - Learning Progressions in Science

More Learning Progressions Videos 

  • Learning Progressions Hawaii Progress Maps. Fifty Hawaii teachers (k-8) worked for 3 years with Dr. Hess to develop, field test, and use learning progressions (called Progress Maps) in math and ELA. Here, they talk about their successes.

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