Learning Progressions

Learning progressions are “descriptions of the successively more sophisticated ways of thinking about a topic that can follow one another as students learn about and investigate a topic over a broad span of time” (National Research Council, 2007). Learning progressions are based on available research about how learning develops over time, articulating progress toward grade-level standards in terms of the big ideas/enduring understandings and essential concepts/processes. Learning progressions are meant to support planning and modifying instruction, developing meaningful assessments, and monitoring student progress (Hess and Kearns, 2010). 

SIPS will build upon the science learning progressions developed using the Principled Design for Efficacy framework (Nichols, Ferrara, & Lai, 2015; Ferrara, Lai, Reilly, & Nichols, 2016). This framework, originally developed to support the design and development of a learning progression-based assessment and learning system in mathematics (Lai, Kobrin, Nichols, & Holland, 2015; Lai, Kobrin, DiCerbo, & Holland, 2017), has been extended to support learning progression-based assessment and learning in science. At the heart of this framework is the association of task and response metadata to the increasingly sophisticated knowledge and skills described in the learning progressions.

SIPS partners will use learning progressions to inform the development of performance level descriptors and a yearlong curriculum planning framework at grades 5 and 8, which will serve as the foundation on which all curriculum materials and common assessments are developed. Its purpose is to describe the developmental progression, or continuum, of learning within and across grades toward college-and career-readiness to ensure that the academic standards are vertically articulated across units according to available research about how learning develops over time. 


Ferrara, S., Lai, E., Reilly, A., & Nichols, P. (2016). Principled approaches to assessment design, development, and implementation. In Jacqueline P. Leighton & Andre A. Rupp (Eds.), Handbook of Cognition and Assessment, 41-74. Wiley. 

Hess, K. K., & Kearns, J. (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, Dover, N.H. 

Lai, E. R., Kobrin, J., Nichols, P., & Holland, L. (2015, April). Developing and evaluating learning progression-based assessments in mathematics. In Annual Meeting of the American Educational Research Association, Chicago, IL. 

Lai, E. R., Kobrin, J. L., DiCerbo, K. E., & Holland, L. R. (2017). Tracing the assessment triangle with learning progression-aligned assessments in mathematics. Measurement: Interdisciplinary Research and Perspectives, 15(3-4), 143-162. 

National Research Council (NRC). (2007). Taking science to school: Learning and teaching science in grades K-8. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/11625. 

Nichols, P. D., Ferrara, S., & Lai, E. (2015). Principled design for efficacy: Design and development for the next generation of assessments. In R. Lissitz & H. Jiao (Eds.), The next generation of testing: Common core standards, smarter balanced, PARCC, and the nationwide testing movement (pp. 49-81). Baltimore: Information Age Publishing.