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A measurement framework for national key performance measures

Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs


This article is an abridged version of the report of the same title published by MCEETYA in November 2005. The full publication includes a table of currently agreed key performance measures operating in Australian State and Territory education systems.


In 1999 Ministers responsible for school education agreed to the new set of National Goals for Schooling in the Twenty-First Century, with the aim of providing high quality schooling in Australia which would secure for students the necessary knowledge, understanding, skills and values for a productive and rewarding life. As a consequence, the national council of Ministers (MCEETYA) set in train a process to enable nationally comparable reporting of progress against the National Goals.

This Measurement Framework for National Key Performance Measures takes account of all MCEETYA decisions related to measuring performance against the National Goals.

It sets out a basis for reporting progress towards the achievement of the National Goals by Australian school students, drawing on the agreed definitions of Key Performance Measures. The core of the Framework is a schedule setting out Key Performance Measures and an agreed assessment and reporting cycle for the period 2003–2010.

With the aim of driving school improvement and enhanced outcomes for students, Ministers responsible for school education have agreed to report on progress towards the achievement of the National Goals for Schooling in the following priority areas, comparable by State and Territory, and using Key Performance Measures as the basis for reporting:

  • literacy
  • numeracy
  • science
  • information and communication technology
  • vocational education and training in schools
  • participation and attainment
  • civics and citizenship education.

Ministers also noted the need to investigate the development of indicators of performance in enterprise education. Following extensive investigations by the PMRT, however, Ministers have agreed that it is not possible to develop Key Performance Measures for this domain at this time, and that work should therefore not continue on this for the foreseeable future.

Definitions of student characteristics have been agreed by MCEETYA. Student outcomes will be reported for the student cohorts disaggregated by:

  • sex
  • Indigenous status
  • language background
  • geographic location
  • socio-economic background.

MCEETYA has noted progress towards the development of a common definition of, and approach to, the measurement of outcomes for students with disabilities.

In 2004, MCEETYA endorsed the following enhancements to national reporting and accountability systems:

  • introducing benchmarking against international comparisons; ensuring that reporting is reliable and nationally comparable for Years 3, 5 and 7
  • collecting financial data that allows for comparable reporting
  • developing plain English reporting
  • using data collections to improve Australian education policy.

In December 2004, the Federal Parliament passed the Schools Assistance (Learning Together – Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Act 2004. The Act and the Regulations supporting it will require PMRT to undertake further work over the quadrennium in relation to developing and reporting against common instruments for literacy and numeracy, developing nationally comparable measures for attendance and incorporating the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) within the Measurement Framework.

The Performance Measurement and Reporting Taskforce (PMRT) is responsible for developing and implementing a management strategy for the work outlined in the Framework. The resources to support PMRT’s work are provided by the Australian Government and the States and Territories according to the MCEETYA Project Formula. 

Key Performance Measures

National Key Performance Measures (KPMs) have been developed to ensure that key indicators of the outcomes of schooling in Australia are publicly available. In March 2000, Ministers endorsed the definition of national KPMs as a set of measures limited in number and strategic in orientation, which provides nationally comparable data on aspects of performance critical to monitoring progress against the National Goals for Schooling in the 21st Century. KPMs will be developed for each of the priority areas within the National Goals.

Within that context, a KPM quantifies a dimension of student participation, attainment or achievement and enables progress to be monitored against the National Goals. KPMs are expressed as a percentage or proportion of students achieving a performance standard; or the number or proportion of students participating in or successfully completing programs of a particular duration, and/or standard.

KPMs reflect good assessment practice, support open transparent reporting and are published in a manner that facilitates access by the public. They are policy relevant, cost effective and practical to collect, and of interest to the public. As a set, the national KPMs are limited in number, strategic in orientation, balanced in coverage across the priority areas, and provide nationally comparable data on aspects of performance critical to monitoring progress against the National Goals for Schooling.

As policies and priorities change, it is likely that new areas will be proposed for measurement at the national level. For example, it has already been observed that there is no focus on health and physical fitness in the measures yet the health and wellbeing of students is a high priority nationally.

The process for establishing new measures, including those directly requested by MCEETYA, involves discussion and evaluation by the PMRT, development of possible measures, followed by the provision of written advice to MCEETYA which would include an indication of the likely resource demand of establishing the measure and the timeline for implementation.

Benchmarks and Standards

MCEETYA has advised PMRT that it requires student performance to be reported across the range of achievement levels. The current approach in literacy and numeracy is restricted to reporting performance at or above the minimal standard which is described by the national benchmarks. However, it is anticipated that the implementation of the enhanced literacy and numeracy assessment processes will ensure that the range of student performance can be reported.

PMRT has determined that national standards for measures in science, civics and citizenship and ICT, for the measures of the performance of 15-year-old students based upon PISA and for the Year 4 and Year 8 measures based on TIMSS, should be set at ‘proficient’, rather than the ‘minimum’ standard. In addition, data on the performance of students across all achievement bands will also be prepared and made available.

At its March 2003 meeting, the PMRT endorsed processes for setting national standards in areas such as science literacy, ICT literacy, civics and citizenship, and for secondary (ie 15-year-old) reading, mathematics and science literacies.

Target Setting

At the July 2001 meeting, MCEETYA agreed to set national targets in the areas of reading, writing, spelling and numeracy for Years 3, 5 and 7 (noting that targets for Year 3 had already been set under Commonwealth legislation). In 2004, MCEETYA agreed to targets for Years 5 and 7 reading, writing, spelling and numeracy. Performance targets in these areas and at these levels have been incorporated into the Regulations underpinning the Australian Government’s 2005–08 schools funding legislation.

Council also agreed to consider establishing further national targets where KPMs are developed for other national goals.

National targets need to be developed with two purposes in mind: to drive improvement in school and student outcomes, and to provide an indication of how the States and Territories are performing in relation to the relevant National Goals. As such, targets should include an element of ‘stretch’, but should be achievable.

Review of the Key Performance Measures

The set of KPMs outlined in this Measurement Framework will be reviewed from time to time in the context of MCEETYA’s expectation that the measures will be few in number and strategic in orientation, the need to ensure appropriate coverage of the priority areas outlined in the National Goals and to investigate implementation of additional measures required by MCEETYA. Following such reviews, written advice may be provided to MCEETYA proposing additional measures or reframing or removing existing measures. 

Changes to the Measurement Framework

The Schools Assistance (Learning Together – Achievement Through Choice and Opportunity) Act 2004 requires PMRT to investigate and provide advice on:

  • implementing national tests in literacy and numeracy at Years 3, 5, 7 and 9
  • incorporating the TIMSS mathematics and science sample assessment at Years 4 and 8 within the Measurement Framework, including the development of agreed national standards
  • developing nationally comparable measures of student attendance.

Managing the Reporting Demands on Schools

Managing the data collection demands on jurisdictions and schools has been an important consideration in developing the national KPMs. There are currently nine areas covered by national KPMs. Thirteen KPMs, including the well established national literacy and numeracy benchmarks based on existing statewide assessment programs, involve testing students.

PMRT’s focus on managing the reporting demands on schools and jurisdictions is evident in the rolling triennial cycle for the assessment of science, civics and citizenship education and ICT using a sample of students, and the use of data from the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) to measure literacy, numeracy and science outcomes for 15-year-old students. In addition the number of KPMs has been reduced in the Vocational Education and Training (VET) area to minimise workload on jurisdictions.

Nevertheless, it is recognised that some schools may perceive national and international assessments to have a lower priority than other programs within the school, and that whatever the benefits of such assessments, there will be disruption and additional workload demands at the school level. This is particularly evident in smaller jurisdictions where schools are approached more frequently to participate in assessment programs.

Whenever the Measurement Framework is reviewed, and where new measures are proposed, the impact on schools and smaller jurisdictions will be carefully weighed in reaching decisions about the scope of the proposed measures and the feasibility of introducing them.

Maximising Benefits of Participation in National and International Assessments

The National Assessment Program (NAP) will assist educators to interpret the performances of their own schools by providing nationally comparable information about the achievements of students in other States and Territories.

Each of the sample programs – science, civics and citizenship education and ICT – has wherever possible, been designed to provide a set of items which any Australian school can use to measure its students’ performance against national standards. In addition, the detailed report which will be prepared following each assessment cycle will provide useful information to schools and jurisdictions and inform planning for improved student learning in these key curriculum areas.

Results from Australia’s participation in international assessment programs, specifically the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) will be used to provide data on the progress of Australian school students towards achieving the National Goals

It should be noted that data collection for both national and international assessment programs will be expedited through jurisdiction approval processes. In most cases jurisdictions/sectors have agreed to waive the normal approval processes on the basis that agencies managing such programs are themselves bound by the highest ethical standards. Where jurisdictions are not able to waive the processes because of their own legislative and legal obligations regarding data collection, jurisdictions have agreed to expedite the approvals process.

PMRT will develop a process for evaluating future invitations to participate in international assessment programs to ensure that an appropriate benefit analysis is undertaken. 


Subject Headings

Aboriginal students
Aboriginal peoples
Educational evaluation
Educational accountability
Education policy
Girls' education
Boys' education
Civics education
VET (Vocational Education and Training)
Information and Communications Technology (ICT)