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Meeting the learning needs of every student

Educators should find better strategies to meet the learning needs of struggling students, according to Professor Geoff Masters AO.

One of the biggest challenges we face as educators is finding different ways to meet the learning needs of the many students who fall behind and become disengaged with school, says Professor Geoff Masters AO, Chief Executive of ACER.

Writing in Teacher, Professor Masters said the OECD estimates that around one in seven Australian students fail to achieve an international baseline proficiency level in reading. After ten or more years of school, these students lack the reading skills that the OECD believes are required to contribute as productive citizens in the twenty-first century. The situation is worse in mathematics, with one in five Australian students failing to achieve the international baseline level.

Professor Masters writes that students who perform below expectation at 15 years of age have generally performed below year-level expectations for much, if not all, of their schooling, becoming increasingly disengaged and reinforcing the message that they are inherently poor learners.

In Australia, as in many other countries, part of the policy response to underachievement has been to set higher standards and to hold students, teachers and schools accountable for achieving those standards.

Professor Masters asks however, if higher standards and increased accountability will benefit students who have fallen behind in their learning, or decrease Australia’s ‘long tail’ of underachievement.

According to Professor Masters, addressing these challenges almost certainly requires a different set of strategies, such as:

  • diagnosing where students are in their learning;
  • personalising teaching and learning;
  • monitoring learning progress over time; and
  • sharing progress with parents and families.

Part of the solution lies in more flexible ways of organising teaching and learning to better target individuals’ current levels of achievement and learning needs. Another part of the solution lies in reconceptualising what it means to learn successfully – defining success and failure not so much in terms of age/year-level expectations as the progress that individuals make in their learning, regardless of their starting points.

The long tail of underachievement will be reduced by expecting and ensuring that every student makes excellent progress every year. ■

Read the full article:
‘The ‘long tail’ of underachievement’, written by Geoff Masters and published in Teacher, is available at


About the author

Professor Geoff Masters AO is the Chief Executive of ACER. 

More [rd] articles by Geoff Masters

View selected works of Geoff Masters

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