Profiling Developmental Standards of Learning for Students with Additional Needs (SWANs)

Project Contact

Jayne Johnston

Project Details

Profiling the development of students with additional needs was designed to help teachers monitor and intervene accurately in their learning. Techniques of assessment and tailored intervention offered new insights to curriculum and teaching. The methodology had been developed over a 20-year period, tailored to competency-based assessment, and was applied in this project to assessment of students with a diverse range of disabilities and additional needs. The project combined disciplines of specialist education, the Department of Education section responsible for student wellbeing, and the Assessment Research Centre, specialising in profiles and their assessment and teaching implications.

This project addressed an area of educational assessment that had been traditionally neglected as ‘too hard’. It offered hope to students with additional learning needs. If developmental progress could be mapped and identified in competency terms and linked to successful teaching and learning strategies, the students could expect to make more rapid progress towards achieving their potential. Teachers in mainstream schools could also expect to be helped in recognising development and given advice for intervention.


2007 to 2010

Explore the SWANS project

The SWANs project was funded by a grant from the Australian Research Council, in partnership with the University of Melbourne, the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development and the Centre for Advanced Assessment and Therapy Services.

The project developed materials to assist teachers to assess and report the learning of their students with additional needs. In 2007 almost 700 teachers across 77 Victorian government schools described their students’ proficiency in the areas of personal learning skills, emotional self-management, interpersonal processes, communication and literacy. The project team used that information to refine the original assessment materials in preparation for a calibration study.

In 2008 and 2009, and with the continued assistance of teachers, the team conducted a calibration study to build learning progressions from the SWANs assessments. The research team investigated whether the information generated from the SWANs assessment materials could be used by teachers to support the development of teaching programs targeted to the specific learning needs of their students.

Background material:


The aim of this research was to develop and validate procedures for monitoring learning progress for students with additional learning needs. The research was grounded on international and national shifts towards standards- and criterion-referenced assessment of student outcomes. It extended that work to assist teachers to assess and report development for students with diverse intellectual and learning disabilities and to foster the use and dissemination of teaching strategies and resources that were specifically linked to learning standards and pathways.

In Australia, schools are required by legislation to enrol students with a range of additional learning needs. Indeed, the Disability Standards for Education (2005) set out the obligation of schools to ensure that all students have access to educational opportunities without experiencing discrimination (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission, Disability Discrimination Act, 1992). There is, however, a need to provide teachers with guidance about appropriate developmental goals and effective teaching strategies for their students with disabilities, and to disseminate knowledge about how best to design learning programs for these students. This was reflected in the aims of the SWANs project, which were:

  • To develop and validate assessment materials that described expected progress in the foundational skills of communication, literacy, personal learning (e.g., attention, memory, executive functioning), emotional self-management, and interpersonal processes for students with additional learning needs, and that were appropriate for all students regardless of the nature of their learning needs.
  • To investigate relationships between sub-types of additional learning needs and learning pathways.
  • To assist teachers in both mainstream and special schools to use the assessment materials to inform their decisions about effective and targeted teaching strategies for students with additional learning needs, and to monitor and report their students’ progress.

2007 Summary

In 2007, more than 70 experienced teachers of students with additional needs participated in a series of workshops held at the University of Melbourne. They worked with the research team to draft statements of competencies for defining developmental pathways of learning for students with additional needs. These observation statements formed the basis of three sets of assessment materials (related to students’ intrapersonal development, interpersonal processes, and communication and literacy) that were distributed to 77 schools (both mainstream and specialist) for use by teachers.

Almost 700 teachers of students with additional needs used the materials in their classrooms in late 2007. They recorded their observations of learning for their students against statements of competencies in communication and literacy, intrapersonal learning, and interpersonal development.
Next, the data on teachers’ observations of their students’ proficiency were calibrated to refine and improve the assessment materials and, in 2008, teachers were asked to monitor and record the learning progress of their students using these materials. Experienced teachers were asked to contribute to focus group discussions designed to evaluate the assessment materials and to suggest teaching and learning strategies, and the resources needed for these strategies, for students at different levels of development.

2008-2009 Summary

Schools that participated in the SWANs research in 2007 were invited to take part in the ongoing phases of the project, which took place over 2008 and 2009. Each school was asked to nominate a person to lead the project within the school, and a team of at least three teachers to participate in the research.

Each teacher in a school team was asked to assess up to three students on three occasions (at the end of terms 2 and 4, 2008, and at the end of term 2, 2009) using assessment materials that were trialled in 2007 and refined by the research team in early 2008. The data of teachers’ assessments of their students were checked to examine whether they provided information that was sufficiently sensitive to detect development in student performance.

The school’s team leader was responsible for reporting information to the research team on school-based activities involving targeted intervention for individual students and in turn for interpreting to their colleagues the assessment reports provided by the research team. This team-based protocol and its impact on student learning was described in full by Griffin, Murray, Care, Thomas and Perri (2010). Team leaders also contributed to discussions about the usefulness of the assessment materials, in terms of teachers’ ability to communicate with each other and with other stakeholders (students, parents, principals, support professionals) about the learning progress of their students.

Griffin, P., Murray, L., Care, E., Thomas, A., & Perri, P. (2010). Developmental assessment: Lifting literacy through professional learning teams. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, Vol.17:4, pp. 383-397


  • P. Griffin, R. Adams
  • I. Claridge (DEECD)
  • K. Underwood (DEECD)
  • K. Woods, B. Coles-Janess
  • E. Roberts, C. Parsons (Centre for Advanced Assessment and Therapy Services)


Australian Research Council Linkage Project

Industry Partners

Centre for Advanced Assessment and Therapy Services

Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Published Research

Coles-Janess, B. & Griffin, P. (2009). Mapping Transitions in Interpersonal Learning for Students With Additional Needs. Australasian Journal of Special Education 33(2): 141-150.

Griffin, P., Woods, K., Coles-Janess, B., & Roberts, E. (2010a). New approaches to the assessment of achievement by students with additional needs (SWANs): A four year study of development. Proceedings of the 27th International Congress of Applied Psychology (pp. 413 – 415). Melbourne, Australia. Abstracts retrieved from

Griffin, P., Woods, K., Coles-Janess, B., & Roberts, E. (2010b). Mining the gold: Assessing students by ability, not disability. Teacher, 210: 34 – 37.

Roberts, E. & Griffin, P. (2009). Profiling transitions in emotional development for students with additional learning needs. Australasian Journal of Special Education 33(2). 151-161.

Roberts, E., & Griffin, P. (2010). Differing progressions of cognitive skill development for students with additional learning needs and autism spectrum disorder. Paper presented at the AARE International Research in Education Conference, Melbourne, Australia.

Woods, K. (2010a). The design and validation of measures of communication and literacy to support the instruction of students with learning disabilities. Doctoral thesis. The University of Melbourne, Australia.

Woods, K. (2010b). Developmental assessment for students with additional needs. Paper presented to the Victorian training program in community child health, Centre for Community Child Health, Royal Children’s Hospital, Melbourne, Australia (8th October).

Woods, K., & Griffin, P. (2010). Teachers’ use of developmental assessment to support communication proficiency for students with additional needs. Paper presented at the AARE International Research in Education Conference, Melbourne, Australia.

Woods, K., & Griffin, P. (2008). Profiling developmental pathways of communication and literacy for students with additional learning needs. National Conference of the Australian Association for Special Education, Fremantle, 19–20 September 2008.