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Personal Best (PB) Approaches to Academic Development: Implications for Motivation and Assessment

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Abstract

There are ongoing debates as to the merits of mastery and performance (or competitive) approaches to school and student learning. Mastery approaches are focused on factors and processes such as effort, skill development, learning, and understanding. Performance approaches are focused more on competition, demonstrating relative ability, social comparisons, and outperforming others (Elliot, 2005; Maehr & Zusho, 2009 provide good overviews; Brophy, 2005 provides a specific critique of performance/competitive approaches). Personal best (PB) goals shed useful light on these debates in that they may be a positive blend of both mastery and performance approaches. That is, PB goals may reflect a mastery orientation in that they are self-referenced and focused on self-improvement and may reflect some performance (competitive) elements because the student competes with his or her own previous performance (Martin, 2006). This article explores PB goals, what they look like in the classroom, how they work, and how to implement them from a motivation and assessment perspective.
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Martin, A.J. (2011). Personal best (PB) approaches to academic development: Implications for motivation
and assessment. Educational Practice and Theory, 33, 93-99. DOI: 10.7459/ept/33.1.06
This article may not exactly replicate the authoritative document published in the journal. It is not the copy
of record. The exact copy of record can be accessed via the DOI: 10.7459/ept/33.1.06
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BRIEF REPORT
Personal Best (PB) Approaches to Academic Development:
Implications for Motivation and Assessment
Andrew J. Martin
Faculty of Education and Social Work
University of Sydney
Requests for further information about this investigation can be made to Professor Andrew J. Martin, Faculty
of Education and Social Work, A35 Education Building, University of Sydney, NSW 2006, AUSTRALIA.
E-Mail: aandrew.martin@sydney.edu.au.
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Personal Best (PB) Approaches to Academic Development:
Implications for Motivation and Assessment
Abstract
There are ongoing debates as to the merits of mastery and performance (or competitive) approaches
to school and student learning. Mastery approaches are focused on factors and processes such as
effort, skill development, learning, and understanding. Performance approaches are focused more
on competition, demonstrating relative ability, social comparisons, and outperforming others (Elliot,
2005; Maehr & Zusho, 2009 provide good overviews; Brophy, 2005 provides a specific critique of
performance/competitive approaches). Personal best (PB) goals shed useful light on these debates in
that they may be a positive blend of both mastery and performance approaches. That is, PB goals
may reflect a mastery orientation in that they are self-referenced and focused on self-improvement
and may reflect some performance (competitive) elements because the student competes with his or
her own previous performance (Martin, 2006). This article explores PB goals, what they look like in
the classroom, how they work, and how to implement them from a motivation and assessment
perspective.
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Personal Best (PB) Approaches to Academic Development:
Implications for Motivation and Assessment
What are Personal Best (PB) Goals and How Can They Motivate Students?
Personal best (PB) goals are specific, challenging, and competitively self-referenced targets
(Martin, 2006; Martin & Liem, 2010). PB goals may take two forms: ‘process PB goals’ and
‘product PB goals’. Examples of process PBs include reading one more book for the present
assignment than on the previous assignment, preparing for a test at the weekend when previously no
study had been done at weekends, asking a teacher for help when previously the teacher had been
avoided, and spending an extra hour doing homework than usual. Product PBs include getting a
higher mark in end of year exams than in the half yearly exams, making greater reading progress
than prior progress, and getting more sums correct in one’s mathematics homework.
For a number of reasons, PB goals have the potential to motivate students. Pride and self-
satisfaction is gained when one meets challenging goals. Further, success on tasks that are
challenging enhances one’s efficacy. Finally, students are engaged and enjoy tasks when levels of
challenge optimally exceed their level of skill. There are, then, self-reinforcing benefits when
students strive for and meet challenging self-improvement goals (Martin, 2006).
How do PB Goals Impact Educational Outcomes?
Goal setting research provides useful insights into how PB goals can positively impact
educational outcomes (Locke & Latham, 2002). First, PB goals make it clear to a student what they
need to strive for to outperform a previous best. Second, PB goals help a student direct attention and
effort towards the goal-relevant tasks that are important to attain educational outcomes. Third,
through self-competition, PB goals may energize the student. Fourth, PB goals may create a gap
between current and desired attainment and the student is then motivated to close this gap. In sum,
there are numerous functions inherent in a PB approach that would significantly connect PB goals
to educational outcomes.
PB Goals and Recent Research
Recently, two studies have been conducted investigating the role of PB goals in students’
academic development. The first study of 1,016 high school students found a positive yield of PB
goals for school engagement, including educational aspirations, enjoyment of school, class
participation, and persistence (Martin, 2006). The second study (Martin & Liem, 2010) used a
longitudinal design and tested the effects of PB goals on a wider set of engagement and
achievement factors with a larger sample of high school students (1,866). This second study was
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particularly important because it shed light on the role of PB goals in predicting engagement and
achievement across time. Findings showed that academic PB goals predicted subsequent literacy
achievement, numeracy achievement, test effort, enjoyment of school, persistence, class
participation, homework completion, educational aspirations, and (negatively) disengagement. This
study was also noteworthy because it found significant effects for PB goals across time after
controlling for prior achievement and engagement levels.
Applying PBs as Motivation Goals
PB approaches can be applied in at least two ways: as motivational goals and through
assessment. Applying PB goals from a motivational perspective would involve an explicit emphasis
on PBs as goals that students define and pursue as they go about their academic lives. This is the
main way in which PB goals have been investigated to date (Martin, 2006; Martin & Liem, 2010).
Specifically, research has assessed the extent to which students hold PB goals and then tested this
impact on academic achievement, engagement and motivation. As described above, findings
demonstrate merit in the pursuit of PB goals as a motivational focus.
This being the case, educators can look for opportunities to encourage students to focus less
on comparisons with others, less on competition, and more on personalized standards of excellence
and the ways to get there. Thus, explicitly articulating PBs as a basis of motivation and goals
towards which to strive is a feature of educational practice that can be embedded in the classroom
and also as a value to be implemented across the school and communicated to home as well. Indeed,
it is feasible for education systems (e.g., government) to explicitly espouse and recognize a school’s
emphasis on PBs. In essence, then, one implementation of PBs is as a motivation goal that is
frequently and genuinely articulated and espoused through the classroom, the school, the home, and
the system as a whole.
Applying PBs in Assessment: Value-Added Models
The second application of a PB approach is by way of assessment. Indeed, it is through formal
integration with assessment that PB approaches will most deeply permeate students’ academic lives.
One promising means of doing so is by way of value-added approaches to student assessment.
Value-added models focus on growth in student learning and achievement (Anderman et al., 2010).
Thus, PB goals are clearly aligned with value-added approaches to assessment.
There are two main approaches to assessment. The first form involves comparing students’
raw (or minimally adjusted) performance score against a benchmark such as a state, population, or
cohort. These are known as status or proficiency measures. However, there is growing
dissatisfaction with this static or snapshot form of assessment (see Anderman et al., 2010). Thus,
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researchers are investigating alternative approaches to assessing progress across time. These
approaches are referred to as value-added assessment models. It is the growth indexed by these
models that may represent the assessment arm of PB approaches. Here, two growth approaches are
summarized: Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs) and Personal Best Growth Percentiles (PBGPs).
However, there are other relative growth models (see Anderman et al., 2010; Betebenner, 2008,
2009; Briggs & Betebenner, 2009 for descriptions).
Student Growth Percentile (SGP) Models
An assessment approach attracting increasing interest involves Student Growth Percentiles
(SGPs). This approach estimates a student’s observed growth and compares this with the growth of
students with a similar level of prior achievement. The SGP approach seeks to ascertain baselines
for achievement growth that can determine adequate growth for students at different achievement
levels. From a PB goal perspective, this may be a motivationally superior form of assessment
relative to the traditional snapshot mean proficiency comparisons. Thus, a relatively low-achieving
student, for example, can be recognized as academically successful through making more than a
year’s growth relative to comparable students. Alternatively, a student achieving highly relative to
the population may be regressing if he/she makes less than a year’s growth relative to comparable
students. Details on SGPs, other value-added approaches, their implementation in various US states,
and relevant algorithms and software applications are presented in Anderman et al. (2010),
Bettebenner (2008, 2009), and Briggs and Betebenner (2009).
Personal Best Growth Percentile (PBGP) Models
Value-added models constitute a significant step forward from the traditional static (snapshot)
forms of assessment. However, there is one feature of these models that may impede motivation:
ultimately, the growth index is relativistic. That is, some students will perform above the average
growth rate and others will not (Anderman et al., 2010). Thus, even if all students and schools
evince educationally-commendable growth, only about half of them will be recognized for this. A
Personal Best Growth Percentile (PBGP) may redress some of the relativistic limitations in other
value-added models.
This PBGP ascertains a baseline rate of growth for each student and then assesses each
student’s growth against his/her own prior growth. This is more aligned with the PB approach to
goals in that the PBGP emphasizes self-improvement across time, not improvement relative to other
students’ improvement. Obviously, prior personal growth rates will need to be adjusted over time as
students move into new achievement bands but it is personally-indexed growth that is the focus
throughout. Because the PBGP is proposed here as a refinement on existing value-added models, to
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this author’s knowledge, it has not been formally or technically operationalized. However, growth
maps provided by Betebenner (2009) that profile historical growth against current and projected
growth are close applications. Also, Martin (2010) has developed non-technical (and relatively
informal) PB score sheets for teachers and PB worksheets for students.
Assessment Reporting
It is important to emphasize that absolute, relative, and personal best growth indexes are all
informative for educators and students in unique ways. It is therefore also important to emphasize
that greater insight into the nature of a student’s academic development may be derived through
complementary reporting of absolute, relative and personal best growth. Thus, on important
academic dimensions (e.g., literacy and numeracy), reporting to students may involve four scores:
1) Absolute mean proficiency (the student’s raw score in the context of the entire sample or
population);
2) Comparable mean proficiency (the student’s raw score relative to comparable students);
3) Student Growth Percentile (SGP; the student’s achievement growth relative to comparable
students); and,
4) Personal Best Growth Percentile (PBGP; the student’s achievement growth relative to
his/her own prior growth).
Complementing absolute with relative and personal best growth assessment indices in a
student’s report card may also be quite illuminating. For example, the student who achieves well in
absolute terms but not compared to personal growth in the previous year may be underperforming
relative to personal potential (e.g., receiving an ‘A’ on their absolute index and a ‘B’ or ‘C’ on their
SGP and/or PBGP). In contrast, a student who has worked hard for positive gains relative to their
previous negative or flat trajectory can be recognized for this (e.g., receiving a ‘Bon their absolute
index and ‘A’ on their SGP and/or PBGP). Hence, there are implications for students at all points
on the academic continuum including those with learning-related difficulties and disabilities who
under a SGP and PBGP framework can be deemed academically successful from a value-added
perspective (Martin, 2006).
Important Qualifications to Consider
Although offering new and exciting directions in motivation and assessment, PB goals and
value-added approaches are not without their limitations. Some of these are briefly noted here (and
further detailed in Anderman et al., 2010: Betebenner, 2008, 2009; Briggs & Betebenner, 2009):
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It is important to implement PB goals in a way that does not discourage students if they fall
below their desired goal. This may involve teaching students how to set realistic PB goals
and instructing them on constructive thinking to help them persist if they fall short.
Although PB goals may serve to reduce students’ tendency to be competitive or engage in
social comparisons, it is unrealistic to believe PBs will eliminate students’ tendency to
engage in competition particularly within competitive and high-stakes testing systems.
The fostering of personal best goals should not occur at the expense of pro-social processes
such as cooperation, collaboration, and participation (it is encouraging to note that research
has found PB goals significantly predictive of class participation, Martin, 2006; Martin &
Liem, 2010).
Advocates of value-added assessment models urge further investigation into their validity
before rolling out on a large-scale. This would be particularly important for the PBGP which
has not, to this author’s knowledge, yet been implemented (but see Betebenner, 2009 for a
related approach).
Researchers have pointed to the need for value-added assessment models to
comprehensively adjust for school and student characteristics.
There have been concerns that value-added models do not adequately assess the growth of
students at the bottom and top ends of the achievement continuum thus, approaches such
as SGP models that account for comparable achievement levels are vital.
Optimal pedagogical benefit is likely to be derived through regular identification of growth
within each school year in doing so, teachers can more immediately respond to identified
growth rates.
Value-added models can present inherent inequalities. For example, low achievers will
require substantial growth to attain state-mandated proficiency whereas high achievers may
require minimal (or no) growth to attain proficiency. Thus, we risk asking too much of low
achievers and too little of high achievers.
Student growth projections into the future also pose potential threats. For example, there
have been warnings against fatalistic interpretations of poor growth projections. If growth
projections are made it is important to provide a range of projection possibilities and to
change conversations from ‘where will he/she be?’ to ‘what will it take?’ (Betebenner,
2008). This then directs the student’s attention to what they need to do for future growth
(i.e., growth goal setting).
Educators will need quality information and professional development on tips, techniques,
and approaches to dealing with different rates of growth for different students at different
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levels of achievement. They will also need appropriate training to help them interpret
growth results.
Conclusion
There are promising developments in educational practice and assessment as researchers seek
to integrate goals and achievement assessment. Exploring PB goals and value-added models of
assessment is one exciting direction for research and practice. Explicitly focused on personal
progress, PB goals appear to be a motivational approach closely aligned with value-added models
of assessment. These synergies hold important implications for educational practitioners
implementing PB and value-added approaches in the classroom.
References
Anderman, E., Anderman, L., Yough, M., & Gimbert, B. (2010). Value-added models of
assessment: Implications for motivation and accountability. Educational Psychologist, 45,
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Betebenner, D. (2008). Norm- and criterion-referenced student growth. Paper presented at CCSSO,
Washington DC. June 16th, 2008.
Betebenner, D. (2009). Growth, standards and accountability. Dover, NH: Center for Assessment.
Briggs, D., & Betebenner, D. (2009). Is growth in student achievement scale dependent? Paper
presented at the invited symposium Measuring and Evaluating Changes in Student
Achievement: A Conversation about Technical and Conceptual Issues at the annual meeting
of the National Council for Measurement in Education, San Diego, CA, April 14, 2009.
Brophy, J. (2005). Goal theorists should move on from performance goals. Educational
Psychologist, 40, 167-176.
Elliot, A. (2005). A conceptual history of the achievement goal construct. In A. Elliot & C. Dweck
(Eds). Handbook of competence and motivation, New York: Guildford.
Locke, E., & Latham, G. (2002). Building practically useful theory of goal setting and task
motivation. American Psychologist, 57, 705-717.
Maehr, M., & Zusho, A. (2009). Achievement goal theory: The past, present, and future. In
Handbook of motivation at school, In K. Wentzel & A. Wigfield (Eds). pp 77-104. New York:
Routledge.
Martin, A.J. (2006). Personal bests (PBs): A proposed multidimensional model and empirical
analysis. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 76, 803-825.
Martin, A.J. (2010). PB teacher score sheets and PB student worksheets. Accessed August 19, 2010.
www.lifelongachievement.com.
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Martin, A.J, & Liem, G. (2010). Academic Personal Bests (PBs), engagement, and achievement: A
cross-lagged panel analysis. Learning and Individual Differences, 20, 265-270.
... Setting PBGs means improving oneself through learning (mastery) as well as competing against one's own past academic performance (competition). In essence, PBGs are growth-oriented goals for academic personal growth (Martin, 2011). PBG setting is regarded as a useful growth-oriented strategy for supporting both academic and well-being outcomes among students (Burns et al., 2018). ...
... Setting these personally challenging yet attainable PBGs makes learning more engaging and enjoyable. Academic success would be highly achievable, and self-satisfaction and pride would be gained upon success (Martin, 2006(Martin, , 2011. By pursuing PBGs, it is postulated that students would live a pleasant, engaged, and meaningful life, which is the key to happiness and life satisfaction (Burns et al., 2018). ...
... By pursuing PBGs, it is postulated that students would live a pleasant, engaged, and meaningful life, which is the key to happiness and life satisfaction (Burns et al., 2018). Cross-sectional and longitudinal studies indicate that PBG setting is related to a broad range of positive well-being among adolescents, including self-satisfaction; positive relationships with teachers, peers, and parents; school enjoyment; task engagement; class participation; homework completion; deep learning; and flow Liem et al., 2012;Martin, 2006Martin, , 2011Martin & Elliot, 2016;Martin & Liem, 2010;Wu & Mok, 2017). However, we know little about the antecedents of PBGs. ...
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... More recently, goal theory has expanded to include self-based goals where individuals strive for personal growth and self-improvement (Elliot et al., 2011(Elliot et al., , 2015. Whereas achievement goal theory tends to address the why of motivational striving, goal setting theory tends to be more focused on the what of motivational striving (Martin, 2011), with goal setting theorists articulating the nature of goals that are most effective. One aspect of which refers to the level of challenge; high but attainable levels of challenge are central to growth goal setting (Locke & Latham, 2002, 2013Travers et al., 2015). ...
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Achievement has been, and remains, a topic of continuing concern for societies, institutions, groups, and the individuals who compose them. Factors that result in achievement are many and varied, but it is widely assumed that one of its primary elements is motivation. Numerous theoretical perspectives on the nature and nurture of motivation exist; one theory that has garnered considerable attention in recent years is achievement goal theory (also referred to as goal orientation theory). We summarize here the major ndings and assumptions, both past and current, of this theoretical perspective and its implications for schooling. We conclude with a commentary on remaining challenges and future directions.
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In this article, we examine the relations of value-added models of measuring academic achievement to student motivation. Using an achievement goal orientation theory perspective, we argue that value-added models, which focus on the progress of individual students over time, are more closely aligned with research on student motivation than are more traditional approaches to measuring achievement in a high-stakes testing environment. Although differing approaches to value-added assessment have been proposed, the core elements of the models are similar. We propose that the assessment data provided by value-added models has the potential to positively affect academic motivation, particularly when viewed through the lens of goal orientation theory.
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The large body of goal theory research that has induced performance goals or included them on forced-choice questionnaires has produced coherent results. However, the few studies available on the matter suggest that students rarely generate performance goals spontaneously, if performance goals are defined in normative terms (i.e., outperforming peers). Furthermore, although students may need something more or different from mastery goals to help them mobilize to succeed in certain achievement situations, concerns about peer comparisons or competition are likely to distract them from a focus on doing what is necessary to get ready for the test. Finally, evidence is emerging that students disposed toward performance-approach goal orientations in the present are at risk for shifting to performance-avoidance goal orientations in the future and that students' responses to performance-approach goal scales are more reflective of their past achievement histories in the domain than of motivational states likely to exert forward effects on subsequent achievement. Therefore, rather than characterize potentially productive nonmastery goals as performance-approach goals (which connotes social comparisons), goal theorists should characterize them as outcome goals or use other terms that emphasize achievement but not competition. In particular, they should avoid suggesting that teachers should encourage performance-approach goals that involve peer comparisons.
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Over the last decade, large scale annual testing has provided states with unprece-dented access to longitudinal student data. Current use of this data focuses primarily upon analyses of growth most often directed toward accountability decisions. Analy-ses using this longitudinal data source for other purposes have gone largely untapped. This paper introduces analysis techniques and results showing how student growth per-centiles, a normative growth analysis technique, can be used to examine the illuminate the relationship between standards based accountability systems and the performance standards on which they are based.
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Annual student achievement data derived from state assessment programs have led to widespread enthusiasm for statistical models suitable for longitudinal analysis. The current policy environment's adherence to high stakes accountability vis-à-vis No Child Left Behind (NCLB)'s universal proficiency mandate has fostered an impoverished view of what an examination of student growth can provide. To address this, student growth percentiles are introduced supplying a normative description of growth capable of accommodating criterion-referenced aims like those embedded within NCLB and, more importantly, extending possibilities for descriptive data use beyond the current high stakes paradigm.
Norm-and criterion-referenced student growth. Paper presented at CCSSO, Washington DC
  • D Betebenner
Betebenner, D. (2008) Norm-and criterion-referenced student growth. Paper presented at CCSSO, Washington DC. June 16 th, 2008. Betebenner, D. (2009) Growth, Standards and Accountability. Dover, NH: Center for Assessment.
Is growth in student achievement scale dependent? Paper presented at the invited symposium Measuring and Evaluating Changes in Student Achievement: A Conversation about Technical and Conceptual Issues at the annual meeting of the National Council for Measurement in Education
  • D Briggs
  • D Betebenner
Briggs, D., & Betebenner, D. (2009) Is growth in student achievement scale dependent? Paper presented at the invited symposium Measuring and Evaluating Changes in Student Achievement: A Conversation about Technical and Conceptual Issues at the annual meeting of the National Council for Measurement in Education, San Diego, CA, April 14, 2009.