Overview of the Learning Record
The Learning Record provides an architecture and process for documenting student progress and achievement, based on interviews, observations over time, samples of students' naturally-occurring work, and well-supported interpretations of learning across five dimensions. It is an evidence-based assessment with a deep foundation in learning theory and research. An 8-page print form (The Primary Language Record) was originally developed by London teachers and researchers to facilitate the process, gather information, and present it consistently. This information is collected and organized using a simple Word or RTF document that links to a selection of student work, prepared over the course of a semester or school year.
The Learning Record provides a way of accounting for learning that is richer and more meaningful than standardized testing, yet offers much more consistency and comparability across student populations than conventional portfolio assessment. It can serve as the sole record of students' achievement, or it can be used to inform and support conventional grading. The Learning Record seamlessly integrates student evaluation, research, program assessment, professional development, and teaching and learning practices. This is accomplished through the naturally-occurring activities and artifacts of the course, rather than artificial tasks, templates, “frameworks,” and research protocols. Teachers and students work together to document and interpret evidence of student learning, based on criteria and standards established by the teacher and reflecting the collective understanding of what disciplines, fields of study, and departments believe students should know and know how to do. In this way we can discover whether and how students develop the habits of mind, practices, knowledge, and skills we hope to cultivate, and how our teaching can better serve this development.
Research and development of the Learning Record has been a cooperative project of UT's Computer Writing and Research Lab; the Institute for Teaching and Learning, and the College of Liberal Arts; Dick Richardson, professor of biological sciences, University of Texas at Austin; the Center for Language in Learning, San Diego, California; and the Center for Language in Primary Education, London, England.
In 2001, the President of the University of California criticized standardized testing as a destructive force in education and sought to end the use of the SAT test in UC college admissions (NY Times, Feb. 17, 2001, page 1). He argued that standardized tests are "not compatible with the American view on how merit should be defined and opportunities distributed." After observing classrooms where 12-year-olds were being drilled on analogies in preparation for the SAT's, he wrote, "The time involved was not aimed at developing the students' reading and writing abilities but rather their test-taking skills. What I saw was disturbing and prompted me to spend time taking sample SAT tests and reviewing the literature. I concluded what many others have concludedthat America's overemphasis on the SAT is compromisng our educational system." He recommended that the university move away from admission processes that use quantitative formulas and instead adopt evaluative procedures that look at applicants in a comprehensive, holistic way.
We applaud President Atkinson's leadership in taking this bold initiative. In the years since this article was published, the situation with standardized testing in schools has not improved; indeed, it is markedly worse. The evidence mounts that we are doing irremediable damage to our children and our culture and deepening the inequities among schools. See, for example, the April 8, 2007 article in the Washington Post, by second-grade teacher David Keyes, "Classroom Caste System."