The Learning Record

Origins of the Learning Record

Informal White Papers

From the Web to Walden

Joy to the World

Roses, grasses, chicks, and children

An Open Assessment Manifesto

Other Links

Frequently-asked questions


Minimal Marking

Small multiples for tracking work

Sample grading criteria


Sources of Support


Contact Information

Fair Test: The National Center for Fair and Open Testing

Origins and Early Development of the Learning Record

The college-level Learning Record has been developed, with permission, from the Learning Record, which was in turn adapted from the Primary Language Record. This part of the LR Web site provides information about the origins and development of this model of evaluation and assessment.

The Primary Language Record

The Primary Language Record was developed in London in the mid-1980's, where inner-city schools were challenged by large class sizes (up to 50 students), great ethnic and linguistic diversity among incoming immigrant students, and few resources. Teachers became convinced that standardized testing could not properly measure the literacy development of the students they were seeing, and they recognized that literacy development is fundamental to students' progress and achievement in all subjects in schools. From the theories of James Britton and Lev Vygotsky, Myra Barrs, Hilary Hester, and Sue Ellis authored the original Primary Language Record. It was founded on ten principles. Olivia O'Sullivan writes, in The Primary Language Record in Use:
As it turned out, the Record not only proved an excellent assessment and record-keeping tool, but also offered a means of in-service training and professional development for schools and teachers.

Following the initial two-year development phase, the PLR was designated for use in all London Schools. However, with the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority by the Conservative government in 1989, plans for the London-wide implementation were shelved. Instead, several hundred schools took on the PLR on a voluntary basis from 1988 onwards.

With the development in Britain of the National Curriculum and its assessment, the Primary Language Record continued to play an important role. It was recommended by the English working party group as a national model for teacher assessment:

A common format for record-keeping should be devised and employed. We recommend that. . .the approach exemplified by the Primary Language Record (Centre for Language in Primary Education) be adopted as a starting point.
(The Cox Report, English for Ages 5-11, DES, 1988)

However, the recommendation for a national format was not taken up, and National Curriculum assessment became, in the words of Ron Dearing, the 'meaningless ticking of a myriad boxes' (SCAA, 1993). Meanwhile, the PLR continued to play an important role in the area of teacher assessment: by helping many teachers to provide real evidence of children's learning, and to look at how and why children are learning as well as at what they have learned. . . .

Part of the success of the PLR has been due to the fact that, built on sound theoretical principles in the area of language and literacy learning, it offers a common conceptual framework within which groups of teachers can work, and a common language for reflecting both on chilren's progress and their own practice.

For further information, contact the Centre for Language in Primary Education, Webber Row, London SE1 8QQW, England, email

The Learning Record

From 1988-1990, The California Literature Project summer institutes and academies hosted staff from the London Centre for Language in Primary Education (CLPE) to learn about the Primary Language Record (PLR).Teachers were keenly interested in and enthusiastic about this model. In 1990-1991, the Literature Project sponsored a Core Development Group of teachers, K-12, representing geographic regions throughout the state to begin study of the PLR with Centre staff members. A pilot seminar series began in San Diego City Schools, conducted by two teachers from the Core Group. The California version of PLR expanded its focus to secondary schools and to all subjects.

The following year, the Chapter 1 project began and the name California Learning Record was adopted. A technical advisory committee was convened to advise on research design. The Core Group continued with Centre consultants; it expanded to include teachers from mathematics, writing, foreign language and arts projects. Core Group members conducted CLR awareness sessions in their districts and schools. The San Diego City Schools pilot expanded among teachers in Chapter 1 program schools. A CLR video tape was completed, and used as CLR dissemination went statewide. Development was begun on a Handbook for teachers and administrators.

In 1992-93 Chapter 1 sponsorship continued. A working draft of the Handbook and other resources were distributed to teachers leading CLR seminar series; by June 30 elementary and secondary preview editions were ready for purchase. Pilots in San Diego and Redding were expanded and formalized for research study to determine how teachers evaluate students in their first year of CLR use. The first level of a study to use the CLR to assess student progress across schools was conducted. Presentations about the CLR were made to the California Reading Association, International Reading Association, National Council of Teachers of English, and other professional organizations. The response was enthusiastic.

In 1993-94, Chapter 1 continued to sponsor CLR development as an assessment system with classroom, school and regional components. The Core Group reconvened and expanded to provide regional leadership. A CLR Field Advisory was convened to guide CLR introduction and use regionally. The Literature Project, Core Group, and CLR staff united to conduct the second level of the study to validate CLR assessment across schools. The California Department of Education (CDE) sought a waiver of norm referenced test requirements for up to 20 Chapter 1 schools willing to phase in the use of the CLR. Statewide implementation began, drawing on the findings in the 1992-93 research study report on new teacher use, the validation study, Core Group recommendations and survey of users. Over 2500 preview editions of the handbooks were sold. Two doctoral dissertations, one M.A. thesis and several case studies on the theoretical base of the CLR as well as on the results of its use were completed. The first series of regional moderations were held at 4 sites throughout California.

In 1994-95, the CLR project ended its university affiliation to establish the Center for Language in Learning, a non-profit corporation to support the use of the CLR as a statewide student evaluation system which integrates classroom-based assessment with teaching and learning. 10-20 schools across state began phasing in the use of the CLR to prepare for the lifting of the norm referenced test requirement for Chapter 1. The Handbook, Grades K-6, was revised and published; computerized version were tested. The Core Group of teachers and Field Advisory of administrators convened to help inform CLR direction. Meetings in New York City with members of the New York Assessment Network as well as beginnings of On-Line Learning Record at the University of Texas in Austin predict widening scope of PLR/CLR. The second annual series of moderations (169 student records) was held at 5 sites throughout California and reports on student achievement were sent to principals. A report on the 1995 moderation readings was published and a video tape of moderation at Hopland Elementary was produced. A working paper describing the CLR Assessment System was prepared and distributed.

During 1995-96, the Handbook, Grades 6-12, was revised and published; a computerized version of the CLR was made available. Funding from Aaron Diamond Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation supported an International PLR/CLR Seminar at Central Park East in NYC, drawing together teachers, administrators, and researchers from London, NYC and California to share findings and review a proposal for an international research project. The number of California teachers, schools, and districts phasing in the use of the CLR grew in the face of a legislated phonics-only movement. The International Seminar proceedings were published. The Center for Language in Learning proposal for Illinois Learning Record was accepted; Phase 1 (3 years) began July 1, 1996. The third annual series of moderations (224 student records) held at 3 sites throughout California, reports on student achievement sent to principals, and a study on CLR validity and reliability was conducted.

Because of the unfortunate shift to standardized testing for large-scale K-12 assessment, the Center for Language in Learning has been forced to close its doors. It no longer administers the CLR.

The Learning Record

The college-level Learning Record builds on this tradition of achievement and extends the Learning Record model in computer-enhanced learning environments. It also expands the model to account for learning in diverse kinds of college-level course work. Research and development were started in 1994-95, originally by M. A. Syverson, who had worked as research associate for the Learning Record. Syverson's dissertation, The Wealth of Reality: An Ecology of Composition, describes writing situations as complex systems involving readers, writers, and texts, together with their environments, and argues that the Learning Record model is the best existing means of accounting for learning in the complexity of composing situations.

Together with John Slatin as co-principal investigator, Syverson submitted a proposal under the Computer Aided Education and Training Initiative sponsored by DARPA, to support the research and development of this model for MOOs and MUDs (text-based virtual environments for composing and collaboration). The proposal was funded for 1995-1997.

Meanwhile, the number of instructors using the Learning Record model in classes at UT expanded, and the materials continued to be revised and refined. In 1995-96, information about the Learning Record model began to be available at Dr. Syverson's Web site, and teachers at other institutions began to adopt the model and link to this information. A pilot test of student moderations was conducted with enthusiastic responses from students.

Presentations about the Learning Record project were made at the College Conference on Composition and Communication and at the Computers and Writing Conference. In Spring, 1996, the Learning Record web site was expanded. It's been a rewarding and exciting project for instructors and students, who consistently comment on the positive relationship between teachers and students, as well as the productive learning environment fostered by the Learning Record model.

For more recent developments, see the Learning Record Manifesto.
See also the Learning Record Timeline

The Learning Record | © 1995-2014 M. A. Syverson

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