The Learning Record

Performance-based Evaluation


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Performance Objectives and Standards

Mary Barr, Ph.D.

The reason the CLR has had such grass-roots appeal among educators is that they recognize the view of learning on which it is based. The recommendations for school reform made over the past decade are brought together for their comprehensive enactment school by school. The Goals 2000 legislation, which supports schoolwide reform in general, and the reauthorization of Title 1, which supplements that reform in target schools with large numbers of underachieving students, are based on the approach to teaching and learning endorsed by subject matter leaders, both specialists and practititioners. The approach stresses schoolwide restructuring to focus all staff on student achievement of set standards of performance. The CLR system seeks to simplify recordkeeping and integrate teaching and learning across the curriculum, including the assessment thereof, and to reduce the apparatus necessary for helping students reach higher levels of achievement.

There are several ways the CLR can be used toward these ends. One important way is that CLR teachers can help students more because they know their students well enough (1.) to provide just the right instruction at the propitious moments and (2.) to describe not only what students have accomplished but also what is next to be learned. In an internal evaluation study conducted in 1992-1993, teachers just beginning to use the CLR reported knowing substantially more about the literacy and oral language abilities of the students for whom they completed a CLR than for the rest of their students. They also reported that seeking out specific materials to interest these students or offering assignment choices to suit what the student seemed ready to tackle. Such findings, among novice CLR users, are heartening because they indicate that the CLR may be helpful in addressing learning problems identified in other larger studies. One longitudinal study (Eccles & Midgly, 1989) , involving 25,000 middle school students, identified some of the causes of the academic problems associated with the transition from elementary to secondary school environments. Students, they found, were allowed less independence than in elementary grades and lower levels of cognitive work was required of them. An emphasis on perceived abilities rather than on actual performance data pervaded the thinking by teachers and the students themselves (182-184). Another study of student performance, published by The Institute for Education in Transformation at the Claremont Graduate School of Education (Transformation, 1992) , echoes our belief that learning at all levels, K-12, is hampered when teachers don't know their students well enough to support their learning, when students themselves consider their own intellectual strengths irrelevant to their success in school.

Another way the CLR fits current needs is that the system complements measures of successful achievement already deemed important at the school. Kathy Cooper, a high school teacher from Fresno, California, where the CLR is in its third year of use, describes how the CLR complements the use of student portfolios and the grades teachers must give (Thompson, 1994) :

The Learning Record is an important piece of a student assessment portfolio and gives a clear picture of a student's literacy to teacher, student, and parents. It helps to explain work shown in the portfolio....Student and teacher together choose work that demonstrates growth to enhance student portfolios. Samples from the beginning of the year along with samples from the end of the year help to show growth over time. Teachers use the CLR and portfolios in teacher-student conferences to negotiate appropriate grades for report cards (p. 3).

The CLR provides a framework for evaluating student progress across the curriculum and across the grade levels in ways that respond to the aims of school restructuring as they are now being interpreted throughout California. The state frameworks for subject matter content in public schools provide general direction for a curriculum which, among other things, encourages literature and primary sources instead of vocabulary controlled reading passages, skills taught in connection with their use, long term projects and investigations, use of technology and so on. A state-supported loosely strung network of teacher leaders interpret the frameworks locally and model instructional strategies designed to deliver this kind of curriculum. These teachers, as the professionals prepared to set forth standards by which student achievement can be judged, have also been heavily involved in the design of not only of the "on-demand" state assessments but also in popularizing the use of portfolios, including the CLR version. Federal programs (e.g., Goals 2000 and Title 1 reauthorization) and complementary ones at the state level (e.g., a state testing program which features performance-based assessment and Department of Education publications which urge a focus by schools on the analyses of student work) have led to the creation of a common language among educators, parents and students with which to review student work and work habits for evidence of learning. With such a large and diverse population, of course, implementation of all the pieces of the state reform of education is uneven. Such heterogeneity means that any assessment must support a common set of performance standards and, at the same time, accommodate many different ways to demonstrate their achievement.

With the CLR, teachers can use single course texts and prescribed lessons or units, or they can provide students with a wide range of texts and open-ended learning tasks, depending on the teacher's own assumptions about learning or the resources available. But they use a single set of performance scales so that all their students can demonstrate progress in literacy and mathematics which can be documented, extended and validated.

The CLR and Public Accountability

The CLR offers a way to coordinate diverse kinds of evidence of student learning and development. Any mandated assessment results, for example, can be included in the Record as a type of "snapshot" which contributes to the more comprehensive portrait of the student developed over time. Indeed, the observations and interpretations of teachers, as well as the contributions from parents and students in the record provide a richer and more meaningful context for interpreting such results. The demands for public accountability, as well as demands for accommodation of diversity in assessing student populations, however, are addressed directly by the CLR itself through its unique procedures for moderation readings.

At the present time, the CLR as both a classroom and a public assessment system is being phased in in sixteen California schools--one high school, two middle schools, the rest elementary. The three year phase-in model has been developed over the past five years by the authors and a network of teachers across California who have used the CLR with their own students and have contributed to the implementation design. It requires schoolwide support for teachers who volunteer to try out this kind of classroom-based assessment and share their results with other faculty members, time for collaboration on student learning across classes and courses, moderation readings at the site to build a common language about standards of student performance, and time for meeting with parents if conferences are to be held. Although its use at the elementary level has been tested broadly in England, New York City and California, it is as yet too early to assess how widely useful it will become for secondary teachers who must meet so many students each day. With middle and high school students across California becoming more accustomed to the use of portfolios and the taking of responsibility for their learning, we feel optimistic about its promise at secondary and at the university as well.

At this point, many embattled and weary teachers and administrators will likely raise concerns and objections based on past "reforms" that never realized their promises.

Is It the Right System?

There are two parts to this question for us: (1.) How does the proposed system deal with critical issues in evaluating literacy, and (2.) how does it compare with existing measurement methods? Literacy development occurs within complex systems which are interdependently related: from the psychological dynamics of individual students and their teachers to large-scale influences of institutional traditions and community expectations, all parts of the system are constantly interacting, both shaping and being shaped by one another. Classrooms are increasingly diverse environments, culturally, linguistically, psychologically, and also physically, in particular with respect to the use of new technologies. Classrooms range from "no-tech" traditional spaces to classes that provide occasional access to computer labs to rooms fully equipped with state-of-the-art hardware and software networked to the internet. To continue the current dependence on the use of externally designed standardized activities, tasks, or evaluations across such different learning situations is, at the least, counter-productive. Further, we need to consider the complexity of learning itself, which occurs at different rates and via different modes for different learners, and which involves technological, human, and environmental resources deployed in a wide variety of ways.

Conventionally, we have focused our gaze on student products, even while claiming that "writing is a process." We look at cluster diagrams, notes, outlines, drafts, and finished work, even in portfolios, but seldom at writers engaged in writing. We have separated the products and the activities involved in the learning situation, and generally ignored the activities because it is not apparent how we might account for them, other than through some vague accounting for "class participation." Our goal, then, should be to provide frameworks for ongoing observations of activity as well as for interpreting both the observations and the products of that activity. The CLR provides such frameworks. Its transformational effects in the classroom are evident as teachers expand their students' opportunities to learn by expanding the range of activities that can serve as evidence of literacy development.

The Learning Record | © 1995-2006 M. A. Syverson

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