The Primary Language Record & The California Learning Record

The Primary Language Record
British educators developed the Primary Language Record in 1985 as a framework for observing students. developing skills in reading, writing, speaking, and listening. Teachers take notes on classroom events and samples of work, add information provided by parents, and a rich conversation develops over time-with subsequent teachers, with parents, and with students themselves-about the student’s needs, talents, interests, and progress, and about which strategies best serve those factors.

Its users praise the Primary Language Record for its flexibility: teachers decide for themselves the frequency, format, and style of their recorded observations. In every case, a parent interview starts the year; all teachers of the child make notes on her developing literacy; joint conferences with parents and child end the year; and that information influences the next year’s planning.

The shared reporting mechanism also encourages a shared view of how language skills develop and provides coherence among teachers across the grades. All teachers use “reading scales” that describe progress across the years from dependence to independence as a reader, and from inexperience to experience in reading texts across the curriculum. Speaking and listening skills are also recorded in many different contexts, from dramatic play to science investigations. The scales have another benefit: they can be analyzed in aggregate to give schools and districts an overall picture of students. language skills and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Teachers affiliated with the New York Assessment Network in New York City have worked with the authors of the Primary Language Record to create their Primary Learning Record, which shares most of its important characteristics.

The California Learning Record

California educators adapted the Primary Language Record in the late 1980s, with permission from its British authors, to test its usefulness in tracking language skills across the curriculum and across grade levels, including in secondary school and with a special emphasis on recognizing the literacy skills of bilingual students. Like its counterpart, the system has teachers meet with parents and students at the start of the year, observe and document student progress in different contexts during the year, and assess progress at year’s end while planning further work. It uses the same scales as does the Primary Language Record (above), as well as a new high school scale and another scale (developed by the British) that describes the bilingual child’s development in English. Teachers phase in the method, in which most of the evidence of progress comes from teacher observation and student portfolios, over two years of professional development. Student self-assessment is also an important part of the California method at the upper elementary, middle and high school levels.

More recently, California and British educators together developed a method of “moderating” the Learning Record results that has important implications for the use of this model. In this process, teachers meet with each other (and often with parents as well) to look closely at portfolio samples and talk through the ratings they received. This happens not only at the school level but again in district or regional groups, and boosts the reliability of teacher ratings so they might serve as an alternative or complement to norm-referenced tests in evaluating school programs. Moreover, by honoring and recording the student’s larger experience with language-before the school experience and outside it, in English and in other languages-the CLR adds meaningful parental and student involvement to the process of looking thoughtfully at student work.  

For more information about the Primary Language Record and the California Learning Record, contact the Center for Language in Learning, 10610 Quail Canyon Road, El Cajon, CA 92021; tel.   (619) 443-6320    (619) 443-6320 . E-mail:; Web address: