Concentrating on classroom assessment: Stiggins endowment funds research to improve teacher preparation in assessment

May 1, 2010

By Nicole Geary

Renowned educational assessment expert Rick Stiggins says he built his career on the basis of doctoral study in the Michigan State University College of Education.

Now he hopes to help his alma mater became the nation’s leader on improving teacher training in assessment.

Stiggins, who received his Ph.D. in educational psychology in 1972, established the Rick Stiggins Endowment in Classroom Assessment at MSU to identify the barriers preventing pre-service programs from producing educators who can effectively use day-to-day assessment strategies with their students.

The U.S. has become overly obsessed with major standardized tests as a benchmark for achievement, Stiggins said.

“It’s okay to think about accountability testing,” he said. “But unless teachers understand how to carry out productive day-to-day evaluations of student learning, then assessment will not reach its potential as a school improvement tool.”

The endowment pays for faculty research, field testing and conferences, including a two-day seminar in Erickson Hall during January 2009 that was attended by representatives from seven education institutions across the country.

“Stiggins’ gift will enable the creation of a national, perhaps even international, network of teacher and principal educators who are invested and experienced in preparing teachers and administrators to use the range of assessments available to them,” said Suzanne Wilson, chairperson of the MSU Department of Teacher Education.

“The network will allow professionals to share research, best practices and curriculum that support the development of assessment literacy and expertise among all educators.”

Stiggins, who created the successful Assessment Training Institute for educators in Portland, Ore., believes the MSU College of Education has the commitment and potential needed to generate widespread changes – starting with its own top-ranked teacher education program.

“MSU is, by reputation and reality, an international center for innovative thinking about teacher preparation,” he said. “It’s a high powered place – and a place I love.”

A career comes full circle

Stiggins recalls working with great faculty members, including Lee Shulman, Robert Ebel and Joe Byers, who allowed him to create a doctoral study program that was rich with hands-on learning opportunities and tailored to his interests in measurement and evaluation.

His MSU experience provided the knowledge and skills needed to serve as director of test development at ACT in Iowa City and later director of research and development in performance and classroom assessment at the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory in Portland. 

Stiggins soon turned his attention to classroom assessment exclusively and, in 1990, he and his wife Nancy Bridgeford created the Assessment Training Institute (ATI) to support educators as they face the challenges of day-to-day assessment. The typical teacher spends a quarter to a third of their time involved in grading, testing and other assessment activities.

At ATI, Stiggins and his colleagues developed professional development experiences needed to fill chronic gaps in ‘assessment literacy’ among teachers and school administrators.

And the profitable business eventually gave him the means to give back. ATI is now owned by Pearson.

“This is a big thank you,” Stiggins said of his decision to invest in MSU, where his commitment to improving teacher practices will continue – and grow.

“Our dream is to create a consortium of institutions that want to collaborate in providing high-quality assessment training for their teacher candidates. But we have a lot to learn.”