Expert Richard Stiggins - Doesn't like grades.


 ADE Sabotages Legislative Efforts

ADE Doesns't Like Grades or Tests That Compare Scores  To Other States

              Legislators are legislating in one direction, and the Arkansas Department of  Education  is going another.  The ADE  is actually using staff development to sabotage the efforts  and goals of legislators.    Legislation has  moved toward  standardized tests and objective, reportable  assessment (in particular Act 35);  but in staff development there has been  been a continuous, but  sometime subtle, coercive  pressure  from about 1991 for teachers to do away with traditional objective letter grades and to substitute  subjective measurements  where students cannot be  compared.  (See quotes in bold print by latest three main experts in assessment and staff development  in Arkansas below.  I have all  these sources in hand; they are not taken from other references.)

             They particularly  favor  portfolios which is a collection of  a students' work that  "compare children to themselves rather than to their peers."  In 1991 on a State Department Assessment Rollout for Act 236, these subjective portfolios were to be implemented in all schools by 1997 on the timeline.  In at least two of  the failing schools that the ADE took over, portfolios were implemented statewide.

The Department  of  Education didn't succeed in getting portfolios implemented, but they haven't given up on that goal yet.  An expert by the name of  Richard Stiggins,  who has written extensively about the negative aspects of  letter grades and positive aspects of portfolios, is helping Arkansas with  staff development on assessments this year.  Stiggins is just one more in a succession of other experts, (like high paid Willard Daggett and Douglas Reeves) in Arkansas to criticize grades and promote portfolios.


  Stiggins' philosophy  can be summarized by using  quotes from a teacher's manual  used in  Arkansas Math Crusade staff development  workshops a few years ago "Grading can be detrimental to student willingness to learn and should be replaced with other ways to report progress.  In today's political climate, tests are inadequate and misleading as measures of achievement. Assessment tasks should be redesigned-indeed, are being redesigned."   The long tradition of grading students has a detrimental effect on many students."  1 At the state board meeting June 14, 04 Janine Riggs, said 3500 teachers were giving up summer vacation to come to a workshop during the summer conducted by Stiggins on Assessment and that "Stiggins will also be with us throughout  next year for our teleconferences that are held throughout the year at various locations in the state."  She said "he works in many states across the country." (Riggs is Director of  School Improvement and Professional Development and also an Assistant Director to Ken James, Director of  State Department of Education)


            In his books and articles Stiggins makes some very  derogatory remarks about traditional assessment,  standardized testing, high stakes tests, and letter grades.  In reference to each of  these,  he uses the terms: - stress, anxiety, fear, punishment, sorting, ranking,  intimidation, judgmental, harmful, and dangerous.  Following are all direct quotes from Stiggins' articles or book.  All bold print is exact words from Stiggins.  Keep in mind that Stiggins often  uses the word "communicating"  or "communicating about student achievement" rather than the word report card.  Report card is evidently  such a harsh word it needs a euphemism.  See quote below where Stiggins basically says the major teacher unions like NEA agree with him. 


"I began with the contention that the time has come to redefine the relationship between assessment and effective schools. It is naive at best and dangerous to student well-being at worst to believe that we can maximize school effectiveness by inducing a fear of public censure for low standardized test scores." 2


     "Our current assessment systems are harming huge numbers of students for reasons that few understand." 3


     "Politicans [are] bent on using our assessments for their own political gain." 4


 "I implied that the use of punishment [grades] to cause students to want to learn is very dangerous business." 5 Then he as author of the book  asks the teacher/reader  to give material covered in the chapter that the statement might be true. 


"Historically, we have assigned report card grades based on evidence and teacher judgment about student ability, achievement, effort, compliance, and attitude. This practice has done far more harm than good in building effective lines of communication."6


"Let me remind you that grades are by no means the only way to share information about student achievement using report cards.  Some report card designs convey much greater detail about student achievement to message receivers." 7   (Then Stiggins  list 11 bulleted questions that indicate problems with grades.  Then he asks  the readers (teachers)  to list as many negatives about grades as they can.  


"The elementary school faculty chooses to write narrative reports [personal letter to students/parents] rather than issue letter grades.  The written evaluation  also allows the teacher to describe facets of an individual's intellectual and emotional development and compare children to themselves rather than to their peers." 8


"Under Exercises for Self-Assessment in his text, Stiggins says, "1. Consulting the text, identify several changes currrently unfolding in schools that call for changes in grading practices.  #5  Rank the three forms of achievement communication listed here according to which are the most  and least likely to reflect the principles of effective communication.  Why do you rank them as you do?  9

  • A letter grade on a report card

  • An anecdotal narrative definitionof student achievement (Letter to parent/student)

  • A portfolio containing samplesof student work"

Anyone reading the chapter would have to put letter grade on a report card as last.


"There is the danger that the need to perform before others or display products for others to see can raise students' anxiety to a level that distorts their performance. This requires that you create a place for such assessments that students regard as safe, or that you protect each student's privacy by restricting access to their work. " 10 (Remember the ban on spelling bees in Kentucky because it produced one winner and many losers,  and the headline this  year, "Nashville Schools to Stop Honor Roll, Embarasses Underachievers"


Stiggins repeatedly talks about ideas that sound much like the failed progressive child centered movement that emerged years ago. He often  uses the word "communicating"  or "communicating about student achievement" rather than the word report card.  Report card is evidently  such a harsh word it needs a euphemism. He  says that the "biggest break-through to happen in communicating about student achievement in the last century" is the "student-led parent-teacher conferences."  11 [That replaces the report card.  That type of  "expert" garbage is almost enough to make the most saintly teachers say naughty words. ]


"We have alternatives to our tradition of manipulating rewards and punishments [ [author is talking about traditional grades here]  Bullets these three things: 12

  • Student involved classroom assessment

  • Student involved record keeping

  • Student involved communication"

"Student-involved classroom assessment opens up assessment development and brings students in as full partners...We teach these lessons by having students actually devise sample assessment exercises and scoring criteria...They learn to apply appropriate criteria to the evaluation of their own practice work. [ He suggests offering them homework to complete  but not requiring it.] One way to accomplish this is by having students build portfolios of evidence of their success over time, including periodic self-reflections about the changes  they see. Student-involved record keeping brings them into the process of monitoring improvements in their achievement through repeated self-assessment over time."13


"We support and encourage that positive self-image by involving students in  recording their own story through their portfolios. But to make this work, they must  also actively participate in selecting the work for the portfolio."14


"In addition, it is common to find the concepts of "portfolios" and "performance assessment" closely linked in current literature...You have four forms of assessment in your repertoire: selected response, essay, performance assessment, and personal communication...So they can all appear in portfolios."5 [Note:.  All others are sub headings that come under portfolios.] 


"The power of a portfolio communication system resides in its potential for student involvement in record keeping and communication."16


         "Furthermore, students come to understand what it means to be in charge of their own learning -- to monitor their own success and make decisions that bring greater success. This is the foundation of lifelong learning."17  


It is obvious from Stiggins' writings that the staff development will be used to persuade and/ or coerce teachers to use portfolios rather than grades and move from traditional education to  the failed student centered progressive type.  Stiggins said teachers' unions agree with him. He says,


 "Ten years ago, the measurement community succeeded in articulating standards of competence in assessment for teachers (American Federation of Teachers, National Council on Measurementin Eduation and Nation Education Associon,  Those standards reflect our deep understanding of the differences between sound and unsound assessment practices."  18  [The problem is that the majority of teachers donít agree with the leaders in the teachersí unions.]


"However, classroom assessments will only increase in quality if teachers are given the opportunity to learn about these refined visions of academic excellence. This presents a considerable, as yet unmet, professional development challenge."19


 "We realized that almost no one in schools appreciated the full range of assessment methods that they had at their disposal, let alone how to develop or use them. . ..Few had any sense of the option at their disposal for communicating  student achievement." 20  [Stiggins inludes a couple pages in one article criticizing teachers and administrators and outlining their inadequacies.]


"The only acceptable remedy is the immediate implementation of national, state, and local programs of professional development designed to enhance the classroom assessment literacy of America's practicing educators -- from preschool through graduate school. We know what teachers need to know, and we know how to deliver that knowledge to them. All we need now is the will to deal with the problem."  21  [How arrogant can these experts be?    These experts know more than all the combined thousands of  teachers in the nation  who have all the training and all the years of  experience.]


            Stiggins did briefly outline in one of  his articles  this transformational educational movement from letter grades  to bring us to the portfolios and inadvertently gave us, who know the truth but couldn't prove it,  confirmation about how all this has transpired.  In 1999, when  Douglas B. Reeves was hired to oversee Arkansasís Smart Start initiative and Arkansas's standards, testing, and accountability programs, a colleague and I  wrote a paper entitled "OBE" Is Well and Alive in Arkansas which was distributed in a newsletter by American Family Association newsletter. The theme of  that article was that "outcomes" had been changed to "standards" to  snooker the policy makers and the  public, but in reality nothing had changed.  OBE, acronym for Outcomes Based Education was the basis of  Act 236, which was so controversial legislators supposedly repealed most of it.


             OBE proponents advocate schools with government control and no competition, no grade levels, no grades, not time limits, new types of tests,  no memorization or drills and no textbooks. 


       Stiggins, a national expert in assessessment  says, "[T] the concept of mastery learning has evolved through its various incarnations over the past decades, from behavioral objectives to minimum competencies to outcomes-based education and finally to standards-driven schools."  (emphasis added.)22


  Note:  The last paragraph above is an example of  how the  educrats  change  the names over and over  to keep the policy makers and the public in the dark.  They have done an excellent job.  Many teachers know the truth, but they seem to have no voice except through the AEA, and the AEA is part of all this.  (A number of organizations have also changed names for the same reason)


Note in the quote above Stiggins  also says, p. 471  "In addition, it is common to find the concepts of "portfolios" and "performance assessment" closely linked in current literature...You have four forms of assessment in your repertoire: selected response, essay, performance assessment, and personal communication...So they can all appear in portfolios"   23  [Note:.  All others are sub headings that come under portfolios.   In other words, performance assessment or our criterion referenced state tests are just a transitional stage to portfolios which is in direct opposition to objective measures mandated by Act 235.]


            Stiggins further elaborates on this point in his article under a heading called "Foundations of a More Productive Future:  Development  "No. 1:  Mastery Learning and Criterion-Referenced Assessment.  One part of the foundation of a stronger classroom assessment future was put in place with the emergence of mastery learning models with the work of Bloom and his associates cited above.  He advanced the idea that the social mission of schools might be shifted from that of merely sorting students to ensuring attainment of specific competencies.  Schools that held the amount of time available to learn constant, while permitting the amount learned to differ among students, might be reorganized to permit amount of time available to learn to vary, while holding constant the amount learned."24  [In other words in mastery learning  there is no need for grades; a checkmark that students have mastered the outcomes or some assignment in a portfolio  substitutes for the grade, and students can have as long as they need to master the outcome.  Of  course, then you have students retaking tests over and over because there is no pressure to pass the first time since there are no time limits. Doing away with grades will have the same effect on student motivation as doing away with salaries would have on adult employees.]


            Stiggins continues, "This idea brought with it the potential of a parallel shift in thinking about the role of assessment in the schooling process.  Assessments that had traditionally been designed to yield a dependable rank order of students might be redesigned to provide dependable evidence of content mastery.  Under the leadership of Jim Popham and others, we began to explore a new kind of test score interpretation:  criterion-referenced assessment."25


            If legislators believe in Stiggins' philosophy (and be sure to read the quotes below by other professional development leaders in Arkansas - and these are just a drop in the bucket of  the documentation we have on this,)  by all means increase staff development and the state benchmark exams called criterion referenced test;  But wouldn't it be appropriate to let your constituents know this is your philosophy.  Why not let  the people in on the debate instead of  allowing the State Department to snooker the legislators and the public who disagree with this philosophy. It seems ridiculous, and yes even immoral, to waste all these millions (77 million for Act 35 alone) for educational reform only to allow  the legislators and the State Department of  Department  to neutralize or counteract  each other's efforts.


Debbie Pelley



(Be sure to read  quotes in bold print by latest three main experts in assessment and staff development  in Arkansas below)  These are excerpts from other papers we have written.


 Following are quotes by Doublas Reeves. Douglas B. Reeves was hired to oversee Arkansas's Smart Start initiative and Arkansas's standards, testing, and accountability programs for two or three years from about 1998-99 to 2002. He was featured on Arkansas Smart Start site with a question and answer section in 2000.  His videos and works were used throughout the state of  Arkansas in teacher workshops and staff development.

  •        Douglas Reeves' article "Responding to the Rhetoric of the Radical Right," "Fight them [the right] at every turn."  School Administrator, March, 1998 "Competition is not part of the human spirit, but part of modern day psychosis," and that competition perpetuate"the caste system as it presently exists," and that the competitive model is not appropriate for the educational setting. p 30 & pp 24-26  Making Standards Work

  •        Douglas Reeves says he believes in multi-age classrooms and a K-2 continuum grade card.  He says retention is not fair for children, that other forms of assessment are better than  letter or number grades, and that "some students will learn to read in one year, while others may need three years." p 19 Making Standards Work & Smart Start website

  •        Douglas Reeves ADEsn't believe in norm-referenced (standardized) tests and says that school districts' test scores should not be compared.  [This is the man who is heading up our so-called tough, rigorous accountability system.] pp 31 Making Standards Work

  •        Douglas Reeves advocates performance assessments; and he says that with many items on these kinds of tests, there is not a single 'right' answer. p 37  Making Standards Work

  •        Douglas Reeves, critical of textbooks, says that homework assignments, classroom activities, worksheets, and every course and instructional device should revolve around State Standards. pp 103, 68, 49, & 92 Making  Standards Work

The following are quotes by Willard Daggett, who was a top advisor to the Arkansas State Department of  Education  in training teachers and who headed up Character Education in Arkansas.  Quotes taken from  Preparing Students for the 1990's and Beyond by Willard R. Daggett. Daggett received an average of $10,000 a day for his presentations.   The following are just a few of  his quotes.  The school board of one  large school district in refused to let him speak on their campus for a scheduled event after they read his material.    His credibility has also  been questioned in newspaper articles.  See this link for more details: "Revealing Quotes of  Willard Daggett" and "Newspaper Article Outlining Dishonesty of  Willard Daggett"

Outcome Based Education (OBE)

            "The work of the outcome-based education groups across the nation can serve as a springboard for developing new curricula," and  "Movement towards a more outcome-based education program" should enable us to identify the knowledge skills, and behaviors students and adults need.  (pp. 20 & 19)

Change Traditional Curricula and Assessment

            "[W]e must have the courage to abandon our traditional curricula and assessment methods," and "[I]t would benefit our students and country to abandon the traditional courses, curricula, and assessment programs in place in our schools."  (Intro. p. 1 and p. 25)

Letter Grades Have Little, If Any, Significance,

            "Present systems, which give letter or numerical grades for independent courses, tell employers, parents, and others little, if anything, about the true progress students are making,"  (p. 29)

Portfolios, Expanded Basics, and Testing

            "Major changes in state and local testing programs cannot be made until curricula have been modified. . . It is apparent, however, that when we begin to teach higher level skills and the expanded basic skills [expanded skills are adaptability, personal and civic responsibility, self-esteem, working cooperatively and as a team, etc.) we will need to change our testing programs and move towards portfolios and authentic assessment techniques."  (pp. 29, 25, & . 10)


Child Centered Progressive Education -- They don't believe in standardized testing


More Quotes by Richard Stiggins, in addition to those quoted earlier, who is presently helping Arkansas with Assessment and Teacher Staff Development

"For many decades in American education, educators didn't need to worry about motivating all students. Those who were motivated tended to work hard and learn a lot. They occupied high places in the rank order. Those who were unmotivated and did not learn were available to fill the lower ranks. The result was a dependable ranking of students. Thus schools could serve their socially appointed purpose of sorting students and channeling them into the various segments of our social and economic system."26 [This basically says that traditional education was and is  immoral


"We all grew up in classrooms in which our teachers used the threat of assessment, evaluation, and grading to instill fear, believing that this would cause us to behave in academically responsible ways.  They believed that to maximize the learning, one had to maximize the anxiety.  Threaten students with dire consequences of low test scores and you center their attention on learning. Assessment was almost universally regarded as the great intimidator."27  


"In times when grades served only to rank students, it didn't seem to matter what those grades actually meant.  Today, however, we need to produce meaningful communication about student attainment of ascending levels of ever-more-advanced competencies." 28 [Meaningful communication - euphemism for report card - consists of  Portfolios, check lists, student - anecdotal narrative definition of student achievement, rubrics, etc.]





 1  Jean Err Stenmark  - Assessment Alternatives in Mathematics  (Quotes from a teacher's manual given to teachers in Arkansas through Math Crusades Equals workshops,  pp 5, 31, 33.


2  Richard J. Stiggins   "Assessment, Student confidence, and School Success" pp 7, 8


3  Ibid. p. 1


4  Richard J.Stiggins, "The Unfulfilled Promise of  Classroom Assessment"


5  Richard J.  Stiggins,  Student Involved Classroom Assessment text, Prentice-Hall 2001 p. 51


6  Ibid. p. 409


7  Ibid. p. 410, 411


8 Ibid. p. 453


9.  Ibid. p. 463


10  Ibid. p. 187


11  Ibid. p. 47


12 Ibid. p. 46


13  Ibid. p. 47


14  Ibid. p. 477


15  Ibid. p. 471


16  Ibid. p. 468


17  Richard J. Stiggins, "Assessment Crisis:   The Absence of Assessment FOR Learning", p. 8.


18  Richard J. Stiggins, "The Unfulfilled Promise of Classroom Assessment"  p. 13.


19  Ibid. p. 11


20  Ibid. p. 9


21 Richard J. Stiggins   "Assessment, Student confidence, and School Success" p 8


22 Richard J.Stiggins, "The Unfulfilled Promise of  Classroom Assessment" p. 10


23  Richard J.  Stiggins,  Student Involved Classroom Assessment text, Prentice-Hall 2001 p. 471


24  Richard J.Stiggins, 'The Unfulfilled Promise of  Classroom Assessment" p. 13.


25.  Ibid. p. 10


26.  Richard J. Stiggins   :Assessment, Student confidence, and School Success" p 4


27.  Richard J.Stiggins, "The Unfulfilled Promise of  Classroom Assessment" p. 11


28  Richard J.  Stiggins,  Student Involved Classroom Assessment text, Prentice-Hall 2001 p. 463.