What is Rigor?

Since the implementation of the Common Core Standards, there has been a greater emphasis on rigor in education. For as much as rigor is demanded and students are expected to perform rigorously, rigor is left up to the eye of the beholder. Often, rigor is mischaracterized by more work. An example of this is the assertation that a marathon is the most rigorous race for a runner. In my opinion, being a sprinter is just as rigorous as running a marathon. They both require intense physical training and discipline; one just travels a farther distance. How do you know if the work a student is doing is rigorous?

The answer is to look at the thinking of the standard; however, this is not as easy as it sounds. Many rely on Bloom’s Taxonomy to define rigor, which organizes learning objectives into six levels from knowledge to evaluation. The original taxonomy was revised in 2001 with verbs assigned to levels, which range from remembering to creating. Dr. Norman Webb challenges the notion of just focusing on the verb of the objective, and asserts the task as a whole should be evaluated to determine rigor. His Depth of Knowledge (DOK) levels look at the alignment between the expectations and assessment. For DOK Level 1, a task might be to describe a violet. At DOK Level 2, describe how a violet is different than a dandelion. At DOK Level 3, describe how the growth of a violet is related to the climate zone in which it is planted. In each of these examples, the verb “describe” is used, but how a student is asked to “describe” is different. Relying upon a verb-based taxonomy each of these tasks would be classified as low-ordered or simple. Thus, the need to look at the verb in context as to the demands of the task.

Not only is rigor defined by the wording of the task, but also by the role of the student in completion of the task. The Rigor/Relevance Framework, developed by the International Center for Leadership in Education, combines the knowledge level with how the knowledge is applied to determine rigor. More importantly, within the framework student and teacher roles are specified. At the lowest level, the teacher is doing all the work whereas at the highest level the student is thinking and working to solve real-world problems. Thus, a classroom in which teacher lecture is the primary learning context would not be considered rigorous. Students must be active in their learning process, especially since basic knowledge can be acquired by reading a book or asking Google.

The role of schooling must be to prepare students for the world beyond brick and mortar. Implementing learning objectives which take into account how students apply and share their knowledge is the true sign of rigor.

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