Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels,
each student is supported so he or she can learn at high levels,
and each student demonstrates learning at high levels (Blackburn, 2008).

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Evaluating Content for Rigor

What does rigor look like in the classroom? Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said recently in an interview with EdWeek, "We want to reward rigor and challenge the status quo." He has said that he would like to use part of a federal incentive-grant fund to reward states, districts, and nonprofit groups that have set rigorous standards for their students and raised student achievement. Here's one idea from Rigor is NOT a Four-Letter Word to increase rigor in your classroom.

Part of respecting your students is expecting high-quality work from each one, while considering where a student truly is on the learning continuum. The first step this requires is to define high quality. Rubrics are an effective way for you to determine your expectations for quality. However, if you don’t have anything for comparison, you may unknowingly lower your standards.

Try comparing your expectations for students to published national standards from organizations such as the SREB, NCEE, and Mid-Continent Regional Education Laboratory.

It’s also important to simply sit down with other teachers and discuss what your expectations should be. Choose a standard assignment that students complete, such as writing a short essay. Share copies of the paper with other teachers, and ask everyone to assess it. Since everyone participates, each teacher actually assesses a paper from each of the other teachers. Then come together to discuss what you found. It’s likely that some teachers will be more rigorous, and others less. However, as you talk about how you determine quality, you’ll come to consensus about your expectations.

I recommend that you first meet with other teachers of your same subject and grade level. Over time, meet with teachers one grade level above yours, or if you teach high school, meet with teachers from your local community college or university. Ask questions such as, “What do you expect students to know before they come into your class? From your perspective, what are the overall strengths students bring into your classroom? What are some areas that students struggle with?” Finally, meet with teachers one grade level below yours. You’ll discover new information that will help guide your instruction for the coming year.

Here’s a tool to help you assess your standards and expectations. Choose something from your current lesson or unit. List it in the left column, then compare it as noted in the right column.

Standards or Expectations



Comparison to benchmarks


Comparison of assessment with other teachers


What I learned from teachers a grade higher:


What I learned from teachers a grade lower:

What I want to do with the new information I learned:

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