- Barbara Blackburn, author of “Rigor is Not a Four-Letter Word,” writes for District Administration that educators can take a number of steps to elevate the level of rigor in classroom assessments.
- Teachers first need to assess the current level of rigor they are using in assessments, revise the tests to raise that level, and then implement the new testing strategies, Blackburn writes.
- She suggests that rigor is not about making student tasks and assessments harder, but about creating high expectations for learning, supporting students as they perform at higher levels, and allowing students to demonstrate that they have learned at those levels.
A 2013 report from the National Center on Education and the Economy called for an increase in rigor if students are to be prepared for entry into community colleges, four-year colleges and universities, or the workplace. Many states have taken this advice to heart and are acknowledging the importance of more difficult coursework and higher expectations. In fact, some are requiring that students take more rigorous courses to earn state scholarships to college.
However, figuring out where that additional rigor is best applied to classroom instruction and test creation can present its own challenge for educators. Blackburn defines academic rigor as “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,” while educator Brian Sztabnik defines it as the “result of work that challenges students’ thinking in new and interesting ways.”
There are several tools and strategies educators can use to increase rigor. Some use Webb's Depth of Knowledge or the Webb Leveling tool as a guide to doing this. District leaders can also use DeKalb County Schools' online toolkit as an entry point to mapping their own approaches.
But rigor isn't always about increasing the depth of test questions. There are other ways to assess students and evaluate how deeply they understand the material. The goal is to make sure that they truly comprehend what they are being taught and not just parroting back memorized answers.