Understanding rigor

Understanding and Reporting on Rigor, a guide for journalists by the Hechinger Institute at Teachers’ College, Columbia is out! I was one of the writers on the project and I’d like to thank blog readers who contributed their thoughts on the meaning of rigor. Carol of Bellringers, Darren Miller of Right on the Left Coast and Robert Talbert of Casting Out Nines are quoted on the opening page; Nancy Flanagan of Teacher in a Strange Land has a long quote at the end. I had more teacher quotes — which I loved — that were cut by the editors.

On page 8 of the pdf are sample  questions from the international PISA exam, Britain (now and in 1963), Singapore, Massachusetts, California and Washington state.  It’s scary.

You can read it online or request a copy by emailing hechinger@tc.edu.

By the way, Common Core’s report asks: Why do American students do poorly on international math and science exams? Because we aren’t teaching literature, history and the arts, replies Why We’re Behind: What Top Nations Teach Their Students But We Don’t. The report looks at curricula, standards and assessments from nine countries that do well on PISA: : Australia, Canada, Finland, Hong Kong, Japan, Netherlands, New Zealand, South Korea, and Switzerland.

Curriculum Matters has more on the difficulty of international comparisons.

About Joanne


  1. Diana Senechal says:

    Congratulations–it looks very interesting so far, and I am delighted to see a report on the meaning of a word!

    I like Robert Talbert’s definition of rigor: ““Rigor is to academic work what careful practice and nuanced performance is to musical performance and what intense and committed play is to athletic performance. When we talk about a ‘rigorous course’ in something, it’s a course that examines details, insists on diligent and scrupulous study and performance, and doesn’t settle for a mild or informal contact with the key ideas.”

    And I enjoyed this piece of advice to reporters (by Joanne Jacobs, Justin Snider and Liz Willen): “Look at schools’ Web sites and informational materials. In what contexts do the words ‘rigor’ and ‘rigorous’ show up? Ask district leaders to give you concrete definitions of such terms. What does it mean, for instance, when a preschool claims to offer a ‘rigorous’ education? Do its students simply do more jumping jacks than students at neighboring

  2. This is partially tongue in cheek, and partially not —

    How do you apply the concept of “rigor” to the kindergarten curriculum.

    The “not” part has to do with my dismay over children between the ages of 60 and 72 months being required to perform at physical and cognitive levels more appropriate to 72 to 84 months.

    Now that difference is trivial at the ages of 192 to 204 months — but it is enormous at the younger level.

  3. Robert Talbert says:

    Thanks, Joanne and Diana. It’s an honor. Although I wish I had edited myself a bit more carefully; probably “sports” is a better term than “athletic performance”. Oh well.

  4. It’s a wonderful report, and I was pleased to be included in the teacher quotes–it’s always fun to be in estimable company. The report does provide lots of models and conceptions of “rigor,” one of those words that means different things to different people.

    Liz’s question is a good one. Some of the perspectives on rigor presented in the report are very focused (correctly, IMHO) on the idea that “rigor” does not mean faster or harder–but richer and more detailed. I agree that pushing curriculum down–accelerating–is often ineffective and can even be damaging, with very young children. The goal is not to be “ahead” but to be more comprehensively skilled and knowledgeable, in the end.

    I also agree with Common Core. Our curriculum can never be rigorous if it’s limited to skill-building in literacy and numeracy.

  5. Devilbunny says:

    Well, the modern British questions are certainly scary. The rest seem pretty fair, although the 1963 O-level in chemistry questions address the kind of knowledge that simply isn’t taught in high school any more, or often even in college – I’ve got a BS in chemistry, earned a bit over a decade ago, and I’m still blanking on how to tell sulfite and sulfate apart with a chemical test. It’s not particularly important to understanding chemistry in an era when there are more accurate tests that use up less of the sample.