By Cassandra Erkens
In the countries out-performing North America on the PISA report, educational leaders began their school improvement efforts by focusing on increasing rigor (Ripley, 2013). In the US, businesses and colleges alike are clamoring for today’s graduates to be functioning at higher levels than they currently are. Toward that end, we’ve seen an increase in the level of rigor demanded in the newly emerging next generation standards (Common Core, national science standards, new state or province created standards, and so on). The question is no longer, should we increase the levels of rigor for our learners, but rather, how can we successfully increase the levels of rigor we offer and exact from our learners today?
In some cases, when looking at the new standards that are emerging today, teachers have lamented, “but our students can’t do that today!” Or, “Is that even a realistic expectation for the age group I teach?” There is growing concern regarding whether or not success will even be possible. Fortunately, we have role models: teachers of all age groups and subject matters have been able to prove time and again that we can successfully increase the levels of rigor for students. It does, however, require that we teach and assess differently during the learning journey. But we have concrete evidence that what we focus on through teaching and assessing practices is what will get done.
Increasing rigor cannot happen in a vacuum. Simply demanding more rigor without creating an engaging experience or offering ongoing support can lead to bad – maybe even devastating – educational practices. Rigor is a single ingredient in the complex algorithm of teaching and learning. In order to increase the levels of rigor during learning, teachers must have attended to establishing healthy relationships and creating engaging and relevant experiences with and for their learners. The 3 R’s (Relationships, Relevance, and Rigor) are interconnected and integral to a teacher’s success in preparing our learners for the demands of the world before them.