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What Is Rigor?

Rigor has been advancing in educational circuits, but many educators are still not familiar with the concept and how to support it within the classroom. Understanding rigor is vital in finding out how to approach and measure learning. Professional development for teachers can help them in this regard.

student writing a paper

What is rigor? In education, rigor refers to instruction, schoolwork, and learning experiences that are academically and intellectually stimulating. It applies to lessons that encourage students to think deeply, rather than to lessons that just demand memorization or information recall. For example, a fill-in-the-blank worksheet wouldn’t be considered rigorous by most teachers.

While some teachers may associate rigor with difficulty, many would argue that academically rigorous learning should be complex, challenging or stimulating for students, not just difficult. Rigorous learning experiences encourage students to learn more while also giving them a sense of accomplishment, whereas lessons which are simply hard will likely lead to discouragement and frustration.

Academic rigor has three phases. It includes setting the standard for students, supporting rigorous achievement, and validation of achievement.

Setting the Standard

There is a standard of excellence that teachers implicitly expect from their students. Sometimes, the standard is made clear to students through rubrics, directions, and instruction. Other times, the standard is less defined. What is crucial for establishing the proper degree of rigor in the classroom it is important to make sure that you clearly explain to students what the outcome should be. Here are some characteristics of a classroom that communicates the standards effectively:

• The teacher believes in the potential for success and communicates this belief.

• Classroom environment encourages a high degree of performance from each student.

• Lessons are designed to lead students to expected outcomes.

• Examples of desired outcomes are overtly shared with students.

• Students have the opportunity to revise their attempts.

• Higher level, thought-provoking questions are asked by the teacher.

Supporting Rigorous Achievement

Teachers must help each student move progressively towards the desired level of achievement. Teachers should ensure that they provide the necessary materials and instructional patterns, whatever content they are covering. Here are signs of a classroom environment conducive to student progress:

• Materials are organized to clearly provide instructions for the task.

• Learning tools are interactive, reinforced, and organized.

• Lessons are systematically framed from one to the next.

• Intervention tasks are utilized to ensure no student is left behind.

• Teachers are available to help students individually.

• Content is relevant to the students’ interests.

Validation of Achievement

The third step for assessment of academic rigor is for the teacher to provide students with opportunities to demonstrate their achievement in relation to the standard given. Here are various methods for allowing students to show their progress:

• A balance of summative and formative assessments provided from time to time.

• Student demonstration measured by using a rubric or other standard based assessment tool.

• Students provide a summative report.

• Class activities and homework thought of as practice.

• Students connect material to real life examples and situations.

• Students give high-level answers to high-level questions.

• Students don’t give up when faced with challenges (grit).

• Students reflect on their efforts and learning progress.


Rigor encourages deep thinking and knowledge. Learning shouldn’t be difficult; it should be stimulating. Professional development for teachers can help equip educators with methods and techniques to improve outcomes for students.



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