The Westside Way Blog

What is Academic Rigor?

posted on February 19, 2015

What is Rigor?
Rigor has long been a term used in education and has a tendency to pop up in school vision statements. Some would call it a buzzword in education right now. But, what is rigor? The Glossary of Education Reform explains rigor as follows: “The term rigor is widely used by educators to describe instruction, schoolwork, learning experiences, and educational expectations that are academically, intellectually, and personally challenging. Rigorous learning experiences, for example, help students understand knowledge and concepts that are complex, ambiguous, or contentious, and they help students acquire skills that can be applied in a variety of educational, career, and civic contexts throughout their lives.” Rigor is not simply defined as a difficult task, but rather as a task that challenges students in critical ways and challenges their assumptions rather than just information recall of knowledge or processes. Tasks that are difficult are not always rigorous, and it should never be assumed that because something is hard it is by default rigorous.

What does rigor look like at Westside?
Imagination, Rigor, Service. The core values of Westside Atlanta Charter School. Dialogue between teachers frequently centers on these values and how we focus on them each day. Student centered instruction that goes beyond worksheets and challenges students with hands on experience and inquiry based learning offers opportunities for critical thinking and challenging learning that is by definition rigorous. Working with students so that they can construct knowledge in a partnership with teachers allows students to engage in the metacognition that is the hallmark of rigor. The following graphic is the Rigor/Relevance framework, and teachers will be using the framework to analyze current lessons and assessments to determine where they fall in the levels of rigor.




For an activity to be rigorous, teachers must plan for students to move past the stages of acquiring and recalling knowledge into making the knowledge their own and adapting it to for purposes of further learning and synthesis. Teachers at Westside are currently working to address rigor in assessment. This requires teachers to examine how they assess students in a balanced manner that includes paper/pencil assessments as well as performance assessments. It also requires that teachers put a critical eye to the assessments they currently use to ensure the questions give students the opportunity to synthesize information in new ways as well as demonstrate a basic acquisition of knowledge.


What can families do at home? 

TALK! Allow students to explain what they are doing at school. Albert Einstein said “If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t know it well enough.” Allowing students to engage in discussions about what they are learning gives them the opportunity to begin to think about their learning and become the teacher. This can take the shape of explaining how to regroup numbers in multi digit addition or explaining how a plant grows. Ask open ended questions and use sophisticated language with your student.


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  • There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.

    - CS Lewis
  • If you can imagine it, you can achieve it; if you can dream it, you can become it.

    - William Arthur Ward
  • Books can be dangerous. The best ones should be labeled ‘This could change your life’.

    - Helen Exley
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