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As the old adage goes, task predicts performance. But too much of what counts as instruction today is predicting and leading to teaching and learning that is not “up to standard.” Indeed, according to a 2015 Education Trust survey, less than 40% of typical classroom assignments aligned with and met the demands of the Common Core; less than 5% can truly be called exemplary.

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Research on teaching and learning has repeatedly shown that that teaching that is ambitious in expectation and design for student learning can have significant impact on student achievement. Ambitious teaching and learning is defined by:

  Fig 1:  Scholastic, 2014  Fig 2: NCLE, 2015; RAND Group, 2015


Fig 1: Scholastic, 2014
Fig 2: NCLE, 2015; RAND Group, 2015

  • Engagement of all students
  • Focus on key disciplinary ideas, problems, and processes of a given subject area
  • Emphasis on reasoning, including argumentation, reasoning, reflection
  • Adaptive and responsive to students’ learning during learning

Such teaching is not only realizable but transformative for teacher and student alike—but too few teachers are enacting it regularly. Changing that will require transforming how we learn to teach, not just the teaching itself.


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Rigor is, simply put, the extent to which what students are asked to do and the work they subsequently produce are up to the level of complexity and demands of the standard(s) and/or benchmarks(s) utilized. Rigor means to be be “up to standard”–that the teaching and learning taking place needs to address and assesses fully and meaningfully and rigorously the established benchmarks for the given grade, course, school level etc. 

Attending to rigor means considering the relevance and alignment of instruction to standards and best practices, the cognitive challenge of the task(s), and the quality and complexity of materials (such as texts).


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Improving and sustaining the quality of instruction starts with a long-term and comprehensive vision for how teachers will learn about and improve; teachers’ classroom practice must be at the center.

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