Approaches to Rigor

Recently we had the opportunity to present at a K-12 Conference and we hosted a roundtable on the Pros and Cons of Rigor and Acceleration. 

Rigor is an important topic and always deserves attention. NAIS just shared an article on the “Dark Side of Rigor.” 

It’s a great read with examples of specific schools and how they are redefining rigor in order to address the undue stresses associated with this trend.  

Rigor, though, is a positive in many contexts. Ideally, rigor might be a course of study that pushes students to think in new ways or to grapple with new ideas, explore more challenging materials or create different or more complex projects to demonstrate their knowledge. Rigor should connect to subject or skill mastery and solid outcomes. Most importantly, at completion the student should be confident and ready for whatever comes next. 

Acceleration is perhaps adjacent to rigor. It’s often a way to structure that rigor in. Meaning, you can show pathways to different classes so that students can plan, perhaps even before high school, what they need to take to be ready for those rigorous classes. Acceleration can also be thought of as a way to start small, with 1 or 2 challenging classes in the middle school years or early high school to build up the confidence to take on more or make good choices about what load to take. 

At TextbookHub, schools we support offer a lot of breadth and depth in their course offerings. In addition to textbooks aligned specifically for AP, we also see a wide range of offerings including classes like financial algebra, Engineering Design, Leadership, Social Entrepreneurship, Zoology, Marine Science, International Relations and more that likely satisfy requirements or serve as electives. To us, they seem like great opportunities to go deeper in a subject or to learn specific tools or approaches. 

We’re also seeing classes conceived around themes. These include City and Selfhood, The Good Life, and Revolutions Throughout History. 

And there are engaging subjects such as Math Concepts in Art, Detective Fiction, and Statistics in Sports. 

What is impressive is the creativity in these course offerings. They sound like classes you might find at college, and they don’t include words like “Honors” or “Advanced.” These kinds of classes might be perfect for making rigor something that is personalized for each student.

When we see all of these kinds of course offerings, we want to go back to high school again.

Here’s a parent perspective from a TBH staffer, “This part year my student opted to take Biotech class instead of the traditional AP Bio class. It was a way to balance her heavy load, but also she had recently had a chance to see some samples for her project put through a mass spectrometer and she was interested in real testing processes and other concrete applications. I think it helped her envision doing this work in college and career, so it was a good choice for her.” 

Balance is the key. Whether we are parents or teachers or school advisors, we can find ways to personalize rigor and create balance for the students in our care. 

Schools, teachers, families and students will continue to be a conversation about rigor going forward. It will continue to be important to look at all sides of this issue and for all the participants making choices and setting expectations. 



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