by Barbara Blackburn, author of Rigor is not a 4-Letter Word
As we’ve discussed 7 myths about rigor, and the characteristics of rigor in curriculum, the final component is rigorous assessment. There are (at least) three aspects of rigorous assessments. The degree to whether the assessment is:
2. Purposeful, and
3. Promotes Understanding
1. The Assessment Is Appropriate
First, assessments should be appropriate. Too often, we water our assessments down to make them easier for students. For example, I was in a first grade classroom where students were working on numbers up to ten. The assignment was to simply color ten crayons in various groupings, despite the fact that was too easy, based on the earlier work.
Solve the problem. Show your work. I have 10 crayons. Some are red. Some are blue. How many of each could I have? How many red? How many blue? Find as many combinations as you can.
The assessment item below reflects another powerful strategy–starting at lower levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy and moving up.
Questions for Literature: Free At Last by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Creating: Create your own speech using “Free At Last” as inspiration to save the oppressed from the injustice of big government.
Evaluating: Why does Martin Luther King use words that compare the rights of American citizens to a check?
Analyzing: Compare Abraham Lincoln’s “Gettysburg Address” to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Free At Last.”
Applying: Show how historical events prior to August 28, 1963 inspired Martin Luther King’s speech “Free At Last”.
Understanding: Paraphrase Martin Luther King’s speech in your own words.
Remembering: What does it mean to be free?
2. The Assignment Is Purposeful
Next, the assessment should be purposeful.
As you think about in-class and out-of-class assignments, consider the standard(s) you are teaching, the type of thinking you want to see from students, and the ultimate product you would like. For example, you may want to prepare students for a multiple-choice test. If so, some of your questions should be multiple-choice of varying complexity.
In Angie Wiggins sixth-grade social studies classroom, she recently taught about ancient cultures. She also incorporates rigorous work, and wanted her students to work over time to do research. She designed an assignment that students worked on both in class and outside of class. You’ll find the assignment is easily adaptable to other grade levels.
Choose a culture and a topic that you are interested in and that relates to one of the ancient cultures in the sixth grade social studies curriculum. Decide on your research questions that are broad and will provide interesting information. Complete your research, using at least three sources. Take notes during your research. Create a virtual museum exhibit about your culture and topic. Present your research in a costume that will represent your culture’s clothing. Bring and serve a food that would have been eaten by the people of your culture.
3. The Assessment Promotes Understanding
Finally, your assessment should yield quality results. In one of his high school classes, my son was given a list of 250 words to memorize for a class. The words would be used throughout the year. Rather than simply memorizing them, it would be more appropriate to introduce the words in context when they are relevant to the content. Then they could be part of the lesson, with a focus not only on the definition, but on the related concepts and possible examples and non-examples. This allows for full comprehension rather than simple memorization.
As an alternative, Scott Bauserman, from Decatur Central High School in Indiana, asks his students to choose a topic from a completed social studies unit and design a game to show what they have learned. The finished product must teach about the topic, use appropriate vocabulary and processes, and be fun to play. As he explains,
“Students had to construct the game, and write the rules. I received a wide variety. One game I will always remember was about how a bill gets passed into law. We spent time [in class] talking about all the points where a bill in Congress or the state General Assembly could be killed, pigeon-holed, or defeated.
“The student took a box the size of a cereal box, set up a pathway with appropriate steps along the way, constructed question/answer cards, and found an array of tokens for game pieces. If a player answered a question correctly, he or she would roll the dice and move along the path to passage. But the student had cut trap doors at the points where a bill could be killed, and if a player landed on a trap door/bill-stopper, the player to the right could pull a string, making that player’s token disappear from the board.”
The player would have to start over. Not a bad game from a student who has fetal alcohol syndrome and is still struggling to pass his classes.
A Final Note
Another example from science. The first question was to use a graph to identify data. Then in the next problem, students were required to collect, organize, record, and display data in pictographs and bar graphs where each picture or cell might represent more than one piece of data. Then, they were required to interpret that data.
What a great example of a rigorous assessment!
Barbara is a best-selling author of 14 books, including Rigor Is Not A Four-Letter Word. A nationally recognized expert in the areas of rigor and motivation, she collaborates with schools and districts for professional development. Barbara can be reached through her website or her blog; 3 Statements That Describe Rigorous Assessment; image attribution flickr user vancouverfilmschool