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Rigorous Assessments: Not This, But That

by Barbara R. Blackburn, Abbigail Armstrong, and Melissa Miles

One of the challenges in today’s schools is raising the level of rigor, particularly in tasks and assessments. Too often, we settle for basic recall questions, or asking students to summarize information. However, there are ways to take standard assignments and make them more rigorous. Look at the following samples of less rigorous and more rigorous assessments.

Not This, But That

Grade Range Not This…. But That…
Primary Grades Students solve a math word problem and explain their answer. Teacher provides a math word problem with two completed solutions (which may include diagrams).  Students determine which one is incorrect and explain why. Students are given additional sets of solved problems.   They choose the incorrect one, explain why it is incorrect, and solve it correctly. By identifying and explaining misconceptions, they are practicing critical thinking skills. **students may work in pairs or small groups; number of sets is at teacher’s discretion based on students’ needs.
Upper Elementary Grades Students choose a picture that one of their classmates created.  First, they describe the strengths of the artwork, then describe how they think it could be improved based on what they learned in class. Finally, students compare and contrast the classmate’s picture with their own. Students move through an art gallery of work created by their classmates.  Each student chooses one piece of art and writes a short critique. The critique must include the student’s opinion of the artwork, support of their opinion based on the lesson taught by the teacher and the student’s own experiences, and recommendations for improvement.
Middle School Using at least two sources of information about catastrophes, students describe three types of catastrophic events, including possible causes of the events and results that occur after the catastrophe.  Then, they create a live or technology-based presentation of the information. Using their knowledge of past catastrophic events that have affected the Earth and life on earth such as earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, weather devastations, and asteroid contact, students must predict the next catastrophic event that is likely to occur, supporting the prediction with a minimum of three sources other than the classroom text.  Additionally, students should explain how the event would impact those in the affected area. Students will share this information live or in a technology-based presentation.
High School What is/are the theme(s) of “Oliver Twist”? Using details from the text to support this choice, students also describe other texts that incorporate similar theme(s). What is/are the theme(s) of “Oliver Twist”? Students use details from the text to support this choice and describe other texts that incorporate similar theme(s). “Oliver Twist” was written over 150 years ago. Students then consider our current society and explain how the themes of the text apply today?  Finally, they explain their answer, linking details from the text to specific information about a current issue or situation.

Let’s look at this another way. Below, you’ll find a variety of tasks or formats with a less rigorous example. Then, there is an explanation of why it is not as rigorous, as well as a more rigorous adaptation of the assessment. 

Moving from Less Rigorous to More Rigorous

Task/Format Less Rigorous Explanation More Rigorous

Video Presentation (used in a variety of subjects; typically grades 4 and up)

Students research a topic using at least three sources. Then, they record a video interview to share the information, embed it within a PowerPoint and present it to the class.

Despite the amount of time needed to complete the project, students are essentially summarizing information.

Students research a topic using at least three sources. After summarizing the information from each, students synthesize the information into three key statements. For each statement, students justify their statements with examples from their research. They also connect the information to real-life experiences that go beyond the text. Presentation format remains the same.

Oral answer to the question asked by the teacher (Primary K-2 Reading, but can be used with higher grade levels with upper elementary, middle, and high school reading, writing and English).

Did you like how the story ended? Why or why not? What would you change?

Answers are strictly opinion-based and require an explanation but not justification from the test.

Make a new ending for the story that is related to your life in some way. Explain how the new ending changed the story, using specific examples. 

Web Page (can be used in a variety of grade levels and subject areas, typically grades 4 and up)

Complete the WebQuest on the history of the Aborigines in Australia, along with information about aboriginal today. Create a web page about what you learned, comparing and contrasting the two.

While it is both creative and possibly time-consuming, the instructions allow students to simply recall or  summarize information, and compare and contrast.

Complete the WebQuest and the web page as described earlier. ADD: Learn about another indigenous population, such as Native Americans. How do you think the aborigines would react to a current situation facing the second population in a different country? Justify your response with specific examples.

A Final Note

As you consider how to raise the level of rigor in your classroom, it’s important to think about your tasks, assignments, and assessments. In other words, how do you expect students to “show what they know?” Incorporating higher levels of thinking in your assignments will ultimately lead to increased learning.

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