A narrow definition of high school rigor?

Are reformers’ definitions of high school ‘rigor’ too narrow or too dependent on standardized tests results? Researchers Norton Grubb and Jeannie Oakes reviewed several recent high-profile reports by blue-ribbon groups that urgently call for more a more rigorous high school experience. Grubb and Oakes found the reports to be ‘simplistic and seriously flawed’ and argue that they fail to address the kind of rigor associated with higher levels of learning and problem solving.

“Most discussions in these reports focus on narrow definitions of rigor — higher test scores, more demanding courses, or both — while ignoring other conceptions of rigor that may be as valid, if not more so, to discussions of how high schools should better fill society’s needs,” says a press release highlighting their findings.

Rigor, the authors contend, can be about “depth rather than breadth” and involve more sophisticated levels of understanding including higher-order skills and the ability to apply learning in unfamiliar settings. They say these skill goals (although highly touted by some business and industry groups like the Partnership for 21st Century Skills) are largely neglected in the commission reports.

Grubb and Oakes make their argument in a policy brief titled, “Restoring Value to the High School Diploma: The Rhetoric and Practice of Higher Standards,” published jointly by the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder.

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