The definition of rigor

I got an email this morning from Ria Galanos asking about the definition of rigor.  I loved the question because it made me consider a term we use quite frequently.  I’m going to share my answer to her below.


Rigor is the intersection of the amount of content covered and the depth to which students understand and are able to apply that content.

A particular time frame of instruction is considered rigorous for three reasons:
1) An appropriate amount of content is covered for the time period.
You could spend an entire semester covering decision structures, students would get a LOT of practice, and be an expert in boolean expressions – but the time period is too long for the general community to accept that outcome as ‘rigorous’.
2) High expectations are communicated and held.
Students must demonstrate mastery of the stated course objectives to achieve decent scores.  A rigorous course includes assessment that measures individual student learning and holds students accountable for stated course objectives.
3) Students develop fluid knowledge.
Students in a rigorous course are expected to do more than memorize and regurgitate.  They should be able to apply the knowledge to new problems and situations, and discuss benefits and tradeoffs between solutions in open ended problems.  This aligns with higher levels of bloom.

What do you think? Does this align with your definition of rigor?

One Response to “The definition of rigor”

  1. Ria Galanos Says:

    Thanks for taking the time to help me frame my understanding of a term that is thrown around in almost every discussion I have with fellow educators. #1 is an interesting point and one that makes sense; I never thought about that before. For #2, how can you measure rigor based on a student mastering stated course objectives as the course objectives can be written poorly? For instance, if my course objective is for students to be able to trace recursive methods and it doesn’t go into more depth than that, how would I know what type of questions to put in front of my students if I want my class to be rigorous? (I know the answer to this and you clearly stated it in #3.) I guess my argument is that I would want course descriptions to be written with a clear understanding of the topic’s level of rigor and they often are not. Leigh Ann – thanks for helping me talk all this out.

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