Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Hitting the Mark: Strategic Planning for Academic Rigor

Academic journal article Delta Kappa Gamma Bulletin

Hitting the Mark: Strategic Planning for Academic Rigor

Article excerpt

This article presents a comprehensive example of academic instruction in one elementary school in which administrative and teacher leaders decided to take a stand for students by examining the extent to which instruction was hitting or missing the mark of academic rigor. As a consultant in the school the author found several areas where the participants could significantly improve instructional practice to increase academic rigor. Perspectives on strategic planning to align instruction to standards, to develop higher level questions, and to promote student automaticity are based on conclusions drawn from classroom observations.

Introduction

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Initiative establishes a single set of common educational objectives for kindergarten through Grade 12 in English language arts and mathematics. Forty-five American states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity have adopted the Standards as a basis to determine what every student should know and do to be college- and career-ready (Common Core State Standards, 2010).

With the implementation of the Standards, school administrators, curriculum facilitators, and other educational leaders have become increasingly obsessed with the concept of academic rigor-and for good reason. Although Blackburn (2008) and others agreed there is no one concrete definition of academic rigor, the mission of the CCSS comes pretty close: "The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers" (CCSS, 2010, p. 1). Furthermore, Wagner (2006) succinctly defined the outcomes of rigorous instruction as creating a jury-ready" populace who can "analyze an argument, weigh evidence, recognize bias (their own and others), distinguish fact from opinion, and be able to balance the sometimes competing principles of justice and mercy" (p. 29). If one examines each of Wagners expectations and plots them on Blooms Revised Taxonomy Table according to the tenets outlined by Anderson and Krathwohl (2001) in A Taxonomy for Learning, Teaching, and Assessing: A Revision to Bloom's Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, one would find that Wagners objectives fall at the upper end of the cognitive domains. In essence, Wagner concluded that college- and career-ready students should be able to analyze and evaluate conceptual knowledge and apply underlying procedures for concluding a verdict.

Thus, much of what the "frightening" new standards call for in the form of academic rigor is no different than what has been advocated in education since Benjamin Blooms taxonomy originally surfaced in 1956. The astonishing revelation is that many teachers are still unsure exactly how the taxonomy should be used to align instruction, learning, and assessment, and, as a result, instruction and, in many cases, assessments tend to focus on recalling facts and understanding concepts-missing the mark of bigger academic gains that come when students are expected to make decisions about the implementation of procedures, determine points of view, evaluate and critique these points of view against specified criteria, and create alternative perspectives based on conceptual understandings.

This article presents a comprehensive example of academic instruction in one elementary school in which courageous administrative and teacher leaders decided to take a stand for students by examining the extent to which instruction was hitting or missing the mark of academic rigor. As a consultant working with these educators who were so willing to look at themselves, I found several areas where instructional practice could be significantly improved to increase the intent and extent of academic rigor. With a history of low performance and a high-poverty student population, but with funds from a national grant at their aid, school leaders at Courageous Elementary were determined not just to eliminate their school's state-defined status as "in need of immediate improvement" but also to eliminate low expectations, improve teacher practice, and increase student outcomes for both learning and living by advancing academic rigor. …

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