Where’s the Focus? Rigor and the Common Core


By Christine Mason. I have long considered ‘rigor’ to be the sweet spot of the Common Core State Standards.  In fact, by implementing the Common Core and other high academic standards, schools begin to focus more on deep conceptual understanding, problem solving, and critical thinking, then we may in fact be achieving some worthwhile ends.  However, as I talk with schools and districts, I am wondering ‘where is the focus?’ 

Here are a few focus questions for principals and other leaders:

  1. Does your school year seem like a blur, moving rapidly from one initiative (or standard) to another, constantly pushing for more student achievement?

  2. Is it hard, or perhaps even impossible, to get caught up?

  3. Are you able to look at your curricula and assessment and identify a few key achievements?

  4. Have you identified standards where you will focus on rigor?

If your principalship seems like a constant struggle for continuous improvement, perhaps it is time to refocus.  Here are two hints for establishing focus and increasing rigor in school and your classrooms:

Do a few things well, rather than being mediocre at many.This really is another way of saying ‘focus.’ Help your teachers and students to have memorable experiences where they feel the challenge, have high standards and expectations, succeed, and celebrate their success.

Consider where rigor is most critical and plan memorable experiences. In choosing a few places to focus, try to match those to areas where rigor is critical.  Consider the following standard (Grade 1): ‘With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question‘  To meet this standard, students will gain experiences with recall, examining questions to determine what is needed, and gathering information. 

If rigor is added, higher expectations are established for the degree of detail with recall, perhaps the number of facts recalled, being precise in examining questions, and being sleuths to gather information.  When rigor is added, students have opportunities to be more engaged in determining such things as what questions they want to answer (setting their own goals) and how they want to search for information (perhaps even determining the metacognitive strategies).  For this standard, if students have a few memorable experiences, then it may be easier for them to remember the steps and procedures