Chris Jakicic

Chris Jakicic, EdD, an author and a consultant, was principal of Woodlawn Middle School in Illinois from 1999 to 2007. She began her career teaching middle school science.

Should We Be Worried About Rigor?

As schools across the country are digging more deeply into the work of the Common Core, teachers are beginning to understand why people are calling the standards more rigorous. Many teachers have shared that they are happy with the standards and feel that they represent worthwhile goals for students. However, teachers are often leery of the expectations for rigor. They worry, for example, that students who have already found it difficult to read at grade level will be lost when we increase the complexity of the text—by increasing Lexile measures, qualitative measures, as well as expectations for more analysis. They also worry about asking struggling students to learn the concepts of math needed to solve more complex problems and to justify their thinking.

When teachers work in high-performing collaborative teams, they find they have a much better chance of being able to increase the rigor for students. In fact, there are at least four ways teams can do this work more efficiently than individual teachers:

  1. Teams interpret the standards much more deeply when they answer the first question of a PLC together: what do we want our students to know? Teams who work to agree collectively about which standards are essential must build consensus about what those standards look like when students have reached proficiency. This process leads to deeper understanding for all teachers and lays the foundation for looking at what rigor means for their students.
  2. Teams talk about and must reach consensus about the cognitive demand of these new standards when they unwrap them together. Finding and defining specific learning targets require deeper discussion about not only the meaning of this rigor, but also about what student proficiency will look like.
  3. Teams must learn new instructional strategies together if they are to help their students meet these more demanding standards. When they embrace the idea that learning together is important work for teams, they feel more confident that they can use important new strategies in their own classroom. High-performing teams are comfortable talking about how to do the work, not just about the work itself. Consider the focus on close reading. We are asking teachers who teach ELA, as well as the content areas, to provide more challenging text in their classrooms and have students read them for multiple purposes. This requires finding quality text, developing several lessons for that text, and learning what the facilitation of a close read should look like. Math teachers are moving from being the expert who demonstrates an algorithm to being the facilitator who asks scaffolding and advancing questions as students dig into problems with multiple right answers. One math task might require a full planning period for teams to just plan the questions they want to ask.
  4. One of the most difficult things that the new CCSS are requiring teachers to do is to find appropriate and aligned text and math tasks. While many are finding quality materials online, this requires time to search and evaluate for accuracy and quality. High-performing teams assume this responsibility together rather than as individuals.

Rigor isn’t quite as threatening when teams work collaboratively to approach the work. Experienced PLC teams recognize this work as the same work they’ve always done, just with a new set of standards. Working and learning together will be essential for success with the CCSS.


Justin Bryant

I wish all teachers can form some type of extreme rigor in our lesson plan. However, I feel that some students will be left behind. Some school districts don't actually focus on the needs of the students or schools as individuals. If there was such a thing I believe that students will be college ready and no students will be left behind. Rigor is a touchy subject with some/most teachers that I currently work with because schools get money funded based on the amount of AP classes the schools offer and in my case we have students that do no belong in those classes. We have to look at the population of the school and the needs of the students.

Posted on

Kymm F

Great point! I completely agree with the importance of developing a school wide learning community. Nieto (2003) states that "viewing teachers as members of an intellectual community means understanding that teaching is enriched not only by individual excellence but also by collective effort." Providing us opportunities to work with other grade levels allows us to see the whole picture. It would definitely help us gain a better understanding of the Common Core.

Posted on


I totally see how the implementation of PLCs to discuss strategies to increase the rigor in the classroom while transitioning to CC would be a huge benefit to the teacher. While the district I work for has an employee that works endless hours to research and provide us with resources that we need to effectively implement CCSS I think after reading this we could benefit from having collaborative meetings to discuss our thoughts and concerns with our colleagues.

Posted on

Danielle Morrison

Thank you for offering ways to help alleviate the stress of meeting the rigor of the Common Core standards. I work in a district where PLC's are the norm and we are now working on creating new curriculum for our English 12 classes. Working as a PLC will be crucial in the development of this course and it is nice to have a reminder about how PLC's can help us be successful.

Posted on

Monica C

This explains exactly how I feel with the rigor in the Common Core Standards. However, I learned that it would relieve so much stress if my school had PLCs and collaborative meetings to discuss issues and strategies.

Posted on

Natalia C

I could not agree with you more on the attention the "rigorous" component of the Common Core Standards. When each teacher faces the set of standards for their grade level, it will most definitely seem overwhelming. The support of Professional Learning Communities is crucial in competing this challenging task. Though some school districts hold grade level meetings during which teachers spend a lot of time studying and discussing standards applied to their grade level, the value of the school wide learning communities is unquestionable. Looking at the standards of just one grade level does not give a complete picture. Examining the progression of each standard from one grade level to another will increase teachers' understanding of the standards. It will also be essential for differentiating instructions and will help teachers to bring "rigor" to their classrooms.

Posted on