Rigor - Academic rigor refers to learning in which students demonstrate a thorough in-depth mastery of challenging tasks to develop cognitive skills through reflective thought, analysis, problem solving, evaluation or creativity. It’s the quality of thinking, not the quantity, that defines academic rigor, and rigorous learning can occur at any school grade and in any subject.
Relevance- Relevance refers to learning in which students apply core knowledge, concepts, or skills, to solve real-world problems. Relevant learning is interdisciplinary and contextual. It is created, for example, through authentic problems or tasks, simulations, service learning, connecting concepts to current issues and teaching others.
Another fantastic resource in addition to the definitions above is the Rigor/Relevance Framework by the International Center for Leadership in Education. This tool helps educators and schools adjust curriculum, instruction, and assessment to create high standards and increase student achievement. The research has found that successful high schools provide learning opportunities that are relevant, contain rigorous coursework, and establish meaningful relationships with teachers (See Improving High Schools Through Rigor, Relevance, and Relationships).
I believe that we are moving the the right direction at NMHS in terms of increasing rigor and relevancy in the quest to improve student achievement. With the assistance and support of Central Office, we have worked together to make the following changes:
- Replaced the antiquated Departmental structure including “Chairs” with an Interdepartmental system that includes “Interdepartmental Liaisons”. Teachers now meet as part of three overreaching groups that include Humanities, S.T.E.M., and Special Programs (special education, arts, and technology).
- Overhauled our District mission statement to reflect a new shared vision and philosophy that not only reflects, but puts into practice, many of the core concepts outlined in Dr. Daggett’s definitions above.
- Created The Academies@New Milford High School.
- Expanded our Virtual High School Offerings.
- Added 3 new A.P. courses (European History, Language and Composition, Physics B) and making all such courses available to any student wishing to take them.
- Total overhaul of our Program of Studies, which included the re-branding, refinement, and creation of innovative courses more relevant to the interests of a student in the 21st Century.
- Implemented Professional Learning Communities (PLC's) as our means of professional development entirely focused on improving student achievement.
- Systematic use of research-based Classroom Walkthroughs by the HS Administrative Team. This week we presented data the the staff on student engagement that we have been acquiring over the past three months. This was accompanied by a discussion of numerous strategies that our teachers could utilize to increase engagement in an authentic fashion.