Every school in America is focused on rigor.  Although it is a buzzword, rigor is something that we need to strive for in our classrooms and our schools.  Barbara Blackburn, a prominent educational author defines rigor as;

Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he or she can learn at high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high level.  (Blackburn, 2008).

By this definition, rigor requires high expectations, support, and a student product that allows students to demonstrate their learning.  In other words, we expect students to perform at high levels, yet we still provide support for these students.  

Expectation and rigor can be very abstract concepts.  If we want our rigor to increase, we need to have a method to measure rigor.  In the past, we have used Bloom’s taxonomy to measure rigor.  Unfortunately, it is difficult to quantify Recall, Analyze, Create, etc.  A seminar this summer introduced me to Webb’s Depth of Knowledge scale.  This would allow us to quantify the depth of knowledge to which our teachers are instructing.  

Hess’s Cognitive Rigor Matrix combines Bloom’s and Webb’s to produce a very effective tool for teachers and school leaders to measure the level of rigor in our classrooms.  


Teachers often ask “what rigor looks like?”.  This matrix gives clear examples of how to move our instruction “down and to the right”.  

During class walk-throughs we use this matrix to measure student products as well as the questioning in the classroom.  Teachers use the matrix in their planning to gage their lessons.  

This has been one of the best tools that we’ve used this year.  

There is a matrix for Math/Science, Reading, and ELA.