One of the basic, hidden problems of the high-stakes approach to education reform, and its framing of ‘rigor,’ is that it views students merely as data points, rather than recognizing their multi-dimensionality as humans, most foundationally their emotional engagement in school and attitudes toward learning.
Ron Newell puts it this way:
“The point we tried to make to school personnel is that when you pay more attention to relationships and relevance, rigor will be a by-product. When you only pay attention to rigor, in effect teach more, teach harder, make students work harder, etc., autonomy, belongingness, mastery goal orientation and engagement suffer. Eventually, hope, a measure of psychological health, is also eroded.” (emphasis added) Dr. Ron Newell in a report to the Blandin Foundation
Those that start with ‘rigor’ (which essentially has become code for an emphasis on measuring via testing) as a lever for educational reform are wasting their time. Student learning (let’s use this phrase rather than rigor), as determined by not only content knowledge, but skills, and most importantly, dispositions, comes naturally when kids feel they belong, and see the relevance of their learning. In fact, starting with rigor is at the expense of these foundational characteristics of learning, and of the hope of the students involved. And this is where our current approach to ed reform goes way wrong; a short-term, one-dimensional focus on content (and a definition of rigor limited to content difficulty, then measured via testing) at the long-term expense of students’ agency.