Educational Research in Action

April 13, 2014

The Common Core State Standards expect students to demonstrate deep conceptual understanding through the application of content knowledge and skills in new situations; however, “the specific content standards provide limited guidance as to how, when, or to what degree specific skills should be emphasized by educators in the classroom. Without a clear direction and use of rich, engaging learning tasks, important college and career readiness (CCR) skills and dispositions will be, at best, inconsistently or randomly addressed by teachers, or forgotten in the design of system-wide programs, curricu- lum, and instruction. What gets tested is what gets instructional attention. If assessments of CCR standards only test acquisition and basic application of academic skills and concepts, there will be little incentive for schools to focus instruction and assessment on deeper understanding and transfer of learning to new and authentic (real-world) contexts” (Hess & Gong, 2013, p.15).


Cognitive rigor encompasses the complexity of content, the cognitive engage- ment with that content, and the depth and scope of the planned learning ac- tivities. The Hess Cognitive Rigor Matrix (CRM) is a tool that was developed to enhance assessment planning and instructional practices at the classroom level (Hess, Carlock, Jones, & Walkup, 2009). The CRM superimposes two different cognitive complexity frameworks – Bloom’s (Revised) Taxonomy and Webb’s Depth of Knowledge levels – to produce a means of analyzing the emphasis placed on curricular materials, instructional focus, and classroom assessment. Bloom’s Taxonomy categorizes the cognitive skills required of the brain to perform a task, describing the “type of thinking processes” necessary to answer a question or complete a task. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge, on the other hand, relates more closely to the depth of content understanding and scope of a learning activity, which manifests in the skills required to complete a complex task from inception to finale (e.g., planning, researching, and draw- ing conclusions based on research). Each intersection of Bloom-Webb in the CRM provides a focus on differing complexity and engagement and offers a range of choices when planning instruction.



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Karin Hess, Ed.D, is a recognized international leader in developing practical approaches for using cognitive rigor and learning progressions as the foundation for formative, interim, and performance assessments.



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© since July 2014 Karin Hess, Ed.D.