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April 5, 2017

Integrating Cognitive Rigor with Webb’s Depth of Knowledge

Typically, when we think of assessment item difficulty, we associate it with the actual question stem, the length of the questions, and other components coming from the item itself. Norman Webb’s Depth of Knowledge flips the focus to the cognitive aspects students must exercise to move through an item and adequately address a question. As an educator, knowing how to integrate cognitive rigor with Webb's Depth of Knowledge can help distinguish precisely what students are expected to accomplish when approaching each item.

Why care about Depth of Knowledge?

Depth of Knowledge or DOK is important for instructors and assessment creators to consider in order to fully understand student expectations in a given assessment. Some high-stakes assessments like SBAC consider DoK in their exams and even provide teachers with information about which DoK levels are tested on their exam blueprints.

Paying attention to depth of understanding through DoK can help instructors know what is exactly expected of students, and how to prepare students for these high-stakes or summative assessments.  

Let's take a quick step back for a moment to look at this in a different way.

When you give an assessment to students, the students work through each question from start to end and turn in the test. Naturally, some questions take longer and other questions are shorter to answer. Every question is not equal, and to dive deeper into assessment best practices it's important to consider the cognitive rigor of the content students are working through.

Depth of Knowledge helps us conceptualize cognitive rigor by breaking down and categorizing the different thought processes needed to correctly solve a problem.  

By breaking down and distinguishing between the level of thought, or DoK, required for each question, educators can further pinpoint student comprehension. With digital assessments, any shortcomings or areas of misconceptions are even more visible thanks to the immediate insights and reports. Breaking down question items by DoK can help instructors identify misconceptions and exactly where students need more help thinking through a problem.

An overview of DOK Levels

DOK levels range from 1 to 4. Level 1 could include any question that asks students to recall or identify something.

This type of question requires one mental step – to remember or identify the content. On the other end of the spectrum, level 4 questions could involve taking information, interpreting it, and forming a model or plan that applies the original information in an entirely new, yet logical and sometimes creative way.

There may be levels of complexity in a DOK 4 question.  

Here is the common way that each level is defined:

Level 1 - Recall and Reproduction

Level 2 - Working with Skills and Concepts

Level 3 - Short-term Strategic Thinking

Level 4 - Extended Strategic Thinking

The chart below outlines each DOK level and describes the basic identifying factors of each.  

Depth of Knowledge Levels Chart

Again, what’s important to remember is the cognitive process students must work through to solve the problem at hand. This can be tricky to wrap your head around, but with practice and understanding, you’ll get the hang of it and can leverage DoK in no time.

Navigating DoK in Pear Assessment (fromerly Edulastic)

Once you are ready to dive in, log into Pear Assessment (or sign up for your free account) to start searching for assessment items or to make your own.

Whether you are creating new items or pulling from the assessment item bank, Pear Assessment provides ways to keep track of DoK levels.  If you are creating your own items, select the DoK level of the question before publishing and assigning it to students. If you are searching for items in the bank, you can use the search and filter tools to find questions of a specific level.

When creating new items for an assessment, you can indicate the DoK level of the question. Look to the grey menu on the right side of the screen and select the proper DoK level from the “Depth of Knowledge” drop-down options. Remember to hit “save” and your question will be tagged with the DoK level you have assigned it.

Select Depth of Knowledge for New Assessment Items Screenshot

Ready to put these tactics to the test?

Log in to Pear Assessment or sign up for a free account!


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Ileana Betancourt

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