Publications & Resources

An Explanation of the ELA and Math Cognitive Complexities Frameworks

Oct 2017

Joan Herman, Rebecca E. Buschang, and Deborah La Torre

States’ transition to College and Career Ready (CCR) standards brings with it rigorous expectations for students’ ability use their knowledge to think critically, communicate, and solve problems. The Common Core State Standards (CCSS), for example, reflect key shifts in what students should know and be able to do to be prepared for success in college and work. In English language arts (ELA), the CCSS requires that students develop an increasing sophisticated ability to read closely, analyze text carefully, and in reading, writing and speaking, to use evidence to develop and support claims. The CCR standards make clear that rote content knowledge is not sufficient to be prepared for college and work, and that learning requires the development and application of knowledge and skill in increasingly complex contexts. If assessment of the CCSS and/or other CCR standards is intended to both measure and support the development of these high expectations, they too must integrate content with higher levels of cognitive demand. Disappointing results from many states on the alignment between the cognitive demand expectations of their standards and their state assessment also suggests the need for earlier attention to these demands (Webb, 2007).These concerns give rise to the Cognitive Complexity Frameworks described in this report. Multi-dimensional frameworks for English language arts and mathematics have been developed to describe major sources of cognitive demand in assessment items and tasks. Rather than summarizing cognitive demand as a single dimension incorporating multiple aspects of an item, the frameworks attempt to isolate specific elements in item or task design that may contribute to cognitive complexity.

Herman, J., Buschang, R. E., & La Torre, D. (2014). An explanation of the ELA and math cognitive complexities framework. Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).