Depth of Knowledge
What Does It Mean For Teachers & Students?

What is the DOK and Why Do We Need It?

The Depth-of-knowledge (DOK) was created by Norman Webb from the Wisconsin Center for Education Research. 

The Depth of Knowledge is the degree of depth or complexity of knowledge standards and assessments require; this criterion is met if the assessment is as demanding cognitively as the expectations standards are set for students.

Completely aligned standards and assessments requires an assessment system designed to measure in some way the full range of cognitive complexity within each specified content standard. Norman Webb identified four levels for assessing the DOK of content standards and assessment items.

The DOK levels are Recall (Level 1), Skill or Concept (Level 2), Strategic Thinking (Level 3) and Extended Thinking (Level 4). Of course to accurately evaluate the DOK level, each level needs to be defined and examples given of types of student behaviors.

DOK implies the interaction of how deeply a student needs to understand the content with different ways of responding and interacting with the content.

DOK Facts

  • DOK levels are not related to the score points.
  • DOK levels are a ceiling, not a target. Why is this distinction between “ceiling” and “target” important?  If assessed only at the “target,” all GLEs with a Level 3 as their highest demand would only be assessed at Level 3. This would potentially have two negative impacts on the assessment: 1) The assessment as a whole could be too difficult; and 2) important information about student learning along the achievement continuum would be lost. 
  • The level of a DOK item is determined by the task (defined by complex thinking and reasoning skills), not grade level or ability of the student. 

    Therefore, the DOK of the task does not change with grade or ability of the student.  

  • Verbs alone do not determine the DOK’s level of an assessment task.  DOK’s focus is on how deeply students need to know content for a given response.
  • Multiple-choice questions can be written at a DOK 3 or 4 level; however, to design a question in this format is difficult.  An Item at DOK level 3 or 4 requires complex reasoning, strategic and extended thinking about the concepts of the content and a real world context, and especially at a level 4 that requires research, investigation and application often over an extended period of time.
  • "There are six dimensions to the alignment process and depth (DOK) was only one. The U.S. Department of Education issued guidelines that include six dimensions important for making judgments about the alignment between state standards and assessments.  These dimensions include comprehensiveness, content and performance match, emphasis, depth, consistency with achievement standards and clarity for users.
Learning Theory
Focus Content Area:
Professional Development

Secondary Content Area: