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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Curriculum

December 2018

This FAQ has three sections of questions about 1) educator effectiveness and curriculum policy, 2) the revised ESOL standards, and 3) questions about curriculum components. Following these is a brief section on SABES—the System for Adult Basic Education Support—which provides a variety of helpful, expert professional development, technical assistance, and coaching for all adult education staff; and August 2017 FAQ.

Questions about educator effectiveness, curriculum policy, and submission of curriculum materials to ACLS or SABES

Q1: What is the policy about curriculum and instruction for ESE-funded adult education programs?

A: The policy can be found at ACLS: Curriculum and Instruction Policy webpage.

Q2: Must curriculum still be submitted to ACLS and if so, when? I thought it was no longer required.

A: ACLS does not require programs to submit any curriculum materials. The memo from July 2016 states current policy requirements; please also see the ACLS webpage for the curriculum policy. Programs determine the necessary curriculum materials they need to provide the most effective, high-quality instruction.

ACLS conducts program quality reviews once in a four-year cycle and site visits annually for four purposes:

  1. to determine the quality of services against a set of Indicators through a diagnostic assessment (program quality reviews);
  2. to offer technical assistance for program improvement (site visits)
  3. to identify and disseminate promising practices that may impact student outcomes (program quality reviews and site visits).
  4. to ensure state and federally-funded adult education providers are compliant with state and federal policies (program quality reviews and site visits).

The purpose of program quality reviews is to drive program improvement. This is accomplished by identifying areas for improvement in a set of four key Indicators based on the Indicators of Program Quality, of which IPQ 4-Curriculum and Instruction, is one. Both IPQ 4 and the curriculum policy state the critical importance of teachers using a curriculum that is aligned to the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE). The CCRSAE guide what adult students need to know and be able to do to achieve their goals and earn family-sustaining wages.

The goal of site visits is to provide programs the opportunity to receive technical assistance grounded in and guided by the ACLS Indicators of Program Quality.1 As part of the preparation for either a program quality review or a site visit, programs are required to submit lesson plans and lesson materials and corresponding scope and sequences for classes that will be observed during the review or visit. Classroom observations are an important way for the Review Team to collect physical and documentary evidence related to the Indicator of Program Quality 4-Curriculum and Instruction. Find out more about the PQR and Site Visits.

Q3: Does ACLS expect programs to submit their curriculum for review on June 30, 2019, to "check off" that programs have completed it?

A: No. The deadline articulates ACLS' expectations that all teachers in programs are consistently using an effective, well thought-out curriculum, so students will have every opportunity to achieve their goals and make a family-sustaining wage. Having a CCRSAE-aligned curriculum in place for teachers to use is necessary for student learning, and a non-negotiable tool in overall educator effectiveness. While effective teaching takes time and focused effort to plan and implement, it is an effort that reaps large dividends for adult learners.

Q4: Do programs need to submit anything to SABES for review?

A: No. It is optional for programs to submit their materials to SABES for expert advice and feedback. SABES' ability to review materials is dependent on resources and availability, so make any (optional) requests early to ensure technical assistance will be available.

Q5: I am a program director and don't understand why the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE) are required for use. How should I support my staff in using them in their instruction?

A: The CCRSAE define the necessary levels of academic rigor so adult students will be able to achieve learner outcomes and be ready for further education and careers. To implement the CCRSAE effectively, teachers must first thoroughly understand them. One way to accomplish this is to begin with teachers and directors discussing the standards—what do they mean? What would meeting the standard look like in a student task or product? How can teachers differentiate student learning so that all students regardless of background and prior knowledge can master the standards? How would teachers know whether students have met the standard at the various benchmark levels? If teachers (or directors) aren't sure what a standard means or how to teach to the standards, SABES offers a variety of professional development (PD) targeted to teachers and directors, either together as a team, or separately. PD is available in a variety of formats, including face to face, hybrid, and online. Expert practitioner coaches can come to a program to support staff and directors as a group; contact SABES to learn what free services are available.

Questions about the revised Massachusetts ESOL Standards

Q6: Will teachers still be required to use the CCRSAE and the revised Massachusetts ESOL standards together, as the current ESOL policy states?

A: The College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE, 2013) were developed as a verbatim subset of the national K-12 Common Core State Standards (2010). Both the Common Core and the CCRSAE were developed so that students, K-12 through adult, native English and non-native English speakers, can learn the essential skills and knowledge "expected and required for success in colleges, technical training programs, and employment in the 21st century."2 The CCRSAE communicate clear expectations for all students so they will be ready for postsecondary education, training, and careers. Teachers who use the CCRSAE to guide their curriculum and instruction will help ensure that their students are successful going forward.

ACLS is thrilled to announce that the revised ESOL standards, The Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education, incorporate the CCRSAE and the instructional shifts but context them within the lens of English language learning. They are intended to be a standalone document, although ESOL teachers will find it helpful to review the original CCRSAE language and explanatory chapters as needed. Once the standards revision is complete, the curriculum policy for ESOL regarding use of both the CCRSAE and the ESOL Curriculum Framework will be revised.

Q7: These standards are to be released in January of 2019, and programs are to have completed and be using their ESOL curriculum by June 30th of the same year. How is that possible?

A: ACLS strongly encourages programs to continue to work as needed on developing ESOL curriculum. Since the release of the CCRSAE in 2013, many programs have been working diligently to align ESOL curriculum to them. Using two standards documents—the CCRSAE and the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework Standards for ESOL—has been challenging. The newly revised document, the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education, is aligned to the CCRSAE and developed with English language learners in mind so the process of using the standards will be easier for teachers. Aligning the revised standards to existing program curriculum materials will not mean starting their curriculum development again from scratch. If curriculum is aligned to the CCRSAE, then the revised standards and benchmarks may be integrated relatively easily. Programs that have not completed ESOL curriculum aligned to the CCRSAE, or programs that have primarily relied on a textbook for their curriculum and instruction, should contact the SABES Curriculum and Instruction PD Center for ESOL for support.

Q8: I am unclear about the standards and benchmarks that my program should use considering the upcoming change to the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education. Will there be a new benchmark notation in the revised ESOL standards?

A: Yes, there will be a new benchmark notation. The release of the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards in January 2019 will ensure ESOL students are equally prepared for college and career readiness as their peers. The revised standards may result in some adjustments to existing ESOL curriculum materials. Program staff reading this FAQ can get a jumpstart by aligning curriculum materials to the CCRSAE if they have not already done so, since the revised ESOL standards will be closely aligned with them. Programs that do so will be in a good position then to insert the corresponding ESOL standards and benchmarks into their curriculum materials come January.

Q9: Will there be training on the revised ESOL standards?

A: Yes, once the standards have been released. The training will

  • provide an overview of the standards,
  • highlight the similarities and differences between the two documents
  • show how the CCRSAE and the OCTAE English Language Proficiency standards have been incorporated, and
  • demonstrate how the revised standards can guide curriculum development and improve instruction.

Questions about curriculum components

Q10: Should our scope and sequence be "ideal" [e.g., what we think we should do, ideally]? What should the pacing be? How long should a unit be?

A: Curriculum materials should meet the needs of the students at the program while taking curriculum and program design into account. Generally, the length of a unit depends on program intensity, the topic, and the students' needs and interests, but units are often two to four weeks in length, sometimes longer. For example, a teacher may plan for a unit on a certain topic to be a set amount of time, but due to higher than anticipated student interest she extends the unit and learning experiences, trimming another unit down a bit to accommodate. Programs may decide how to best address students' needs, in order to support students in meeting their outcomes.

Q11: Do the lesson plans need to be created around themes and instructional units? We have been using this method. I need clarification as to if it is required.

A: Lesson plans tied to a unit are more effective than standalone lessons, as are those that are part of a coordinated learning plan that builds knowledge and skills over the course of an instructional unit. Programs should focus on what will be the best way to support students in making outcomes and earning a family-sustaining wage. For questions or support regarding using a standards-aligned curriculum, SABES is eager to help.

Q12: What components of our curriculum do we need to have completed?

A: Programs have the flexibility to decide what curriculum materials they need to use to provide effective, high-quality instruction that will enable learners to achieve outcomes. There are a variety of curriculum resources on the ACLS and SABES webpages.

Q13: Is there a requirement (or expectation) for the number of lesson plans teachers need to have documented? Does ACLS just want some sample lesson plans for each unit, should we have all the lesson plans for every unit written up?

A: It can be helpful to have some sample lessons with a unit plan so that the lessons can be models for staff new to using the unit, and so other teachers can build subsequent lessons off from them. Programs can decide the right number of lessons and lesson materials that will be needed to provide the best learning outcomes for adult students.

Support for Effective Curriculum Development and Instruction

The SABES PD Centers for ELA, ESOL and Math are ready to help with technical assistance, professional development, and resources:

  • Take part in PD for creating, revising, and translating standards-aligned curriculum into instruction
  • Find curriculum examples and other evidence-based resources
  • Work with an expert curriculum or instructional coach
  • Request SABES review program curriculum materials (resources and time permitting)

ELA and ESOL Practitioner Coaches are available to help answer questions and facilitate your curriculum work on site at your program. The Math PD Center provides CCR Open Houses and encourages you to invite them to your site. These on-site Open Houses are opportunities to support programs in developing instructional units as part of an overall ABE math curriculum. Program directors and teachers can participate as program teams, and communities of learning are an effective evidence-based practice for supporting positive instructional change. For more information about upcoming CCR Math Open Houses, see SABES PD Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy. Directors may wish to have staff from local programs collaborate as a partnership and share the resulting curriculum materials among the programs. Staff can find a variety of opportunities for face-to-face as well as hybrid and online PD at SABES.

August 2017

Q1: Where can I find the templates for developing unit plans?

A: The instructional unit plan templates for ELA Download PDF Document Download Word Document, Math Download PDF Document Download Word Document, and ESOL Download PDF Document Download Word Document are located on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page under the headers for English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Adult Numeracy, and ESOL. These optional templates are available in both pdf and Word versions.

Q2: Where can I find the lesson plan templates?

A: The lesson plan templates for ELA Download PDF Document Download Word Document, ESOL Download PDF Document Download Word Document, and Math Download PDF Document Download Word Document are located on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page under the headers for English Language Arts (ELA), Mathematics and Adult Numeracy, and ESOL. The ELA Download PDF Document Download Word Document and Math Download PDF Document Download Word Document templates have a brief companion guide accompanying them. These optional templates are available in both pdf and Word versions.

Q3: Does my scope and sequence, unit plan and/or lesson plan need to look exactly like the templates ACLS has provided on the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources web page?

A: No, it does not.

Q4: What is the difference between a scope and sequence and a unit plan?

A: The scope and sequence, unit plan, and lesson plans have very different functions. The scope and sequence:

  • gives users a plan for what learning should occur over the period of time covered;
  • shows the scope of the material to be learned and in what sequence, and how unit topics, skills, content knowledge, and culminating tasks build over time.

The format of the scope and sequence provides teachers an overview of the year so that the unit topics, skills developed, and culminating work may be seen as a whole since they build on each other month by month. This "treetops" view is critical for teachers and directors to have as their plan for instruction for the year:

  • teachers can see what skill development needs to come first in order to progress to the next unit;
  • the scope and sequence also helps teachers stay aware of the amount of learning that is expected to happen in the year.

Compared to the "year at a glance" function of the scope and sequence, instructional units go into greater depth to guide the teacher in the specific skills and content knowledge to be developed. In the unit, teachers drill down and elaborate on the unit goal and outcomes, the standards that support those outcomes, and the culminating assessment for the unit. Teachers also flesh out the vocabulary to be learned by students and all of the texts or resources they will read or use. All of this information in the unit plan describes a suggested sequence of lessons or outline to provide guidance for teachers when writing lessons for an actual class of students.

For example, in the area of assessment, the assessment of priority standards might be only generally sketched out in the scope and sequence as to what task students will complete. However, in Stage 2 of the unit plan, "assessment evidence," will explain the specific ways students will demonstrate their learning, as well as exactly where teachers will place the various assessments in the sequence of lessons.

Curriculum development doesn't have to be a linear process. Some curriculum developers may find that they must first flesh out the unit plan by identifying the unit goal and outcomes, objectives, alignment with priority standards, and culminating assessment before being able to lay out a scope and sequence for the year. The method of "backward design" ensures that the lessons truly reflect the CCRSAE standards and important outcomes for students, and are not simply based on fun activities. The "backward design" model was developed by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe in their groundbreaking book, Understanding by Design.

When developing lessons, teachers will be focused on pulling everything together that has been thought through in the unit plan and meeting the varied needs of the actual students in their classroom in real time. Teachers will then reference the unit plan often when writing their lesson plans, and have the benefit of the thinking that already went into what students will learn and how the learning will be played out. The sample lesson plans will provide further guidance for teachers when they are developing lessons for their students.

Some information will be able to be cut and pasted from one document to the other, but the information may need to be adjusted or fleshed out, depending on the document. For example, information from the unit plan may be added to the scope and sequence but with less detail needed. Users could directly paste the unit goals and outcomes statement and the assessment of priority standards statement from the unit plan into the scope and sequence. However, all the thinking and support behind these statements in the unit plan does not need to be included. The level of detail in the unit plan is not needed in the scope and sequence.

Q5: Do you have examples of completed units?

A: Yes. For English Language Arts (ELA) examples, see Creating Curricula for ELA: An Overview and Curriculum Examples and Models for ELA and Content-Area Subjects. For mathematics and adult numeracy examples, see Math Curriculum Resources.

Q6: When students are coming into ABE at various times of year and different levels (even among given levels — beginners, intermediate, and advanced) and their goal is to get their high school equivalency, how do thematic units work? Our teachers individualize all teaching based on student assessment and needs. This makes for much planning but for great success. I want to make good choices for my students and staff — and I don't want the staff creating documents that sit on a shelf.
Can you help me understand the thoughts behind this thinking?

A: ACLS's curriculum policy supports programs in providing students the high quality of instruction needed to succeed in the 21st century. The policy is driven by the most current research available for the skills and content knowledge students need to learn to be prepared for postsecondary education and careers. Having high expectations for all students and aiding students in believing in their own potential enables students to see their steady progress towards family-sustaining wages. Achieving a high school credential is one of a number of significant milestones on their way, when students have been helped to internalize a growth mindset.

Units are made up of coordinated lessons that focus on the skills that students need to learn. Units also focus on a topic or content that serves as the vehicle for students to practice those skills. Topics focusing on skills and knowledge students need to achieve their high school credential may serve as a springboard to seeking higher goals. Unit topics may relate to postsecondary education, careers, or other needs of students. Based on the teacher's experience of what students at that particular level generally need to learn and practice and the skills outlined in the College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE), you can build each unit around a topic relevant for students. The skills sequence, however, should stay roughly the same as planned (give or take some of the skills depending on the students in that class) so the teachers have that work already done, and the skills build seamlessly across the year in the units.

The thinking that goes into the unit plans will allow teachers to then differentiate for individual students in their lesson plans. When students come in mid-year, they should do as much work as they can that the rest of the class is doing, as well as some one-on-one work with the teacher or volunteer and some independent work to catch up. Catching students up to the rest of the class is not a simple process, but it is important to keep the rest of the class moving forward. Differentiating instruction is proven to be effective in ensuring all students understand instruction and make learning gains. For example, evidence-based reading instruction differentiates instruction by grouping students according to their needs in the four components of reading. A short but useful book on differentiated instruction is A Differentiated Approach to the Common Core, by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Marcia Imbeau. Published by ASCD, this resource is a good introduction to using differentiated instruction with learners.

Students rely on programs to create high quality curriculum materials that will support their progress and outcomes. Unit plans are a huge resource to programs, because they reduce planning time for lessons, ensure what's taught is coherent and coordinated, and when done well, will contribute to outcomes.

Q7: The task of developing curriculum is overwhelming, and there is not enough time to do it. I need help!

A: Help is available in a variety of ways from SABES. The SABES PD Centers for ELA, ESOL and Math are ready and waiting to help with technical assistance, professional development, and also provide many useful resources on their web pages. ELA and ESOL Practitioner Coaches are available to help answer questions and facilitate your curriculum work on site at your program. The Math PD Center provides CCR Open Houses and encourages you to invite them to your site. These on site Open Houses are opportunities to support programs in developing instructional units as part of an overall ABE math curriculum. Programs are encouraged to participate as program teams, including teachers and directors. For more information about upcoming Math Open Houses, see SABES PD Center for Mathematics and Adult Numeracy. Directors may wish to have staff work in a consortium and share the resulting curriculum materials among programs.

Another resource are completed units which may be adapted either minimally or significantly, depending on time. Model curriculum units for English Language Arts were developed by six experienced ABE practitioners. Topics such as civil rights, cultural and physical properties of water, and how to be a savvy consumer of news stories, among others, will be posted on the SABES ELA PD Center page and the ACLS Curriculum and Instruction Resources page shortly.

Finally, if staff need support in developing curriculum aligned to the CCRSAE and/or in understanding and using the CCR Standards in ELA, ESOL, or math instruction, teachers are strongly encouraged to take advantage of PD offered by SABES. Find opportunities for face-to-face as well as hybrid and online PD at SABES.

Q8: Our program has been working on our ESOL scope and sequence. Our template design varies from the sample template provided by ACLS but does encompass and address all the components. We adapted the template after attending an ESOL professional development training on Scope and Sequence and receiving feedback from SABES and ACLS. We found it to be much more user friendly and easier to follow. May we adapt the template for ELA as we feel it works best for our program?

A: Yes, the format of this template may be adapted to program needs.

Questions? Please contact Jane Schwerdtfeger, Curriculum Specialist in Adult and Community Learning Services, at



1 Technical Assistance is the process of providing targeted support and guidance to programs to improve their quality. From: Technical Assistance Visits, A Guide for Local Sites, Southern Regional Education Board, Atlanta, Spring 2009,

2 U.S. Department of Education, Office of Career, Technical and Adult Education. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education. Washington, D.C., 2013, page 1.

Last Updated: December 10, 2018
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