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Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

Curriculum and Instruction Policy

Standards-aligned Curriculum

Curriculum refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.1 The Massachusetts adult education system is built on learning standards to which curriculum, instruction, and assessment are required to be aligned. The standards provide clear expectations for students, teachers, and other stakeholders. They also provide a focus for educator growth leading to improved teaching. Building on a foundation of clear expectations and educator effectiveness, standards support higher and deeper levels of learning for students.2

The College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education

The College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE) are a verbatim subset of the Common Core State Standards (i.e., the Common Core). Like the Common Core, the CCRSAE respond to the critical need of ensuring students are able to access family-sustaining employment3 via postsecondary education and/or training. Massachusetts adopted the CCRSAE in 2013 as the standards describing what Massachusetts adult education students, both ABE and ESOL, should know and be able to do.4

Curriculum Requirements for ABE (GLE 0–12)

Programs offering ABE instruction in mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) are required to use curriculum aligned to the CCRSAE by June 30, 2019. ABE curriculum and instruction are required to reflect the instructional shifts and align at all levels with the CCRSAE levels A through D–E.

Components of Reading and Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (EBRI)

WIOA requires that ABE curriculum and instruction provide explicit and systematic instruction on the essential components of reading to adult learners at all levels, GLE 0–12. The essential components of reading are:

  • Alphabetics, including phonemic awareness, phonics, and decoding, is the process readers use to identify words.
  • Reading fluency is the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate, and with prosody. Reading fluently includes oral reading skills.
  • Vocabulary development is the body of words whose meanings a person knows and understands.
  • Reading comprehension is the process and product of understanding text, and requires a high level of metacognitive engagement with the text.

Evidence-based reading instruction (EBRI) is a set of practices for teaching the four components that are proven to increase the reading achievement of adult education students. EBRI practices for primary focus differ according to the grade level equivalent (GLE) of students.

Student GLEPrimary Focus of Instruction

0–3 (Beginner)Print-based skills (i.e., alphabetics, fluency)

4–8 (Intermediate)Print-based (i.e., alphabetics, fluency), meaning-based (i.e., vocabulary, comprehension), or both

9–12 (Advanced)Meaning-based (i.e., vocabulary, comprehension)

The Office for Career, Technical, and Adult EducationOffice for Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) of the U.S. Department of Education (USED) developed and promotes Student Achievement in Reading (STAR), an evidence-based reading instruction program specifically targeted to the needs of intermediate-level readers. Programs opting to use the STAR model must participate in the STAR training and complete all training components in order to maintain fidelity to the evidence base.

For more information on the components of reading, EBRI, and STAR, see Adult Education and Family Literacy Act: Essential Components of Reading, Evidence-based Reading Instruction/STAR, and STAR: Student Achievement in Reading website.

Curriculum Requirements for ESOL (SPL 0–7)

The CCRSAE are not only for ABE students. They are also to be used during English language acquisition instruction to provide ESOL students equal access to curriculum and instruction5 that leads to postsecondary education, training, and family-sustaining wages.

Programs offering ESOL instruction are required to use curriculum aligned to the CCRSAE and supported by the standards and benchmarks of the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English for Speakers of Other Languages by June 30, 2019. ESOL curriculum and instruction are required to reflect the CCRSAE instructional shifts and align with the CCRSAE levels A through D-E. ACLS also requires that ESOL programs integrate civics education in ESOL and workforce preparation at all levels. For more information on English language acquisition, see Adult Education and Family Literacy Act: English Language Acquisition.

Curriculum Requirements for All Programs

Digital Literacy Development

Digital literacy enhances instruction. ACLS requires all programs to support the digital literacy development of students at every class level. Digital literacy can be defined as the skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information. ACLS requires the integration of digital literacy into curriculum and instruction in order to provide opportunities for students to explore, experiment, and develop expertise using real world applications for digital literacy while building their academic skills. Programs are expected to incorporate a variety of tools and technologies into the classroom to support learning. For more information on digital literacy development, see Digital Literacy: A Guide for Adult Basic Education Programs page.


Implementation of the CCRSAE for ELA and mathematics requires key instructional shifts.

The shifts in standards-based ELA6 teaching sharpen the focus of instruction on the close connection between comprehension of text and acquisition of knowledge:

  • Complexity (i.e., regular practice with complex text and its academic language);
  • Evidence (i.e., reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational); and
  • Knowledge (i.e., building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction).

The shifts in standards-based mathematics7 teaching center on the knowledge and skills students need to master to be adept at understanding and applying mathematical ideas:

  • Focus (i.e., focusing strongly where the standards focus);
  • Coherence (i.e., designing learning around coherent progressions from level to level; and
  • Rigor (i.e., pursuing conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity).

Equally important, the Standards for Mathematical Practice8 "describe the ways students are to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise across the CCRSAE levels." The practices are habits of mind that all math students need to develop and are:

  • MP.1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them;
  • MP.2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively;
  • MP.3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others;
  • MP.4: Model with mathematics;
  • MP.5: Use appropriate tools strategically;
  • MP.6: Attend to precision;
  • MP.7: Look for and make use of structure; and
  • MP.8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

1 Adapted from The Glossary of Education Reform.

2 Adapted from Testing, Teaching, and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts, National Research Council (1999), p. 20.

3 "Leading economists who have examined labor market projections note that key college and career ready knowledge and skills are closely linked to being able to get the training necessary to earn a living wage in high-growth industries. It is crucial, then, that adult education programs provide students the opportunity to acquire these skills to pursue their long-term career aspirations and goals." Pimentel (2013). College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, p. 2.

4 SABES offers comprehensive PD for curriculum development and in how to implement the CCRSAE. Programs opting to submit draft curriculum materials to the SABES PD Centers for ELA, mathematics, and ESOL will receive feedback to inform future work. Programs are advised to inform the relevant PD centers that they plan to submit and what materials they will be submitting to facilitate planning and timely feedback. For contact information, see System for Adult Basic Education Support website.

5 This includes instruction in mathematics for ESOL students who need it.

6 For more on the instructional shifts for ELA, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 9–10.

7 For more on the instructional shifts for mathematics, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 44–46.

8 For more on the Standards for Mathematical Practice, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 46, 48–50.

Last Updated: August 7, 2018
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