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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on the Massachusetts Recommended High School Course of Study: MassCore

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
May 13, 2011


This report provides an update on the initial efforts to increase the level of MassCore completion across the Commonwealth. The MassCore initiative supports one of the state's primary goals, which is to increase the percentage of students graduating from public high schools prepared to succeed in first-year, credit-bearing college courses and in entry level jobs with career opportunities. While over 70% of Massachusetts high school graduates go on to higher education, more than one-third of graduates who enter Massachusetts public universities are assigned to non-credit-bearing, developmental courses. Two-thirds of high school graduates who enter Massachusetts community colleges require non-credit-bearing coursework.

Activity that has occurred since the fall report to the Board includes:

  • Under the Race to the Top grant, 169 districts are developing plans to increase MassCore completion as one of their key initiatives. For years 2-4 of this initiative, districts will provide the Department a brief, initial needs assessment identifying current course taking and other gaps in the district that may account for lower levels of MassCore completion and identify possible solutions to increase MassCore completion rates.

  • The Department has initiated discussion with district representatives, including the Urban Superintendents Network, to identify gaps and issues in implementation of MassCore. Early indications suggest a need for further clarification concerning issues facing alternative education students, students with disabilities, English language learners, and other students who may need additional supports to complete a rigorous course of study.

  • Hanover Research has completed research regarding the implementation of default and mandatory programs of study across the country. The research shows that students tend to rise to the challenge of increased expectations, and that there is a clear, positive relationship between raising the bar in high school and college and career readiness. For students who are not yet adequately prepared to meet the requirements, programs are needed that secure academic success while preventing such students from becoming discouraged and disengaged from education.

  • In March 2011, the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education voted to require a 4th year of mathematics - consistent with the mathematics MassCore requirement - for admittance to a public four-year state university or the University of Massachusetts. This new policy will begin with the students in the high school class of 2016.

Next Steps and Ongoing Work

  • Ensure data quality in SIMS reporting; begin to identify gaps in student course schedules. The collection of data for the 2010-11 school year will provide more precise information on MassCore completion than has been available previously.
  • Create an internal cross-unit team to analyze gaps and identify resources to mitigate these gaps and enhance student access to rigorous coursework, particularly in mathematics, science, and technology/ engineering.
  • Work with districts and schools to use local RTTT funds to expand sections of existing courses and create new courses so that all students will have access to the courses they will need to complete MassCore.
  • Develop policy options for the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education to consider adopting that will incentivize students to complete MassCore.
  • Work with schools, districts, and professional organizations to develop an information campaign on the MassCore program of study, with particular focus on increasing MassCore completion rates for students with disabilities, English language learners, and alternative education students.
  • Continue to work with the Department of Higher Education concerning issues of vertical alignment and creating innovative opportunities for students to complete rigorous coursework.
  • Participate in the College Participation Advisory Group of the Vision Project to help ensure that the college and career readiness agendas of both higher education and elementary/secondary education are aligned and supportive of one another.

MassCore Definition and Goal

MassCore is the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education's recommended program of high school studies, which includes four years of English and mathematics (including Algebra II), three years of history and social science, three years of lab sciences, two years of foreign language, a year of the arts, and physical education. It also encourages students to take electives, including Advanced Placement (AP), a capstone senior project; dual enrollment (courses taken for both high school and college credit); online course for high school or college credit; service learning; and work-based learning. Core courses and electives should total a minimum of 22 credits.

The overarching goal of the MassCore project is to increase the percentage of high school graduates who have completed MassCore to 82.5% by 2014. The best current estimate of the percentage of graduates currently completing MassCore is about 70%

Last Updated: May 17, 2011
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