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Update on Science and Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
October 11, 2013


At the meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education on October 22, 2013, I will update the Board on the revision process and anticipated next steps for the Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) Curriculum Framework. The Department convened the STE Review Panel in 2009, and the panel has worked closely with the multi-state Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) Advisory Group, convened in 2011, to ensure that our revised framework will prepare students for success in postsecondary opportunities. The draft revised standards are enclosed.

Our plan is to make the draft STE standards available to the field and the public for an extended period of review during this school year and through the 2014-15 school year. In light of the fact that districts already are engaged in multiple major initiatives, we are providing these next two years to afford educators the opportunity to work on curriculum and other initiatives that reflect the direction of these draft standards prior to their formal adoption and implementation. Working with the field, the Department will further refine and evaluate the draft standards. I anticipate asking the Board to adopt the final version of the STE Curriculum Framework sometime in the 2015-16 school year, and at that time, will propose a timeline for implementation.

This memo provides background information for the discussion at our meeting on October 22. No votes will be taken on the standards at this meeting.

Goals in revising the standards

The Department undertook this revision to carry out our obligation to periodically update standards in each discipline and to:

  • Ensure that state STE standards support students' post-secondary success. Most Massachusetts jobs and postsecondary opportunities require scientific and technical proficiency. Additionally, developing a strong pipeline of STEM-ready students relies on high-quality PreK-12 science and technology/engineering programs built on rigorous learning outcomes.
  • Align the standards with increased emphasis on analytical thinking skills in college and the workplace. Introductory science courses at the college level put a greater emphasis on scientific practices. College Board AP courses, designed to reflect introductory college science, have already transitioned to the model that the draft revised standards embody. Repeated surveys of businesses highlight their increasing emphasis on critical thinking skills that our current STE standards do not include.
  • Support the implementation of other initiatives. The revised STE standards reinforce mathematics and literacy standards, particularly given a strong alignment of practices (skills) across all three disciplines, and contribute to a college and career perspective.
  • Revision process

State law directs the Board to adopt and periodically update curriculum frameworks in the various academic disciplines. The Board originally adopted and published the Science and Technology Framework in 1996. The current framework, which is posted at Current Curriculum Frameworks webpage, reflects a full revision in 2001 and a "minor revision" of the high school standards in 2006. While the Science and Technology/Engineering Framework materials were also updated in the 2001 and 2006 revisions, the full set of STE standards has not been updated in 13 years.

The Department began the current revision process in 2009 by convening 44 members on the STE Review Panel. In 2011, Massachusetts joined the NGSS development as one of 26 lead states, and as part of this process an NGSS Advisory Group, composed of an additional 23 representatives from Massachusetts, was convened. All 67 representatives of both groups have been active in developing the draft STE standards for Massachusetts, and numerous other educators have provided input during NGSS public reviews.

Massachusetts was a lead state in the development of the NGSS, released in April 2013. The NGSS reflect a number of key advancements from our current STE standards, consistent with the recommendations and goals of our own revision process. In particular, the NGSS:

  • integrate concepts and practices;
  • present grade-by-grade standards for elementary school;
  • reflect coherent progressions of learning across the years;
  • focus on deeper conceptual understanding and application; and
  • relate science standards to English language arts and mathematics.

While these are significant, public input on NGSS from Massachusetts educators and our standing committees highlighted several features that we are incorporating into our draft revised Massachusetts curriculum framework. In comparison to NGSS, the Massachusetts draft STE standards:

  • include fewer dimensions, to make the standards simpler and easier to interpret;
  • are written to balance broad concepts with specific expectations, to engender common interpretation;
  • are presented as integrated grade-by-grade PreK through grade 8;
  • expand technology/engineering to a full discipline in middle and high school;
  • define college and career readiness; and
  • maintain the state's current approach to high school course options.

The draft STE standards keep as much in common with NGSS as possible, to provide districts and schools teachers and students access to the rich array of resources that will accompany the implementation of NGSS across states. The key shifts from our current STE standards to the draft revised STE standards are summarized below.

Key shifts in the draft revised standards

The STE standards are intended to drive coherent, rigorous instruction that results in student mastery and application of scientific, technological and engineering knowledge, reasoning, and skills. The draft revised standards reflect several key shifts from prior Massachusetts standards, a number of which reflect similar shifts in recent mathematics and ELA standards:

  1. Integration of disciplinary core ideas and practices reflect the interconnected nature of science and engineering.
    The standards integrate disciplinary core ideas (concepts) with scientific and engineering practices (skills). Currently, Massachusetts science and technology/engineering standards focus primarily on content. The integration of rigorous concepts and practices reflects how science and engineering is applied and practiced every day and is shown to enhance student learning of both.

  2. Preparation for post-secondary success in college and careers.
    The standards articulate key knowledge and skills students need to succeed in entry-level, credit-bearing science, engineering or technical courses in college or university; certificate or workplace training programs requiring an equivalent level of science; or comparable entry-level science or technical courses, as well as jobs and postsecondary opportunities that require scientific and technical proficiency to earn a living wage.

  3. Science and technology/engineering concepts and practices progress coherently from PreK to high school.
    The standards emphasize a focused and coherent progression of knowledge and skills from grade band to grade band, allowing for a dynamic process of knowledge and skill building throughout a student's scientific education. The progression gives students the opportunity to learn more sophisticated material and re-conceptualize their understanding of how the natural and designed world works, leading to the scientific and technical understanding needed for post-secondary success.

  4. Focus on deeper understanding and application of concepts.
    The standards are focused on a small set of disciplinary core ideas that build across grades and lead to deeper understanding and application of concepts. The standards are written to both articulate the broad concepts and key components that specify expected learning.

  5. Each discipline is integrated in grade-by-grade standards PreK to grade 8.
    To achieve consistency across schools and districts and to facilitate collaborative work, resource sharing, and effective education for transient populations, the PreK to grade 8 standards are presented by grade level. All four disciplines, including earth and space science, life science, physical science, and technology/engineering are included in each grade to encourage integration across the year and through curriculum, including the use of crosscutting concepts and nature of science themes.

  6. The STE standards are coordinated with the Commonwealth's English Language Arts and Mathematics standards.
    The STE standards require the use and application of key English Language Arts and Mathematics standards needed to support science and technology/engineering learning. The three sets of standards overlap in meaningful and substantive ways, particularly in regards to practices (skills) that are common across all three, and offer an opportunity for all students to better apply and learn science and technology/engineering.

Next steps

We plan to make the draft STE standards available to the field and the public for an extended period of review during this school year and through the 2014-15 school year. During these next two years, districts will have the opportunity to work on curriculum and other initiatives that reflect the direction of these draft standards. Working with the field, the Department will further refine and evaluate the draft standards. Specifically, the Department would use these two years to:

  • further refine the standards, in consultation with the field;
  • evaluate the definition and implications of college and career readiness for STE;
  • consider pathways through high school to support STEM pathways;
  • develop a variety of resources that reflect the draft standards; and
  • engage in discussions with Massachusetts educators and with other states.

We would not formally implement the standards, or assessments based on them, until after the Board has adopted the new STE Curriculum Framework. I anticipate bringing a revised version of the STE standards to the Board in the fall of 2015, for review and to start the formal public comment process. I anticipate that the Board would vote on adoption of the final version of the new STE Curriculum Framework, along with a timeline for implementation, sometime in the 2015-16 school year.

Senior Associate Commissioner Bob Bickerton, Associate Commissioner Julia Phelps and other members of the Department who have been engaged in this work will be at the Board meeting to answer your questions.


Download PDF Document  Download Word Document
Roster of MA Review Panel and Advisory Group
Draft Revised MA Science/Technology Engineering Standards

Last Updated: October 21, 2013
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