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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Update on Revisions to Massachusetts ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Frameworks

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
September 16, 2016


This memo updates the Board on the progress of the review of the 2011 Massachusetts Frameworks for English Language Arts and Literacy (ELA/Literacy) and Mathematics. As a reminder, in December 2015, following the vote to develop a new state assessment system (Next-Generation MCAS), the Board directed the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (ESE) to consult with K-16 educators, curriculum specialists, and others to identify possible refinements to the Massachusetts ELA and Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks based on their experience implementing the standards over the past five years. The revisions are intended to simultaneously improve the standards and be feasible to implement without requiring either a significant delay in developing/administering the new state assessments or unnecessary revisions to district curricula.

The review process began in January 2016 and is anticipated to culminate with revised ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks in the spring of 2017. The review process is being conducted in three phases:

  • Phase 1 (January-July 2016): Engage stakeholders and gather recommendations for revisions;
  • Phase 2 (July-October 2016): Engage content advisors and refine revisions for public comment draft; bring a progress report to the Board for discussion in October;
  • Phase 3 (November 2016-Spring 2017): Draft the proposed revisions; bring them to the Board for review and a vote to release the revisions for public comment; conduct public comment period, synthesize public comment; make final revisions and bring the final standards to the Board for adoption.

Below is an update on each phase of the project to date.

Phase 1: Engage Stakeholders and Gather Recommendations for Revisions

Phase 1 began with DESE conducting outreach to stakeholders in two ways: through the creation of a statewide Review Panel (see enclosures) and through an online survey. First, in early January 2016, DESE solicited applications for participation in an ELA/Math Standards Review Panel, whose members were charged with "developing evidence-based recommendations to refine the 2011 ELA/Literacy and Mathematics standards based on lessons learned during Massachusetts' implementation over the past 5 years." DESE selected 44 panelists from across the state who were charged with developing recommendations for refinements to the standards based on their own experiences as well as a review of responses from an online survey (described below). Panel members include K-12 teachers, department heads and curriculum coordinators, K-12 administrators, and higher education faculty with deep knowledge of the content.

In addition to engaging stakeholder feedback through the Review Panel, in early February 2016, DESE posted an online survey to solicit input on aspects of the ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks. The survey was posted on DESE's website from February-early September 2016 and provided an opportunity for respondents to share feedback on a variety of issues about the ELA/Literacy and Mathematics standards. Over the course of four different day-long meetings between February and July, members of the Review Panel reviewed survey responses and correspondence from the public and discussed proposed revisions to the ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Frameworks.

In June 2016, Abt Associates was retained by the Executive Office of Education (EOE) to provide independent documentation of the review process and to supplement DESE's internal capacity. At the end of Phase 1, Abt Associates conducted an analysis of the survey and found that 2385 respondents had viewed the online survey, but only 380 submitted complete or partially complete responses. Of these responses, 49% were from teachers, 33% from principals, coaches, superintendents and other administrators, 8% from parents and 4% from higher education professionals. Of those who responded to questions about the value of the standards, the majority were positive. Some respondents made recommendations for revisions in particular areas, such as improving the coherence of standards across grades, emphasizing disciplinary literacy, and focusing on critical areas in math.

In addition, Abt Associates has conducted a cross-state analysis of the standards revisions in nine other states to provide content advisors with context for revisions to the Massachusetts frameworks.

Phase 2: Engage Content Advisors and Refine Revisions

Phase 2 of the standards review process entails thoughtfully incorporating stakeholder feedback from Phase 1 followed by a systematic approach to refining the proposed revisions. To lead this phase, DESE engaged two experienced and widely-respected former staff members, Barbara Libby and Susan Wheltle, who have taken over leadership of the revision process in mathematics and ELA/Literacy, respectively. Barbara Libby is the retired Director of DESE's Office of Science, Technology/Engineering and Mathematics and Susan Wheltle is the retired Director of DESE's Office of Literacy and Humanities. They led DESE's previous frameworks writing and review panels in 1995-97, 2000-2004, and 2007-2010.

DESE has also established two additional groups of content advisors, one for ELA/Literacy and one for mathematics, whose members consist of educators from Massachusetts public and private institutions of higher education as well as K-12 educators (see enclosures). These advisors met for separate day-long meetings (one for ELA and one for math) in mid-September that was facilitated by Susan Wheltle (ELA/Literacy) and Barbara Libby (mathematics). We asked the content advisors to review draft revisions, draw on their own content expertise to provide guidance and suggestions, and consider the following guiding questions about the proposed changes emerging from the review panel: Is the cumulative effect of the recommended edits an improvement in the clarity, coherence, and rigor of the framework? If not, what specifically do you recommend we do differently?

DESE's ELA/Literacy and mathematics standards review teams, led by Susan Wheltle and Barbara Libby, have worked to refine the Phase 1 revisions from survey respondents, Review Panel members, and correspondence from stakeholders. For ELA/Literacy, the preliminary proposed recommendations that emerged from Phase I include:

  • Integrate the content from two PK-12 Reading and Writing standards added by Massachusetts in 2010 into other standards, thereby reducing the overall number of standards
  • Edit standards to create greater clarity and smoother progressions in complexity, PK-12
  • Revise and expand the glossary to provide a stronger resource for definitions of terms related to early literacy, writing, reading, language, and Standard English conventions.

For mathematics, the three preliminary categories of proposed recommendations that emerged from Phase I include:

  • Edit the standards to improve clarity and include definitions of key mathematical terms to insure consistency in the language of the standards;
  • Customize the descriptions of the eight PK-12 Standards for Mathematical Practice by grade spans, PK-5; 6-8; and high school level;
  • Add guidance that presents middle and high school options for course sequencing, including pathways to Algebra I in grade 8 and to calculus by grade 12.

Abt Associates will capture and document feedback from the content advisors' September meetings. DESE's ELA/Literacy and mathematics standards review teams will incorporate this feedback into their revisions. Additionally, DESE plans to convene the Review Panel members again in late October to describe the additional feedback from the content advisors' meeting and to engage with the panel members in a final conversation about the revisions.

Phase 3: Recommend Revisions to the Board

Over the next several weeks, DESE's ELA/Literacy and mathematics standards review teams will integrate feedback from Phases 1 and 2 and draft proposed revisions to the 2010 standards. I expect to present draft revisions to the Board at your October meeting for review and discussion. DESE will incorporate feedback from the Board and prepare a final draft of the proposed revisions to the ELA/Literacy and mathematics standards. Based on our current timetable, I expect to present the final draft of the proposed revisions to the Board at your November 2016 meeting for discussion and a vote to solicit public comment through January 2017. With the Board's approval, the proposed revised ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Curriculum Frameworks will be posted on the DESE website for public comment and the Board may consider conducting one or more public hearings on the proposed revisions. DESE will review the comments from the public and the Board and make further changes as needed. I expect to present a final version of the revised frameworks to the Board for adoption in March or April. DESE will also develop and communicate a timeline and materials to support educators as they implement the revised standards.

Throughout this process, DESE's content specialists in English Language Arts/Literacy and mathematics from the Office of Curriculum and Instruction and staff from our Office of Student Assessment have been and will continue to be involved in discussions about the implications of standards revisions for the statewide assessment. None of the changes currently under consideration will significantly impact the Next-Generation MCAS development process.

We remain committed to ensuring that the Massachusetts ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Frameworks are academically rigorous, comprehensive, organized in a way that ensures they are useful to educators, and promote learning at high levels for the students in the Commonwealth. State law directs the Board to have an "open and consultative process" for adopting curriculum frameworks as well as procedures for periodically "updating, improving or refining" the curriculum frameworks. Consistent with that directive, we are reviewing and revising the 2010 ELA/Literacy and Mathematics Frameworks through an open and consultative process, just as we did in updating the Science and Technology/Engineering standards that the Board approved in January 2016.

Senior Associate Commissioner Heather Peske and other staff members will be at the Board meeting on September 27 to answer your questions.


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ELA/Math Frameworks Review Panel Members
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ELA/Math Frameworks Review Content Advisors

Last Updated: September 20, 2016
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