The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Arts Curriculum Framework Review: Progress Report

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeffrey C. Riley, Commissioner
September 7, 2018

This memorandum updates the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) on the progress of the review of the 1999 Massachusetts Arts Curriculum Framework, which includes learning standards for the disciplines of dance, music, theatre, and visual arts. The Arts Framework was last revised nearly twenty years ago. Since that time, research, practice, and technology have reshaped arts education. As Massachusetts arts educators are quick to point out, an update of our arts standards is long overdue. The goals of the review process are to:

The review process began in October 2017 and will culminate with a revised Arts Framework in the spring of 2019. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) staff are conducting the review process in three phases:

  1. Preparation (October 2017 – May 2018),
  2. Writing and revising (June 2018 – January 2019), and
  3. Refinement and Board approval (February 2019 – May 2019).

Below is an overview of each phase of the project.

Phase 1: Preparation

The Department staff began Phase 1 by soliciting feedback from a wide array of stakeholders about the 1999 arts standards and the current state of arts education in the Commonwealth. Next, staff recruited and trained a team of facilitators to lead the review process. Finally, staff selected panelists for the review panel, setting up the work of Phase 2.

Early stakeholder outreach was critical for the Department to organize the review process. The Department staff met with many groups of arts educators from across the state, as well as representatives from state arts education associations, such as the Massachusetts Arts Education Association; faculty from Massachusetts arts educator preparation programs, including Berklee School of Music, Gordon College, and Harvard University; and leaders of arts organizations, such as Arts Learning and Artful Education, to develop and answer a set of essential questions to guide the review process. These questions addressed the goals of arts education, perceptions about the quality and relevance of the current Massachusetts arts standards, and different ways to organize the standards to best support educators. The Department staff concluded each stakeholder engagement by asking for a list of additional individuals or entities that should inform the review process and continued with outreach until it became circular.

Through this initial outreach, the Department identified apparent consensus among stakeholders on several important points. First, Massachusetts has a long history of developing academic standards that are ambitious, specific and measurable, vertically coherent, and focused on results rather than means. The 1999 arts standards embody these characteristics. Second, stakeholders noted the National Core Arts Standards are widely known and used by Massachusetts arts educators and offer appealing design features, such as the inclusion of media arts as a distinct fifth discipline and the use of four common processes that are akin to the practice standards found in the Massachusetts curriculum frameworks for several other subjects. Third, presenting revised standards in grade pairs (e.g., Pre-K/K, 1/2, 3/4, etc.) provides clearer guidance to educators than the larger grade spans found in the 1999 standards.

Following initial stakeholder outreach, the Department recruited arts educators from across the state to serve as facilitators to lead the review process for each arts discipline. Throughout the spring of 2018, the Department staff worked with the facilitators to map out the remaining steps of the review process, most notably the five full-day meetings of the arts standards review panel. Facilitators were also instrumental in the recruitment and selection of the teachers, administrators, educator preparation program staff, and arts organization leaders to serve on the review panel.

Phase 2: Writing and Revising

Phase 2 began with five full-day meetings of the arts standards review panel, which took place between June and August. Led by the facilitators, the review panel first identified key learning goals for each discipline: dance, media arts, music, theatre, and visual arts. For example, the panel debated the relative importance of learning artistic technique compared to understanding the cultural context of art.

Once the panel reached a common understanding of the key learning goals for each arts discipline, discipline-specific teams of reviewers compared the content of the 1999 arts standards to that of the National Core Arts Standards and other relevant frameworks. This analysis allowed the teams to begin to identify content within the 1999 standards they will recommend to move, add, revise, delete, and retain. In these summer 2018 meetings, the panel also decided to utilize the four processes from the National Core Arts Standards (creating, presenting, responding, and connecting), renamed as practices, as an organizing construct in the draft framework. In the final meeting of the summer, each discipline-specific team provided peer feedback to the other teams and the full panel identified opportunities for improved cross-discipline alignment. Each discipline-specific team is planning one final meeting this fall to complete the draft standards for their discipline.

Consistent with other recent standards reviews, the Department and the panel are identifying a group of content advisors, scholars, and educators from within and outside Massachusetts to review the draft standards. This step helps to ensure that the draft standards reflect a learning sequence aligned to research and practices about child development in the arts. At the same time, the Department will be working with the facilitators to develop the other components of the curriculum framework that support districts to make decisions about instructional time and curricular materials and support educators to implement the standards, such as guiding principles for an effective arts education.

Phase 3: Refinement and Board Approval

The Department staff and members of the panel will provide a detailed overview of the draft revised Arts Curriculum Framework to the Board in December 2018 or January 2019. At the February 2019 Board meeting, I plan to request a vote of the Board to release the draft standards for public comment. The Department staff will continue to engage stakeholders and solicit feedback throughout the public comment period. Staff will review all public comments, make any further necessary revisions, and prepare a final version of the revised standards to present to the Board for adoption in May 2019.


During the 2016-2017 school year, the Department engaged in extensive stakeholder engagement to inform the development of the Commonwealth's Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) plan. This outreach made clear the field's interest in affirming the arts as an essential ingredient in a well-rounded education. Revising the 1999 arts standards is an important step in that direction. Throughout my career, I have placed a high value on arts education as a vital and necessary component of every child's educational experience. As Commissioner, I am committed to bringing to the Board an updated Arts Curriculum Framework that is informed by Massachusetts arts educators, rigorous, comprehensive, and organized in ways useful to the field and ultimately beneficial to students. Such a framework is fundamental to supporting Massachusetts schools and educators to provide an excellent arts education to all students.

Associate Commissioner Ron Noble and Assistant Director of Instructional Policy Craig Waterman will be at the Board meeting on September 18 to answer your questions.


Download Word Document
List of Arts Standards Review Panel Members
Download PowerPoint File
Arts Framework Revison Board Presentation