Background on Next-Gen MCAS
History of Learning Standards and Assessments
Massachusetts was the first state in the nation to institute statewide learning standards, which outline what students should know and be able to do at each grade level and in each subject area regardless of the school district in which they live.
The 1993 Education Reform Act introduced statewide learning standards, helped all districts provide at least a minimum level of school funding, introduced new requirements for teachers, and established a rigorous statewide assessment (MCAS) to ensure students were meeting the new learning standards.
Since the implementation of education reform, Massachusetts students have moved from being at the middle of the pack compared to other states to leading the nation in academic achievement. International assessments show that Massachusetts students are also competitive on a global scale.
Yet while Massachusetts students perform well overall, some subgroups of students are not achieving at a rate that prepares them for success. In addition, ESE understands that preparing our students for the 21st century requires frequent re-examination of and improvements to our standards and assessments.
Massachusetts currently has learning standards and frameworks in seven areas: the arts, comprehensive health, English language arts, foreign languages, history and social science, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering. There are also curriculum standards for the 44 career and vocational technical education programs.
It is important to remember that state learning standards are not classroom curriculum - the lesson plans, books and materials, and other resources educators use to teach students. Although some states have state-mandated curricula and textbooks, that is not true in Massachusetts.
For example, one of the Massachusetts standards is that, by the end of kindergarten, students should be able to name and draw basic shapes - circles, squares, triangles, etc. Mastering this standard will make sure that kindergarteners are ready for what will be taught in grade 1.
Classroom teachers have the authority to decide how and what to teach to ensure their students meet the state's learning standards. In the case of shapes in kindergarten, one teacher might take the class on a field trip to explore and identify shapes at a local park while another teacher might decide to keep the students in school, huddle them together on the carpet, and share a picture book to identify shapes. Another teacher might do both of these things and more.
Again, what a student needs to know in a particular subject at a certain grade level is set by the state. How and what educators teach is determined at the local level.