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Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)

2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering (STE) Standards
Frequently Asked Questions (as of 4/14/2016)

Features of the 2016 STE Standards

  1. What broad features of the 2016 STE standards are new compared to the 2001/2006 standards?

    The 2016 STE standards maintain much of the content of the 2001/2006 standards with updates to reflect changes identified by the field, changes to content of science and engineering over the past 15 years, and the addition of inquiry and design skills students need to successfully engage in this discipline in PreK-12 classrooms, civic life, and post-secondary opportunities. The 2016 STE standards strengthen the often-lauded science standards Massachusetts has relied on since 2001.

    The 2016 STE standards are intended to drive coherent, rigorous instruction that emphasizes student mastery of both disciplinary core ideas and application of science and engineering practices. In particular, the 2016 STE standards include:
    • A focus on conceptual understanding and application of concepts;
    • Integration of disciplinary core ideas and practices to reflect the discipline of science and technology/engineering;
    • Coherent progressions of STE core ideas and practices from Pre-K to High School;
    • Inclusion of each discipline in grade-level standards Pre-K to grade 8; and
    • Coordination with the English Language Arts (ELA) and Mathematics Standards.

    For information about specific changes to the standards, please see the crosswalk documents found on Review of the STE Framework webpage.

  2. How have the 2016 STE standards changed from the December 2013 public draft version?

    Edits made since the December 2013 public version of the STE standards represent refinements and clarifications of particular standards; edits do not constitute a substantive change to the overall set. A tracked changes version of the standards is posted at Review of the STE Framework, that shows the particular changes made since the December 2013 version.

    Based on public input provided to ESE since the posting of the December 2013 version, a number of actions have been taken to improve the STE standards:
    • Reviewed the 2001/2006 STE standards to ensure key content is represented in the 2016 STE standards and confirmed decisions regarding what was omitted or added;
    • Made edits to clarify content that was not explicit, including limited instances of moving content from one grade span to another to maintain alignment with current standards, and limited instances of removing or adding concepts;
    • Adjusted the formatting so all Clarification Statements and State Assessment Boundaries are now bullets;
    • Adjusted the tone of the document by removing language such as "rote memorization" and reframing assessment boundaries to emphasize their application to state assessment; and
    • Edited verbs used in some standards to ensure every standard is performance-based.

    The vast majority of edits are minor adjustments to enhance clarity of student expectations, technical accuracy, and context.

  3. Why is each discipline (ESS, LS, PS, and TE) included in each grade for Pre-K through grade 8?

    An integrated approach for Pre-K-8 reflects the multidisciplinary nature of science and technology/engineering and research on science learning, curriculum and instruction. An integrated model reflects:
    • That science is complex and multidisciplinary;
    • Research on learning in science which shows expert knowledge develops through interdisciplinary connections and not through isolated concepts or practices; and
    • Effective research-based practices for curriculum and instruction in science and engineering.
    For more details, see the STE Curriculum Framework: The Case for an Integrated, Grade-by-Grade Approach for Pre-K-8.

  4. When will the 2016 STE Curriculum Framework be available?

    The 2016 STE Framework is available at Review of the STE Framework. Each of the sections and appendices are also available as separate documents. Thirty five copies of the 2016 STE Framework will be mailed to every Superintendent's office (this includes Charter schools, Vocational Technical schools, and Collaboratives) over the next six months. Additional copies can be requested by emailing

Transitioning to the 2016 STE Standards

  1. How will the Department assist districts to transition to the 2016 STE standards?

    Each district is or will be developing its own plan for transitioning to the 2016 STE standards that accounts for local conditions, initiatives, and resources. Ideally such a plan accounts for lessons learned and resources developed through the district's multiyear implementation of mathematics and ELA standards. To support districts during the transition to 2016 STE standards, the Department will support efforts in three key areas:
    • The development and support of a cadre of "Science Ambassadors" who will be available to assist educators across the state become familiar with the 2016 STE standards and the implications of those for curriculum and instruction. Districts and event organizers can request an Ambassador by emailing;
    • The development and support of regional district collaboration networks that will both assist districts in transition planning and encourage districts to share resources and strategies. For more information email
    • The identification and sharing of resources related to the implementation of curriculum and instruction aligned to the 2016 STE standards, such as sample curriculum maps, common assessments, or professional development on science and engineering practices.

  2. How should the 2016 STE standards be implemented in the classroom?

    Standards are articulations of desired learning outcomes; they are not meant to define any particular curricular or instructional approach. Decisions about curriculum and instruction are made by districts. The state Curriculum Frameworks do provide some guidance about qualities of strong programs, as outlined in the Vision and Guiding Principles of each Framework, including for STE. In the 2016 STE Curriculum Framework, for example, it is encouraged that STE curriculum and instruction emphasize relevance, rigor, coherence, and engagement of students in STE learning.

    The Department has also developed some resources that may be useful to districts, schools, and educators as they plan for and transition to the revised STE standards. For example, Model Curriculum Units (MCUs) have been developed through the state's Race to the Top initiative that includes a number of STE units aligned to the 2016 STE standards. There are also Quality Review Rubrics that include an STE rubric for assessing the qualities of any curriculum in terms of the 2016 STE standards and best practices for STE instruction. These resources can be accessed at Review of the STE Framework.

  3. How much time for science and technology/engineering instruction is suggested for each grade level?

    The Department does not provide guidance on time for any particular subject, including STE. The development of the revised STE standards did make some assumptions about how much time is available for STE, in part based on information provided through a district survey at the start of the standards development process in 2009. The basic assumptions for the purpose of standards development were:
    • Grades K-2: approximately 25 minutes/day (~2 hours/week)
    • Grades 3-5: approximately 35 minutes/day (~3 hours/week)
    • Grades 6-8: approximately 55 minutes/day (~4.5 hours/week)
    • Grades 9-10: approximately 60 minutes/day (~5 hours/week)

    Schools may have more or less time depending on local factors that determine curriculum programming within a specific context. STE instruction may be a dedicated time in the school schedule or may be integrated with instruction of other subjects. The goal is for all students to have science and technology/engineering instruction on a regular basis every year.

  4. What curricula are aligned to the 2016 STE standards, or what curricula does the Department recommend for implementing the 2016 STE standards?

    Each district in Massachusetts makes its own decisions about curricula. The Department does not review or recommend textbooks, curricular programs, or commercially available products. The Department does provide guidance on what qualities to look for in curricula (e.g., Quality Review Rubrics). In some instances, the Department can share freely available, open source resources. In general, the task of creating or revising curricula aligned to revised standards takes time, often several years. Since the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) have been available since spring of 2013, it will still be a while before comprehensive curricula or kit-based programs are fully revised to reflect the standards.

    In limited cases, the Department has created some curricular resources, such as the Model Curriculum Units (MCUs). The STE MCUs are aligned to the 2016 STE standards and are intended to model quality curriculum and instruction to assist educators in envisioning classroom instruction. Massachusetts' educators are encouraged to adopt the units to meet local curriculum context and student needs.

  5. Can districts choose to implement middle school standards in a discipline-specific model instead of the integrated model as presented in the 2016 STE standards?

    While it is recommended that middle school programs align to the 2016 STE standards as presented (see Question 3), districts can choose to implement the middle school standards in a discipline-specific model if they prefer. The grade 8 MCAS is very likely to remain as a grade-span assessment so there will be no state mechanism to evaluate whether standards are taught in a particular grade. A school or district can rearrange the standards among the three grades if that better fits their middle school model, local programming, curricula, or resources. If this is done, however, both the sequencing of standards and the grade-level appropriateness of standards should be considered. For example, the grade 8 standards are where students are first introduced to atoms and molecules (e.g., 8.MS-PS1-1, 8.MS-PS1-5), and any standard that requires that perspective is also presented at 8th grade (e.g., 8,MS-LS1-7, ). If those standards are moved to different grade levels, based on discipline-by-grade model for example (e.g., life science is taught at grade 6 so the LS1-7 standard is moved to grade 6), there could be a situation where the expectations for grade 6 requires a molecular perspective but the standards about atoms and molecules remain at grade 8. Additionally, the grade 8 standards focus on mechanisms that drive a number of natural phenomena, the cause and effect relationships that explain why certain phenomena behave as they do. These are often not directly observable and require a level of abstraction or indirect evidence that a grade 8 student is more likely to productively grapple with than a grade 6 student.

  6. Should the standards be taught in the order they are presented in? For example, in grade 6, should teachers begin with Earth Science and end with Physical Science?

    The order in which standards are listed does not imply or define an intended instructional sequence. Districts can choose to arrange their scope and sequence within any grade level as they see fit. The strand maps can be a helpful tool to see where there may be interdependencies that should be accounted for or how concepts progress over time.

  7. How can I view the progression of concepts for a particular discipline across grades?

    The Department has created strand maps that show the conceptual relationship between standards within and across grades or grade spans that allow for targeted pre-assessment, contextualization, and/or identification of boundaries for any particular standard that is being taught. Strand maps can be an efficient way to see how concepts progress over time and how curriculum and instruction can productively relate standards to support student learning. Schools and districts have found strand maps to be particularly useful in vertical team meetings, curriculum mapping workshops, and interdisciplinary meetings. Individual teachers can use them to identify concepts that should be the focus of pre-assessment, to convey to students how the standard they are learning will contribute to future learning, and to cluster standards into effective units of study. The maps are available at Science & Technology/Engineering Strand Maps in a one-page PDF document (useful for viewing electronically - zoom in several hundred percent); a multi-page PDF document (useful for printing - then tape them together); and in the original CMAPTools format (useful for manipulating or adjusting the maps — any map can be printed from within the application).

  8. When will the MCAS tests be aligned to the 2016 STE standards?

    The 2016 MCAS STE tests will remain aligned to the 2001/2006 STE standards. A transition timeline is currently being developed and the Department plans to release the timeline in spring 2016. This will likely include a phased transition to the 2016 STE standards with full alignment expected approximately three years after the adoption of the standards. It is likely that the high school assessments will have a longer transition period to provide fair notice to students and schools with respect to the state's Competency Determination (high school graduation) requirement (Graduation Requirements).

  9. How will the science and engineering practices be assessed on the STE MCAS?

    The goal of MCAS is to assess student performance of the STE standards. As such the Department is exploring options for assessing both the content and the practices of the 2016 STE standards. The actual strategy is still to be determined.

  10. Will my students be disadvantaged on the MCAS if my district or school makes a transition to the 2016 STE standards before the MCAS is changed to reflect the 2016 STE standards?

    Elementary and middle school students will likely not be disadvantaged provided the following is attended to:
    • Districts pay particular attention to those standards that have been moved to different grade spans in the 2016 STE standards (see crosswalk documents).
    • Districts should consider their curriculum and available time for science before adding those concepts that are new in the 2016 STE standards (those concepts not in the current standards).

    For those high school courses for which students are taking an end-of-course MCAS for Competency Determination (CD), students likely will be disadvantaged.
    • The high school courses in the 2016 STE standards have all been reduced in scope to encourage greater depth. As a result, teaching to the 2016 STE standards would disadvantage students in some topics on the end-of-course MCAS. Any 9th or 10th grade STE course used to meet the CD requirement should continue to include content aligned to the 2001/2006 standards.
    • While the content should remain aligned to the 2001/2006 standards, every high school course can incorporate science and engineering practices consistent with the 2016 STE standards.

    For all other high school courses, for which students do not take an MCAS test for the CD, students will not be disadvantaged.
    • Schools can transition any other high school course to the 2016 STE standards without consequence.

    General Comments:
    • At all grades the integration of science and engineering practices into curriculum and instruction, where possible, will enhance student learning of science and technology/engineering.
    • Please refer to the crosswalk documents that show the content alignment between the two sets of standards, found on Review of the STE Framework.

  11. Why was the formal adoption of the 2016 STE standards delayed until the 2015-2016 school year?

    The release of the draft revised STE standards in December 2013, several years before formal adoption, provided districts the option to begin planning, undertake curriculum work or professional development, or develop district determined measures (DDMs) or district assessments aligned to the draft revised STE standards. The delayed adoption allowed districts time to work through ongoing change initiatives that had already been underway, or to align science changes with initiatives already underway, before being required to begin transition to 2016 STE standards.

Components of the Standards

  1. Why are there more standards for Pre-K than for Kindergarten?

    Pre-K is typically two years, so the Pre-K standards are intended to be taught over two years rather than one year.

  2. How is Technology/Engineering included in elementary standards?

    The 2016 STE standards include engineering as an application of science by incorporating an engineering practice in the standards. These applications of science are indicated by an asterisk "*" at the end of the standard. The elementary standards also include a very limited set of "ETS" standards that focus directly on engineering design concepts.

  3. Is a State Assessment Boundary specific to the particular grade in which that boundary is included, or does it apply to the grade at which the MCAS will assess the standard?

    The intent of State Assessment Boundaries are to indicate to curriculum developers and educators what the students at that grade level are expected to know and be able to do based on what is in the standard. The State Assessment Boundary is meant to specify a limitation to state assessment of that particular standard. The current STE MCAS tests, and anticipated future MCAS tests, include a grade 5 and grade 8 test that are assessments of the grade span (grades 3-5 and grades 6-8, respectively). In this case, for example, the grade 8 test may include questions about a sixth grade standard that does not expect students to answer using a molecular perspective and questions about an eighth grade standard that does expect students to answer using a molecular perspective. Just because students are able to take on a molecular perspective at eighth grade, state assessment would not ask students to apply that to a sixth grade standard that limited the expectation to a macro perspective. It is important to note that State Assessment Boundaries are not intended to limit what educators can or should include in curriculum and instruction if additional expectations fit their program goals and student needs.

  4. Do the Clarification Statements or State Assessment Boundaries included in the 2016 STE standards limit what educators can or should include in curriculum or instruction?

    Many standards include Clarification Statements, which supply examples or additional clarification to the standards, and State Assessment Boundary statements that are meant to specify limits to state assessment. It is important to note that these are not intended to limit or constrain curriculum or classroom instruction. Educators are welcome to teach and assess additional concepts, practices, and vocabulary that are not included in the standards. These features are meant to clarify the expectations for student performance from the state perspective. Additionally, it is important to note that the order in which standards are listed does not imply or define an intended instructional sequence.

  5. How does the coding or labeling of the standards work?

    The system for labeling the 2016 STE standards is based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) but Massachusetts has adapted NGSS standards in a number of ways (see Questions 23 and 24). Example labels include 5-LS1-1, 7.MS-ESS2-2, and HS-PS2-7(MA). The first component of each label indicates the grade (Pre-K to grade 8) and/or span (middle or high school; MS or HS). The next component specifies the discipline and core idea (ESS, LS, PS, ETS). The number at the end of each label indicates the particular standard within the related set. Finally, the use of an asterisk "*" at the end of some standards designates those standards that include an engineering design practice and as such are an application of science to engineering. For standards that are not aligned to NGSS and are additional standards for Massachusetts, an "(MA)" has been added to the label. It is also important to note that the order in which standards are listed does not imply or define an intended instructional sequence.

  6. What does an asterisk "*" at the end of a standard mean?

    The use of an asterisk "*" at the end of some standards designates those standards that include an engineering design practice and as such are an application of science to engineering. This is consistent with the labeling of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

  7. Why are some of the standards not in sequence or why is there occasionally a set of standards that skip a number?

    The system for labeling the 2016 STE standards is based on Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Since Massachusetts has adapted NGSS there are some standards that have been excluded which results in a missing number. Additionally, some standards in NGSS were numbered for a grade span (elementary ETS, and middle and high school standards) but Massachusetts has distributed those to particular grades. This results in sets of standards for a particular core idea in a particular grade that are not necessarily sequential. This reinforces the point that the order in which standards are listed does not imply or define an intended instructional sequence.

Differences in Massachusetts STE Standards from
Next Generation Science Standards

  1. Why are the 2016 STE standards based on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

    Using the NGSS as a basis for the 2016 STE standards is meant to allow Massachusetts' educators access to any curriculum and instruction resources developed nationally, even though the Massachusetts standards are an adaptation of NGSS (see Question 24). Many standards in the 2016 STE standards are consistent with the disciplinary core ideas and science and engineering practices included in NGSS, allowing for the use of units and lessons written anywhere in the nation to be used by Massachusetts educators. Some 2016 STE standards are a significant deviation or addition beyond NGSS so those will be areas where Massachusetts educators are unlikely to find nationally developed resources. It is worth noting that educators always have a responsibility to ensure that any resource obtained from external sources is aligned to MA standards. Consistency with NGSS does occasionally result in odd coding of standards due to some NGSS standards not being included in the Massachusetts' standards, or Massachusetts adding some standards beyond NGSS. This results in codes that occasionally appear to not be in sequence or skip a number (see Question 22).

  2. How are the 2016 STE standards different from the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)?

    The 2016 STE standards and the NGSS have significant common foundations:
    • Coherent progressions of disciplinary core ideas, as well as science and engineering practices
    • Integration of core ideas and practices in standards
    • Focus on conceptual understanding and application to natural and designed systems
    • Grade-by-grade standards
    • Inclusion of engineering
    • Explicit links to mathematics and ELA standards

    To allow educators and districts to access benefits of commonality across states, including the use of NGSS-aligned resources created elsewhere, the Massachusetts adaptation reflects NGSS as much as possible (see Question 23). Yet public input from across the Commonwealth during the development of NGSS and the MA 2016 STE standards identified several aspects that needed some adaptation for Massachusetts. This table summarizes several key differences:

    MA AdaptationNGSS
    Standards include only two dimensions (disciplinary core ideas and practices) Standards include four dimensions (disciplinary core ideas, practices, crosscutting concepts, nature of science)
    Balances broad concepts with specificity to inform more consistent interpretation Standards are broadly written, leading to inconsistent interpretation
    Standards can stand on their own without need to reference foundation boxes Standards require reference to the foundation boxes to identify full range of expected learning
    Middle school presented grade-by-grade Middle school presented as grade span
    Technology/Engineering as a discipline Engineering design as occasional application of science
    Defines college and career readiness for STE; maintains current Massachusetts model with high school course options No definition for college and career readiness; all high school courses expected

Last Updated: April 21, 2016
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