Department of Elementary and Secondary Education Logo
Adult and Community Learning Services (ACLS)

Curriculum and Instruction Policy

The policies listed here may also be found in the FY20-FY22 Massachusetts Policies for Effective Adult Education in Community Adult Learning Centers and Correctional Institutions.

Standards-aligned Curriculum

Curriculum refers to the knowledge and skills students are expected to learn, which includes the learning standards they are expected to meet; the units and lessons that teachers teach; the assignments and projects given to students; the books, materials, videos, presentations, and readings used in a course; and the tests, assessments, and other methods used to evaluate student learning.1 The Massachusetts adult education system is built on learning standards to which curriculum, instruction, and assessment are required to be aligned. The standards provide clear expectations for students, teachers, and other stakeholders. They also provide a focus for educator growth leading to improved teaching. Building on a foundation of clear expectations and educator effectiveness, standards support higher and deeper levels of learning for students.2

College and Career Readiness

The College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education (CCRSAE) respond to the critical need of ensuring adult students are able to access family-sustaining employment3 via postsecondary education and/or training. In 2013, Massachusetts adopted the CCRSAE as the standards describing what all Massachusetts adult education students should know and be able to do. In 2019, Massachusetts developed and adopted the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education (MA ELPS)4 which combine college and career readiness skills and language skills into a single set of standards for English language learners.

Curriculum Requirements for ABE5

Programs offering ABE instruction in mathematics and English Language Arts/Literacy (ELA) are required to implement curriculum aligned to the CCRSAE. ABE curriculum and instruction are required to reflect the instructional shifts and align at all levels with the CCRSAE levels A through D–E.

Components of Reading and Evidence-Based Reading Instruction (EBRI)

Reading is a complex system of making meaning from print. Proficient readers must:

  • understand how phonemes, or speech sounds, are connected to print and be able to decode unfamiliar words (Alphabetics is the process readers use to identify words.);
  • read fluently (Fluency is the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate, and with prosody. Reading fluently includes oral reading skills.);
  • possess sufficient background knowledge and vocabulary to foster reading comprehension (Vocabulary is the body of words whose meanings a person knows and understands.); and
  • develop active strategies to construct meaning from print (Reading comprehension is the process and product of understanding text and requires a high level of metacognitive engagement with the text).

Essential components of reading: Alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension

Alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension are known as the essential components of reading. WIOA requires that ABE curriculum and instruction provide explicit and systematic instruction on the essential components of reading to adult learners at all levels.

EBRI refers to instructional practices that have been proven by systematic, objective, valid, and peer-reviewed research to lead to predictable gains in reading achievement. The research produced findings that together are the foundation of evidence-based reading practices. Among them are:

  • The essential components of reading are alphabetics (phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding), fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.
  • Learners' strengths and weaknesses are diagnostically assessed in each of the four components.
  • Instruction is differentiated (e.g., student groups) based on the results of the diagnostic assessments of reading.
  • Instruction is systematic, sequenced, direct, and explicit. Explicit instruction includes teacher explanation, teacher modeling, guided practice, and application.
  • Instruction and materials are engaging and relevant to learners' needs.
  • Instruction is continuously monitored, by teachers and learners, to gauge its effectiveness.

EBRI practices for primary focus differ according to students' EFL (educational functioning level).6

Student EFL LevelPrimary Focus of Instruction
Beginner (Beginning Literacy and Beginning Basic Education Levels)Print-based skills (i.e., alphabetics, fluency)
Intermediate (Low Intermediate Basic Education and High Intermediate Basic Education Levels)Print-based skills (i.e., alphabetics, fluency), meaning-based skills (i.e., vocabulary, comprehension), or both
Advanced (Low Adult Secondary Education and High Adult Secondary Education Levels)Meaning-based (i.e., vocabulary, comprehension)

For more information about how to diagnostically assess students' reading strengths and needs, and how to teach to these needs, see the SABES English Language Arts Curriculum and Instruction PD Center web page and calendar for PD opportunities.

Student Achievement in Reading (STAR)

STAR is an evidence-based reading instruction program that specifically targets the needs of intermediate-level readers (Low Intermediate Basic Education and High Intermediate Basic Education Levels). STAR is supported by years of research in reading methodology.

The research found that intermediate level adult learners struggle7 with one or more reading components: alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and/or comprehension. An EBRI approach requires teachers to use diagnostic assessments to identify their learners' individual strengths and weaknesses and target reading instruction accordingly.

The Office for Career, Technical, and Adult Education (OCTAE) of the U.S. Department of Education (USED) developed and promotes the use of STAR. Programs opting to use the STAR model must participate in the STAR training and complete all training components in order to maintain fidelity to the evidence base.

For more information on the components of reading, EBRI, and STAR, see the WIOA Brief on the Essential Components of Reading and EBRI, ACLS EBRI and STAR information, and SABES ELA Curriculum and Instruction PD Center's EBRI and STAR webpages.

Curriculum Requirements for ESOL

Programs offering ESOL instruction are required to implement curriculum aligned to the Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education (MA ELPS) beginning July 1, 2019.8 These standards incorporate the CCRSAE for ELA/Literacy and the instructional shifts for ELA and contexts them within the lens of English language learning. ACLS also requires that ESOL programs integrate civics education in ESOL and workforce preparation at all levels.

Note: The Massachusetts English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education are the standards to which to use for English language acquisition. Programs providing mathematics instruction to English language learners should align instruction to the CCRSAE for Mathematics and the Standards for Mathematical Practice, so that instruction is reflective of the CCRSAE for Mathematics instructional shifts.

For more information on English language acquisition, see the SABES ESOL Curriculum and Instruction PD Center website and the WIOA Brief on English Language Acquisition.

Curriculum Requirements for All Programs

Digital Literacy Development

Digital literacy enhances instruction. ACLS requires all programs to support the digital literacy development of students at every class level. Digital literacy can be defined as the skills associated with using technology to enable users to find, evaluate, organize, create, and communicate information. ACLS requires the integration of digital literacy into curriculum and instruction in order to provide opportunities for students to explore, experiment, and develop expertise using real world applications for digital literacy while building their academic skills. Programs are expected to incorporate a variety of tools and technologies into the classroom to support learning.

For more information on digital literacy development, see Digital Literacy in Adult Education.


Implementation of the CCRSAE for ELA and mathematics (for instruction in ABE) and the MA ELPS for English language acquisition and the CCRSAE for Mathematics9 (for instruction in ESOL) require key instructional shifts.

The shifts in standards-based ELA10 teaching sharpen the focus of instruction on the close connection between comprehension of text and acquisition of knowledge:

  • Complexity (i.e., regular practice with complex text and its academic language);
  • Evidence (i.e., reading, writing, and speaking grounded in evidence from text, both literary and informational); and
  • Knowledge (i.e., building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction).

The shifts in standards-based mathematics11 teaching center on the knowledge and skills students need to master to be adept at understanding and applying mathematical ideas:

  • Focus (i.e., focusing strongly where the standards focus);
  • Coherence (i.e., designing learning around coherent progressions from level to level); and
  • Rigor (i.e., pursuing conceptual understanding, procedural skill and fluency, and application with equal intensity).

Equally important, the Standards for Mathematical Practice12 "describe the ways students are to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise across the CCRSAE levels." The practices, habits of mind that all mathematics students need to develop, are:

  • MP.1: Make sense of problems and persevere in solving them;
  • MP.2: Reason abstractly and quantitatively;
  • MP.3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others;
  • MP.4: Model with mathematics;
  • MP.5: Use appropriate tools strategically;
  • MP.6: Attend to precision;
  • MP.7: Look for and make use of structure; and
  • MP.8: Look for and express regularity in repeated reasoning.

High Quality Resources for Curriculum and Instruction

A lack of strong mathematics skills can be a significant barrier for adult learners in achieving a high school equivalency or gaining access to postsecondary education. Programs looking for mathematics curriculum resources may be interested in the Curriculum for Adults Learning Math (CALM). CALM is a high-quality, CCRSAE-aligned mathematics curriculum for all adult education levels. CALM instructional units include complete lesson plans, formative assessments for each lesson, and a performance-based assessment. CALM aligns to the CCRSAE and the Standards for Mathematical Practice and reflects the CCRSAE instructional shifts. CALM prepares students for earning a high school equivalency credential and lays the foundation for college and career readiness.

For more information on CALM, see the SABES Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction PD Center website.

Programs offering ESOL instruction may be interested in resources which integrate math into ESOL instruction. The SABES Mathematics and Adult Numeracy Curriculum and Instruction PD Center offers PD workshops such as Mathematizing ESOL I, II, and III, as well as the Mathematics Packets for ESOL on topics such as health and employment for teachers of adult English language learners.

For more information, see the SABES Mathematics Curriculum and Instruction PD Center website.

1 Adapted from The Glossary of Education Reform.

2 Adapted from Testing, Teaching, and Learning: A Guide for States and School Districts, National Research Council (1999), p. 20.

3 "Leading economists who have examined labor market projections note that key college and career ready knowledge and skills are closely linked to being able to get the training necessary to earn a living wage in high-growth industries. It is crucial, then, that adult education programs provide students the opportunity to acquire these skills to pursue their long-term career aspirations and goals." Pimentel (2013). College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, page 2.

4 The MA ELPS integrate standards from the Massachusetts ABE Curriculum Framework for English for Speakers of Other Languages (2005), the CCRSAE, and the English Language Proficiency Standards for Adult Education (2016), and the Oregon Adult Learning Standards (2017-2018).

5 SABES offers extensive PD for curriculum development and in how to implement the CCRSAE. Programs opting to submit draft curriculum materials to the SABES ELA, mathematics, and ESOL Curriculum and Instruction PD Centers will receive feedback to inform future work. Programs are advised to inform the relevant PD centers that they plan to submit and what materials they will be submitting to facilitate planning and timely feedback. For contact information, see the SABES website.

6 For more information about Educational Functioning Levels (EFLs), see the EFL Frequently Asked Questions on the ACLS webpage.

7 STAR students attest to the value of STAR, saying:

  • "Before I started to do assessment testing, I never know how much vocabulary I knew... I think it is helpful to know a lot of vocabulary not just to pass the Hi-SET test. It's helpful to communicate with friends, especially at work."
  • "The best thing is how the teacher helps us, we are divided by group, and each group is helped in the most necessary way."

8 To better understand the role of the CCRSAE in these standards, ESOL teachers will benefit from reading the following CCRSAE sections: Introduction (pp. 1–3), Instructional Shifts for ELA/Literacy (pp. 9–11), Instructional Shifts for Mathematics, and Standards for Mathematical Practice (pp. 44–50), Appendix B, Connections Between the Standards (pp. 95–97), and Appendix D: Understanding Text Complexity (pp. 117–118).

9 For English language learners receiving mathematics instruction.

10 For more on the instructional shifts for ELA, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 9–10.

11 For more on the instructional shifts for mathematics, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 44–46.

12 For more on the Standards for Mathematical Practice, see Pimentel, Susan. 2013. College and Career Readiness Standards for Adult Education, pages 46, 48–50.

Last Updated: July 12, 2019

Contact Us

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education
135 Santilli Highway, Everett, MA 02149

Voice: (781) 338-3000
TTY: (800) 439-2370


Disclaimer: A reference in this website to any specific commercial products, processes, or services, or the use of any trade, firm, or corporation name is for the information and convenience of the public and does not constitute endorsement or recommendation by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.