The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Review of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
November 17, 2017

This memorandum provides an overview of proposed revisions to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework and outlines anticipated next steps in the process, for discussion by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) at the meeting on November 28, 2017. The framework includes learning standards that outline the expectations for what students should know and be able to do, as well as other material such as the vision and guiding principles designed to support effective instruction. Enclosed with this memo is a draft of selected portions of the proposed revisions, including the introductory materials for the framework as well as new standards emphasizing civic education for grade 8. The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) plans to present a full draft of the revised framework to the Board in January 2018, anticipating that the Board will discuss it at the January 23 meeting and vote to invite public comment. The current timeline calls for the Board to discuss and vote to adopt the final revised standards contained in the framework at the June 26, 2018 meeting.

Framework Review Process and Priorities

The Department launched the review in July 2016 with the goal of completing the process in June 2018, and developing a statewide assessment of the learning standards contained in the framework after the standards are established. The review is now in Phase 2 of the six-phase process, which is outlined in an attachment to this memo.

The Department solicited public input on the 2003 framework through an online survey, inviting respondents to comment on issues including the usefulness of the framework in supporting curriculum and instruction, appropriateness of the number and level of detail of the standards, and the rigor of the standards.

The Department also convened and has been working with a History and Social Science Curriculum Framework Review Panel consisting of K-12 teachers, department heads and curriculum coordinators, K-12 administrators, and higher education faculty. The members bring content knowledge and expertise in teaching various ages and populations of students, including those with disabilities and English learners. Panel members are from various regions of the Commonwealth, types of district (e.g. urban, suburban, rural), types of schools (including charter and vocational-technical schools), and professional organizations (e.g., MA Council for the Social Studies). The panel has met six times since January 2017. A list of panel members is included on page 3 of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework -Abbreviated Working Draft for the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education included in the Board materials.

Based on input from the panel and findings from the survey, the priorities for the revision of the 2003 framework are to:

The intent is to address these priorities while minimizing disruption to existing curricula. As with the revision of frameworks in other content areas, the revisions are intended to improve the rigor, clarity and coherence of the framework.

Focus on Civics Education

Civics education has been a matter of concern to the Board as well as nationally. On the civics assessment, at grade 8 of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), last administered in 2014, only 23 percent of students in the U.S. scored proficient or better. Researchers have noted proficiency gaps among different demographic groups and, more generally, low participation rates among young people in fundamental activities of civic life such as voting and engaging in community projects. While the data specific to Massachusetts are more limited, a survey conducted by the Board's Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement in 2015 found that 60 percent of superintendents rated the level of civic learning in their districts as insufficient. In the Legislature, civics education is regularly the subject of at least a dozen bills filed each legislative session.

In response to these concerns, the proposed revisions include the following changes:

  1. A new full-year civics course at grade 8 - The course includes study of the roots, founding principles, and institutions of U.S. democracy, how and why the U.S. government has developed over time, the role of individuals in maintaining a healthy democracy, and state and local government.
  2. References to civics education in introductory materials and appendices
    • Introduction - The introduction to the framework includes a Vision statement and a new section, "A Renewed Mission: Education for Civic Life in a Democracy" as a clear statement of the focus on civics.
    • Guiding Principles - A number of the Guiding Principles address skills and content that are central to learning civics, emphasizing the importance of teaching the legacy of democratic government, studying current events, data analysis, and skills relating to media literacy.
    • Standards for History and Social Science Practice, Pre-K-12 -These standards are designed in a similar way to those practice standards included in the 2017 Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework and the 2016 Massachusetts Science, Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework. They emphasize aspects of civic learning and describe the research process in history, geography, civics, and economics.

Before the January 2018 Board meeting, the Board will receive the full draft of the proposed revisions, which will feature:

  1. Integration of civics content at each grade level - While the content takes different forms at different grades in order to be developmentally appropriate, civics is featured at each grade. For example, topics at a few of the grade levels include:
    • Pre-K-2: citizenship in the classroom
    • grade 3: Massachusetts and local government today and in the colonial period
    • grade 5: the American Revolution, establishing the Constitution, principles of U.S. government, the modern civil rights movement
    • grade 7: World History and Geography: historical roots of democracy in classical Greece and Rome
    • grade 8: full-year civics course
    • High School United States History I and II: developments in national government and international relations, 1840s through the present
    • High School World History II: the growth of the nation state, the impact of social and intellectual movements on civic life
    • High School United States Government and Politics elective: case studies of issues related to the balance of individual rights vs. the common good, the role of government and the role of political parties, interest groups, and media
  2. Appendix on Emphasis on Civic Learning 2011-2018 - This Appendix provides a chronology of efforts in Massachusetts to bring a greater focus on civic education.

Challenging Students to Deepen their Understanding of the Content

History and social science disciplines provide many opportunities for students to be analytical readers who discover the relevance of ideas, events, and people from the past to their own lives while gaining new understanding of what factors over time have shaped the contemporary world. As the introduction to the 2003 framework noted, teaching history and civics as "just another…parade of facts" diminishes its larger significance.

In response to public comment on the survey, the draft of the revised framework is designed to help students see the relevance of history and social science and strengthen their conceptual understanding. The revised standards and framework will support greater rigor, clarity, and coherence, as follows:

  1. Rigor: The revised framework includes substantial new material on civics, geography, and the emerging events and ideas of the 21st century.
  2. Clarity: The revised framework includes explanatory materials and sample guiding and supporting questions to stimulate conceptual learning as well as a research-based explanation of the role of these questions and other aspects of inquiry.
  3. Coherence across grades: The revised framework includes a new section in the introduction to each grade or course ("Looking Back, Looking Forward") to make explicit the connections among grades. In addition, it achieves coherence between history/social science and literacy by including standards for literacy in reading, writing, and speaking and listening.

Anticipated Next Steps

At the Board meeting on November 28, 2017, Senior Associate Commissioner Heather Peske and other members of the staff will present an overview of the revised framework and respond to questions from the Board. The Board will receive the full working draft of the revised framework in January for further discussion and a vote at the January 23 meeting to invite public comment. Over the months that follow, the Department will review all the comments, revise the draft as needed, and then present the final version to the Board for further discussion and a vote to adopt the updated framework in June 2018.

The Department remains committed to ensuring that the revised Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework is clear, academically rigorous, coherent from grade to grade, and provides effective preparation for civic life for all students in the Commonwealth. The Department thanks the members of the History and Social Science Review Panel for their considerable contributions to this effort.


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Plan and Timeline for Review of 2003 Massachusetts History-Social Science Framework
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Highlights of the Revision of the Massachusetts History-Social Science Framework
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Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework -Abbreviated Working Draft for the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education