The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Common Core Standards

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
July 16, 2010

The purpose of this memorandum is threefold: 1) to provide my recommendation that you adopt the Common Core State Standards at the July 21 meeting contingent on strengthening specific components consistent with the Massachusetts Working Draft Standards, 2) to provide you with additional reports and analyses related to my recommendation, and 3) to describe next steps, if the Board adopts the Common Core standards at its meeting this month.

As I promised in last week's memorandum, enclosed are a second set of reports regarding the Common Core standards. I have included the following reports as background for my recommendation:

  1. Reports from the educator panels in Massachusetts (Attachments 1a and 1b);
  2. Comparative analyses of the standards by DESE staff (Attachment 2);
  3. Achieve's report comparing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics with the mathematics standards of Massachusetts and California (Attachment 3);
  4. A report from a public survey on the Common Core and the current Massachusetts standards that was posted on the DESE website from June 6 through July 2 (Attachment 4).

Next week I also plan to provide you with the alignment report being produced for the Massachusetts Business Alliance for Education (MBAE) by WestEd and a report by the Fordham Foundation comparing the Common Core standards with those of the states. At best, these will be available a day or two prior to the meeting. One or both of these may not be available until the day of the meeting.

Common Core Evaluation Reports

By the Massachusetts Educator Panels: These independent analyses are by the panelists of Massachusetts educators I appointed in June to review and evaluate the Massachusetts Working Drafts and the Common Core State Standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts. The panelists have expertise in PreK-12 and college/university education and deep knowledge of their subject matter. Many of them also had helped write Massachusetts standards and had served on MCAS development, standard-setting or MCAS-ALT portfolio review committees.

The panelists were asked to review and evaluate the documents in terms of their content, rigor, clarity, vertical alignment, relevance to college and career readiness, and measurability. Each panel had a chair or co-chairs who facilitated discussions and wrote the reports. I met with the panels to review their findings on Wednesday, July 14.

The English language arts panel, with the exception of one member who wrote a minority report that is attached to the panel report, concluded that the Common Core is a better choice of standards than the Massachusetts draft. The mathematics panel concluded that both sets of standards are excellent options for Massachusetts. Both panels identified areas of the Common Core Standards that, if adopted, could be strengthened by adding standards that are contained in the Massachusetts drafts, but not in the Common Core.

You will note in the reports that the relative strength of the two sets of standards is not always a matter of which establishes a higher bar but which adds value in a particular way. For example, a relative strength of the Common Core mathematics standards is the extended development of approaches to arithmetic operations, place value, and proportional reasoning in grades K-8, which panelists believe will provide strong guidance to elementary and middle school teachers in preparing all students for more advanced mathematics courses. In English language arts, panelists cited the grades 6-12 Common Core standards for literacy in history/social studies and science and technical subjects as a valuable and innovative component. They judged that these standards both affirmed the pivotal role that the teaching of literature plays in the English language arts classroom and reinforced the teaching of reading and writing across disciplines.

Comparative Analyses of the Massachusetts Working Drafts and the Common Core Standards: These analyses by Department staff assess the degree of match between the Common Core Standards and the standards in the Massachusetts Working Drafts. Overall, the report finds a high degree of consistency between the two sets of documents. In both mathematics and English language arts, 90% of the Common Core standards were matched to Massachusetts standards. The fact that the Common Core standards go into more depth in some areas mostly accounts for the 10% of Common Core standards that could not be matched by Massachusetts draft standards.

I want to acknowledge the support we received from the staff at Achieve, Inc. in conducting this analysis. We used software (the Common Core Comparison Tool) and a process designed by Achieve based on that organization's many years of experience in conducting standards alignment studies. Content experts at Achieve made preliminary matches between the standards in the 2010 Massachusetts working drafts and the Common Core standards. These matches were reviewed and either validated or (in many cases) modified by content experts at the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

Achieve's Report Comparing the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics and Leading State Standards: California and Massachusetts
The major findings of this report are that the three sets of standards cover similar bodies of knowledge but the Common Core State Standards are more rigorous, coherent, and focused than the California and the Massachusetts standards.

Report on the Results of the DESE Public Survey on the Common Core Standards: This report summarizes the results to the online survey on the Common Core Standards designed by our Offices of Strategic Planning and Research and Curriculum and Instruction, which was available on our website from June 6 through July 2, 2010. Principals, superintendents, faculty of higher education institutions, advisory councils, and professional organizations were notified about the survey so they could provide comment. In all, 1329 potential reviewers visited the site, and 178 completed surveys. The majority of respondents rated both the Massachusetts and the Common Core standards as "good" to "excellent" in terms of their content, rigor, clarity, vertical alignment, relevance to college and career readiness, and measurability.

Advantages of the Common Core Standards

Having given substantial consideration to the various sources of input and analysis, I have reached the following conclusions:

  1. The Common Core Standards are at least as strong, if not stronger, than the Massachusetts draft standards.
  2. Adopting the Common Core Standards, contingent on some Massachusetts-specific additions, is the course of action that will best serve our students, teachers, and schools.

This is not to say that the Massachusetts revised standards are not also very strong. Nonetheless, my conclusion is that the advantages of adopting the Common Core Standards outweigh the disadvantages.

First and foremost, because Massachusetts's standards and assessments enjoy an outstanding reputation nationally, the input of our content experts was largely reflected in the Common Core Standards. That being said, there are strong elements of our revised drafts that are not contained in the Common Core Standards. The adoption process for the Common Core anticipates that states may want to augment the Standards to reflect features and elements of state standards that enhance the Common Core, subject to an 85/15 ratio of Common Core to state-specific features. The Massachusetts Working Draft Standards overlap with about 90 percent of the Common Core, meaning that we will not exceed this 15 percent requirement. This means that we can benefit from adoption while incorporating those Massachusetts features that are not included in the Common Core Standards.

Among the strengths that distinguish the Common Core Standards are:

Because Massachusetts has had substantial impact on their development, the gap between the Common Core Standards and our draft state standards is not large. Nonetheless, whether we choose to adopt the Massachusetts draft standards or the Common Core Standards, we will be introducing refinements to our standards that will require adjustments to the enacted curriculum in many districts. For some schools and districts, the adjustment will validate practices that are being implemented. Others may find the adjustment more challenging.

Adoption of the Common Core Standards portends a number of benefits. One benefit is the potential for providing clearer signals to K-12 students about their readiness for success at the next level, including readiness for college or careers. While there is much debate about the precise requirements for college and career readiness, I believe that currently we do not do a good job of providing students with clear signals about their readiness. The Common Core Standards effort provides strong guidance on this front, including the identification of reading and writing demands across the curriculum that are foundational to college and employer expectations.

Other potential benefits derive from the interest of funders in supporting implementation of the Common Core Standards. For example, the U.S. Department of Education is promoting and investing in the implementation of the Common Core Standards through federal policy (e.g., Title I) and grants (e.g., Race to the Top, common assessments). Major education foundations are also poised to invest in the development of curriculum resources, instructional tools, and professional development to support implementation of the Common Core Standards.

With the development of the Common Core Standards, for the first time states have incentives to pool development costs and programmatic resources rather than approach curricular and instructional improvement as a state-by-state endeavor. The level of collaboration among states and the interest in pooling development efforts is unprecedented in the more than 20 years that I have been involved in state and federal level education policy.

Commissioner's Recommendation and Next Steps

For the reasons identified above, I am recommending adoption of the Common Core Standards contingent on strengthening specific components consistent with the strengths of the draft Massachusetts standards and subject to the 15 percent augmentation allowance. If the Board adopts the Common Core Standards, I will reconvene the Curriculum Framework review panels for ELA and mathematics and charge them with identifying unique Massachusetts standards that will strengthen the Common Core. I will present the recommendations of the panels to the State Board early this fall and, subject to your approval, solicit public comment on the recommendations. By late fall I expect to have a full package of Common Core Standards along with Massachusetts-specific augmentation for your approval. Once approved, the resulting documents will be the new Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks for English Language Arts and Mathematics.

When the Board has adopted the completed new curriculum frameworks, we will post them on our website and publicize them statewide. From winter through summer 2011, we will conduct regional statewide professional development sessions about the new standards at the District and School Assistance Centers, Readiness Centers, and other venues. Department staff and our assessment contractor, Measured Progress, will review item banks to evaluate the alignment of existing items to the Common Core State Standards, and will align any newly developed items for English language arts and mathematics MCAS tests to these standards. By the end of the 2011-2012 school year, we will expect all districts to have aligned their curricula to these new standards.


View HTML Page
July 9, 2010 Memo
View HTML Page
Common Core Review by H. Wu
View HTML Page
Memo from Board Member Sandra Stotsky
Download PDF Document
Review of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by Achieve
Download PDF Document
Mathematics Education Organizations Unite to Support Implementation of Common Core State Standards
Common Core Evaluation Reports by Massachusetts Educators
Download PDF Document
ELA Review Panel
Download PDF Document
Math Review Panel
Download PDF Document
Side-by-Side Analyses of the Massachusetts Working Drafts and Common Core Standards
Download PDF Document
Achieve Report on Common Core, California, and Massachusetts Mathematics Standards
Download PDF Document
Report on the Results of the DESE Public Survey on the Common Core Standards