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Educator Effectiveness

Subject Matter Knowledge Frequently Asked Questions — April 2019

The Subject Matter Knowledge (SMK) Guidelines released in August 2018 reflect a significant shift in the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education's (DESE's) approach to outlining content expectations for teachers, emphasizing the importance of aligning standards for students with expectations for educators. Below are some of the questions we have received from the field about implementing updates in alignment with the SMK Guidelines. If you have additional questions, please reach out to .

  • What does Basic, Functional, Fluent, and Expert content knowledge mean?

    The graphic on page 3 of the SMK Guidelines offers a visual representation of the continuum these terms represent. Basic knowledge is the expected level for high school graduates as measured by MCAS. Functional knowledge is the expected level for Provisional license holders as measured by MTEL. Fluent knowledge is the expected level for Initial license holders as measured by Pre-Practicum gateway tasks and the Candidate Assessment of Performance , indicating an ability to teach the content. Expert knowledge is the expected level for Professional license holders. All Initial preparation programs are required to ensure completers are Fluent in all SMKs as well as have Functional knowledge of the two grades below and above the license level in which they are prepared.

  • Can a passing score on an MTEL be used to verify content knowledge in a transcript review?

    Per the SMK Guidelines, a passing score on an MTEL indicates the candidate has Functional knowledge of the content area (see p. 3 of the SMK Guidelines ). For Initial licensure programs, Sponsoring Organizations are required to ensure completers demonstrate content Fluency. In other words, Functional is knowing the content; Fluency is knowing how to teach the content.

  • Are Crosscutting SMKs required to be part of every approved licensure program?

    All Initial Teacher licensure programs are required to ensure Fluency in the crosscutting SMKs a-f listed under the first subheading on page 6 of the SMK Guidelines that begins with, "For all Pre-K–12 educators licensed at the initial teacher level". This set of crosscutting SMKs are not required for Endorsements, Specialist Teachers, School Support Personnel, Administrators, or Professional licensure programs. The second set of crosscutting SMKs are relevant to the specific licenses listed, for which the Foundations of Reading MTEL is required.

  • Can you clarify the expectations for the Digital Literacy Crosscutting SMK (i.e. "Apply basic principles and concepts for digital literacy and computer science … as outlined in the 2016 Digital Literacy Computer Science Framework") Crosscutting SMK?

    Since all educators in the 21st Century must be able to navigate technology in their classrooms and schools, this crosscutting SMK elevates the need for initial teacher licensure programs to embed basic principles and concepts of digital literacy into candidate preparation. Given a learning curve regarding digital literacy among instructors and staff, a first step toward infusing this expectation for candidates may be in providing professional development for faculty/instructors around what digital literacy looks like in a PK-12 classroom. The core concepts of digital literacy that are referenced in this crosscutting SMK (i.e. Computing and Society, Digital Tools and Collaboration, and Computing Systems) can be found on pages 7–8 in the Digital Literacy and Computer Science Curriculum Framework .

  • When do Crosscutting SMKs need to be implemented for licensure programs that to date have no updated Frameworks?

    In licensure subjects where DESE is currently updating frameworks (i.e. Arts and Health), Sponsoring Organizations can hold off on implementing Crosscutting SMKs until those Frameworks are updated. All other Initial Teacher Licenses should implement Crosscutting SMKs by Fall 2020, including Foreign Languages, given there is not currently an established date when those frameworks will be updated.

  • Do the Crosscutting SMKs have any impact on the SEI Endorsement given they are required for all Initial Teacher licensure programs (not just core academic programs)?

    Crosscutting SMKs have no impact on the SEI endorsement process. Non-core academic teachers continue not to be required to earn an SEI endorsement, though they still have a responsibility for being well-prepared to support their English Learners (as is supported by corresponding indicators in the Professional Standards for Teachers ).

  • The prior SMK requirements included content knowledge needed in the Foundations of Reading MTEL assessment; where are these now?

    The second subheading for crosscutting SMKs on page 6 of the SMK Guidelines , which begins with, "For all Pre-K-12 educators licensed in …" outlines the knowledge needed to support students in mastering the foundations of reading.

  • Are there going to be specific SMK for teachers, beyond having the content knowledge defined by the Curriculum Frameworks for students?

    Rather than provide a separate, additional set of content expectations, the SMK Guidelines directly reference the Curriculum Frameworks (where possible) to establish that educators need to demonstrate a certain level of depth and fluency in the content knowledge needed to teach the Frameworks. This approach creates flexibility and autonomy for preparation providers in designing a set of coherent experiences for novice educators rooted in the needs of Massachusetts' Pre-K–12 students. Sponsoring Organizations will need to engage in an intentional planning effort within each program to unpack the Curriculum Frameworks and identify the necessary depth and breadth of content knowledge candidates will need to support all students in mastering the academic standards.

  • What tools are available to help Sponsoring Organizations ensure program completers have appropriate SMK coverage?

    There are three tools DESE created to facilitate this process alongside the SMK Guidelines and SMK Implementation Memo. The SMK Program of Study Mapping Tool will help Sponsoring Organizations ensure a program's coursework addresses all of the required subject matter knowledge in the Curriculum Framework. The SMK Candidate Tracking Tool will help staff advise candidates both upon admission for transcript review, as well as throughout the program to ensure sufficient content knowledge. Finally, the Crosscutting SMK Matrix will help staff ensure each Initial Teacher program of study prepares completers to be fluent in all areas. Note: This Crosscutting SMK Matrix is required to be submitted with the Statement of Assurance due by May 30, 2020.

  • Will you be hosting workshops on the implications for Teacher Preparation programs of using K–12 Curriculum Content Standards for SMKs?

    DESE will host SMK sessions at the end of April 2019 to support Sponsoring Organizations to use the tools created to facilitate this process mentioned above. A registration link was shared with all Sponsoring Organization primary and secondary contacts.

  • What resources can Sponsoring Organizations' faculty and staff use to better understand the MA Curriculum Frameworks?

    • Frameworks website. In addition to housing all the Frameworks, individuals have access to:

      • "Highlights" of the framework revisions that impact planning and assessment (available for Mathematics and English Language Arts (ELA)/Literacy)

      • Grade-by-grade explanations, and

      • Quick Reference Guides (QRGs). The QRGs are each two pages and each cover a specific topic of importance in the corresponding Frameworks.

    • Standards-Based Learning videos provide an overview of how educators are approaching standards-based learning in different content areas and grades.

    • What to Look For Observation Guides (WTLFs). The WTLFs summarize standards for the relevant grade level and content area and lists teacher and student behaviors aligned with the model evaluation rubric and the Frameworks.

    • Writing Standards in Action (WSA) Project, which annotates student work to show how it demonstrates mastery of the Massachusetts standards. The 2017 ELA/Literacy Framework also links directly from specific standards to relevant writing samples.

    • Last Updated: August 16, 2023

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