Curriculum and Assessments

Curriculum and Assessments Image of: innovation

Teachers in Massachusetts are leading the charge to develop high-quality curricula by creating a free online lesson bank through the AFT's Innovation Fund program. From left: Ted Chambers, Kevin Qazilbash and Tracy Young of the Edwards School in Boston.

All Massachusetts educators should be familiar with the state’s curriculum frameworks and assessments, as these tools are used to drive teaching and learning in the classroom. Spurred by the federal Race to the Top program, many changes in these areas have occurred and will continue to occur. It will be important for AFT MA members to stay involved to ensure that classroom educators have a strong voice in the development of high-quality curricula, assessments, and instructional resources.

Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks (Standards)

In December 2010, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted to adopt new state curriculum frameworks in two content areas: English Language Arts and Literacy and Mathematics.

The new frameworks for ELA and math incorporate the new (national) Common Core Standards, as well as additional standards and features unique to Massachusetts. The Common Core State Standards Initiative is a voluntary, multi-state effort coordinated by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers. To date, more than 40 states have adopted the Common Core standards.

The new Massachusetts curriculum frameworks for ELA and math will be implemented in a phased-in manner, beginning in the 2011-12 school year. Full implementation is expected by 2013-14. The state MCAS assessment (see below) will also be modified over the next several years to align with the new frameworks.

  • To access the new ELA and math frameworks and other resources related to the frameworks, visit the Common Core State Standards Initiative web page of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).
  • To view all of the state’s curriculum frameworks, including current frameworks in foreign languages, health, history/social studies, science/technology, and vocational technical education, visit DESE’s curriculum frameworks page.


The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was designed to meet the requirements of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993 and is also used to hold districts and schools accountable under the federal No Child Left Behind law and the Massachusetts education reform law of 2010.
Over the next several years, the MCAS will be modified to align with the new curriculum frameworks in ELA and math (see above). The MA DESE has prepared two documents to explain the transition: ELA Assessment Transition Plan and Mathematics Assessment Transition Plan. In the 2011-12 school year, the MCAS will focus on test items where there is content overlap between the old and new frameworks. The MCAS will transition fully to the new frameworks by 2013-14.

Meanwhile, the MA DESE has announced (see press release) that it has joined a multi-state consortium called PARCCto develop a “next-generation assessment system” aligned to the Common Core Standards. According to the MA DESE, the new system will be developed and field tested over the next four years and, if deemed rigorous enough, will eventually replace the MCAS as it is currently constructed. The state’s participation in PARCC is not expected to have an immediate impact on the MCAS. Stay tuned for more details on these developments.

Curriculum and Instructional Resources

As all educators know, rigorous standards and curriculum frameworks are just the beginning. They set forth the goals of an education, not the education itself. A more detailed outline of what to teach–and in what order–must be set forth in a well-rounded, content-rich curriculum. In a special issue of the AFT’s American Educator magazine, leading scholars such as E.D. Hirsch, Jr., Linda Darling-Hammond, and David Cohen explore the benefits of a common core curriculum (a curriculum shared across schools and classrooms).

Meanwhile, teachers in Massachusetts are leading the charge to develop high-quality curricula by creating a free online lesson bank through the AFT’s Innovation Fund program. All the lessons will be arranged in units and tied directly to current state curriculum frameworks. Additionally, each lesson will consist of a comprehensive multi-media PowerPoint presentation and will include all accompanying materials such as homework and classwork. Read more about this pioneering work in a front-page story in the Feb. 2011 edition of American Teacher and in a front-page feature story in the AFT MA’s Advocate newspaper. If you’d like to get involved in this effort, send an e-mail to Dan Murphy.