Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks and the Newton Public Schools Curriculum
The Tenth Amendment to United States Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Since the Constitution is silent on the subject of education, regulation of public education devolves to the states. Unlike many other countries, then, the United States has never had a national curriculum, national exams, or national standards for teachers. While a few states exerted some control over public education by issuing lists of approved textbook lists, most left decisions about curriculum to local school districts.
Recognizing the need for guidance on learning outcomes for students, professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), the National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), and the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) began to issue standards for their respective disciplines in the late 1980’s.
Massachusetts Education Reform Act of 1993
Massachusetts was the first state to adopt comprehensive school reform with the Education Reform Act in 1993. Among the requirements of the new law was the establishment of Curriculum Frameworks in each discipline. In 1996, Curriculum Frameworks were released in Mathematics, Science and Tech/Engineering, Foreign Language, Health, and Arts; then English Language Arts and History/Social Science in 1997. Revisions began with Foreign Language in 1999, Mathematics in 2000, followed by English Language Arts and Science in 2001.
The Education Reform Act also established The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) was established to test student learning in grades 4, 8 and high school, and included the requirement that students pass the tenth grade MCAS to receive a high school diploma.
The first MCAS tests were administered in 1998 to tenth, eighth, and fourth graders in Math, Science and ELA. A History test for eighth graders was added in 1999, but discontinued after three years. Testing in additional grades was phased in beginning in 2001 with a math test in grade 6 and an ELA test in grades 3 and 7.
No Child Left Behind
The 2002 reauthorization of the federal Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), No Child Left Behind, required that states test all students in grades 3 – 8 in reading and Mathematics every year, and once in grades 10-12. States could create their own tests, but to do so required establishing the standards upon which students could be tested. Many states, followed the lead of Massachusetts, and used standards developed by the professional organizations as the basis for creating state standards in Mathematics and English Language Arts.
The Common Core – English Language Arts and Mathematics
“By the early 2000s, every state had developed and adopted its own learning standards that specify what students in grades 3-8 and high school should be able to do. Every state also had its own definition of proficiency, which is the level at which a student is determined to be sufficiently educated at each grade level and upon graduation. This lack of standardization was one reason why states decided to develop the Common Core State Standards in 2009.”
Standards were written by teams of experts, and released for adoption by states in 2010. States were required to adopt the standards in full, but could add up to 15% more content. In March 2011, Massachusetts replaced previous state frameworks in Mathematics and English Language Arts with two new documents: the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework For English Language Arts And Literacy Grades Pre-Kindergarten to 12 Incorporating the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects and the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework For Mathematics Grades Pre-Kindergarten to 12 Incorporating the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. As required, the 2011 Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks incorporated 100% of the Common Core State Standards, and added 15%, primarily Pre-Kindergarten standards.
Next Generation Science Standards
Development and adoption of the Next Generation Science Standards followed a similar, though not identical path. The NGSS website makes the case for new standards:
“Quality science education is based on standards that are rich in content and practice, with aligned curricula, pedagogy, assessment, and teacher preparation and development. It has been nearly 15 years since the National Research Council and the American Association for Advancement in Science produced the seminal documents on which most state standards are based. Since that time, major advances in science and our understanding of how students learn science have taken place and need to be reflected in state standards. The time is right to advance toward Next Generation Science Standards.”
The development process was managed by Achieve, which based the new standards on the 2011 Framework for K–12 Science Education developed by the National Research Council. After as series of drafts were reviewed by states and the public, completed standards were published on the NGSS website in April 2013. In Massachusetts, a review panel immediately began work on adapting the standards to meet our state’s needs. The Board of Elementary and Secondary Education approved the 2016 Massachusetts Science and Technology/Engineering Standards, Pre-Kindergarten to Grade 8 and Introductory High School Courses, on January 28, 2016.
Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in 2018
As of Spring 2018, the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has current Curriculum Frameworks in English (2017), Mathematics (2017), Science (2016), and Digital Literacy (2016), with revised frameworks for History and Social Science under final review. Frameworks for Vocational Technical Education are current as of July 2014. Frameworks for Arts, Foreign Language, and Comprehensive Health have not been revised since 1999.
Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks in Newton Public Schools
In the Newton Public Schools, Curriculum Coordinators and High School Department Heads are charged with determining the curriculum for their respective disciplines and grade levels. The influence of state frameworks on the curriculum in each discipline varies.
Mathematics and English Language Arts have been most frequently revised, have been consistently tested since 1998, and have tested in every grade 3-8 since 2006. Over time, with multiple revisions and a national discussion, and with a growing consensus among stakeholders, these frameworks have come to serve as our Newton Public Schools Grade Level Benchmarks. Science is on a similar trajectory.
The History and Social Science Frameworks have not had the benefit of one independent, long-standing national professional organization such as the NCTM or NCTE. And, the content of this discipline is arguably much more subject to political interpretation and influence. In Massachusetts, public reaction to the 1999 standards and subsequent three years of eighth grade testing was such that the test was withdrawn, and revisions after the 2003 edition were put on hold. Newton Public Schools Grade Level Benchmarks in History and Social Science have been revised in the meantime to reflect our best judgment about the appropriate content and sequence of learning for our students. A new revision is underway, projected for distribution and implementation between 2018 and 2020. When the revision is complete, we will adjust our curriculum and Grade Level Benchmarks as necessary and as resources permit.
NPS Grade Level Benchmarks in World Language, Physical Education Health and Wellness, and Arts are much more heavily influenced by national professional organizations than by state frameworks written in 1999. Curriculum Coordinators and Department Heads base their curricula on standards developed by national organizations such as SHAPE America – The Society of Health and Physical Education, ACTFL-The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, the National Art Education Association and the National Association for Music Education.
Curriculum Changes in the Newton Public Schools
At one time, it was sufficient to conduct a K-12 curriculum review in a discipline about once every eight years. Such a process typically examined K-12 vertical alignment and resulted in selection of new texts and a request for funding. In the current environment, such a process moves too slowly to accommodate quickly changing expectations for college and career readiness, the proliferation of research on how children learn, and the exploding influence of technology on education. We now need to adjust and adapt, or in some cases re-align, in response to changing expectations, new research, and new materials as they become available.
Coordinators and Department Heads determine the extent of the curriculum changes, involve teachers in developing unit designs, lesson plans and materials and providing professional development as appropriate. Changes and updates are reflected in curriculum documents available on our webpage, and are formally reported to School Committee approximately every other year.