Newsline Volume 31, Number 3

National Common Core Standards and Massachusetts

By Janet Vohs, Director of Publications, Mass PIRC

"And then there's Massachusetts. . . the state that has led the nation in achievement gains over the past decade, thanks in large part to its excellent standards - and their serious implementation." Thus begins a paragraph in "State of the State Standards - and the Common Core - in 2010," a July 2010 report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute on the progress of a national movement toward adoption of nationally agreed upon, high quality educational standards by the states.

Why a "Common Core"?
On July 21, 2010, the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education voted unanimously to adopt the "Common Core Standards," in English language arts (ELA) and mathematics. Teachers, administrators, civil rights groups, disability advocates, and other experts from across the nation developed the Common Core standards in response to the inconsistencies in educational expectations from state to state. Prior to this, students in one state could be deemed "proficient" whereas in another state the same level of learning could be barely passing. The goal of common standards is to provide a clear, consistent roadmap for preparing children for college and the workforce. Massachusetts played a leading role in the development of the national Common Core Standards.

States that adopt the Common Core Standards may modify them up to 15% with their own standards to enhance or customize them to state needs. In late summer, the ELA and mathematics Curriculum Framework revision panels began work to identify Massachusetts standards that would be added to strengthen the Common Core standards. The augmented Common Core standards were submitted to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and adopted in December 2010. The new standards are titled the Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy, Incorporating the Common Core State Standards, and the new Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for Mathematics, Incorporating the Common Core State Standards.

What Will the Common Core Standards Mean for Testing in Massachusetts?
At a Curriculum Summit convened in December 2010 by the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), Dr. Julia Phelps of the DESE laid out the overall plan for implementing the new standards in Massachusetts. Attendees learned that no changes to the curriculum standards are to be implemented this year. The spring 2011 state assessments, known as MCAS, will not reflect Common Core standards. In early 2011, the Massachusetts DESE expects to have a document laying out where the Common Core and our existing standards (the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks) coincide. Districts and schools will be using this document as a planning tool for incorporating the new standards into the schools' curricula.

The spring 2012 MCAS tests will reflect standards that are shared by Massachusetts Curriculum Guidelines and the national Common Core Standards. By the 2013-2014 school year, Massachusetts will shift completely to the new standards and assessments, according to Dr. Phelps. Massachusetts is now leading a consortium of states to design a standardized testing system that would replace the variety of tests currently used by individual states.

Over the next two years, schools and districts will be taking a serious look at the knowledge and skills that are being taught and learned in order to best prepare all students for the state assessments that will be based on the new Curriculum Frameworks.

Learn more about Common Core Standards at

For background on Massachusetts' adoption of the Common Core State Standards, visit


The Massachusetts Parent Information and Resource Center (Mass PIRC) is a Federation project devoted to helping parents of all children participate as equal partners with educators in their children's education. Call us at 1-877-471-0980 or visit