Date of Award

Spring 5-23-2018

Degree Type


Degree Name

EdD Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Christopher Tienken, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Luke Stedrak, Ed.D.

Committee Member

Dario Sforza, Ed.D.


Common Core State Standards, Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework, content complexity, cognitive complexity, Webb’s depth of knowledge


There has been much debate about having standardized curricula content standards for all. Some have criticized state curriculum content standards for varying in quality by state. The purpose of this study was to compare content complexity as it appears within the high school English Language Arts Common Core State Standards (CCSS) and the former state standards of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts English Language Arts Curriculum Framework (2001), in Grades 9–12. Webb’s Depth of Knowledge (DOK) was the framework through which the analysis for this study was conducted. Webb described four levels of DOK as they apply to English language arts specific to reading and writing. DOK levels increase in cognitive complexity as tasks that students are required to complete move from Level 1 to 4.

The level of cognition, according to the research within this study, required to reach higher order levels of thinking are DOK Levels 3 and 4. This includes, but is not limited to, exhibiting deep knowledge of subject matter, providing support for student thinking, writing with purpose for an intended audience, and performing complex analyses in reading or writing. State standards that do not exhibit a high level of content complexity may contribute to the stifling of high-order thinking, which is why it is essential to ensure that state standards promote critical thinking.

This study was a qualitative content analysis which utilized Mayring’s step model to develop a procedure for reviewing the two sets of state standards. Additionally, the coding team utilized an independent method of coding standards (i.e. double-rater read-behind) to ensure greater internal reliability. Such a procedure was utilized in similar studies