CSCOPE has recently gained a lot of media attention, and though there is some concern about the use of this system in school districts across the state, Brownwood ISD has set out to clear up some of the confusion and misunderstanding in regards to how the program works.
Liesa Land, Brownwood ISD’s Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum, recently shed some light on how Brownwood ISD is utilizing the good aspects of CSCOPE while also being proactive in solving some of the flaws and imperfections that may have contributed to the current scrutiny of the program.
To better understand CSCOPE, it’s best to start by explaining exactly what teachers are given to teach. “Teachers are challenged each day with curriculum, discipline, and assessments,” explained Land. “Every grade and every subject has a set of TEKS [Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills] that is provided by the State. These TEKS tell teachers what they need to teach to their students that year. Unfortunately, those TEKS only tell what to teach. The TEKS don’t tell a teacher how to teach the material or in what order.”
Teachers are given a large amount of TEKS in each subject, and the numbers and content are dynamic, with the possibilities that the quantity or content might change the next year. “Kindergarten English Language Arts alone has about 72 TEKS,” said Land. “The number of TEKS and the depth of the TEKS vary from grade to grade and subject to subject.”
One of the main functions of CSCOPE is to provide a curriculum calendar. “Brownwood ISD, as do all school districts, teaches by a scope and sequence or curriculum calendar,” continued Land. “In the past teachers have helped develop the curriculum calendar, and even though that calendar was good for maybe a year, it was very difficult to keep up with the state changes in TEKS and the standardized testing that covers them. When it comes to changing TEKS or assessments, a district cannot wait for the change; we must be proactive and deal with changes before they are completely implemented. This being said, in 2006 a curriculum management system was developed by the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative [TESCCC] and sold by Texas Education Service Centers. This management system is called CSCOPE and is used by over 875 school districts in the state of Texas. CSCOPE is aligned with the state standards and assists educators in covering all standards within the academic year. CSCOPE was developed in response to requests from educators across the state that wanted assistance in covering TEKS adopted by the State Board of Education.”
Educators needed help navigating the increasingly complex sets of standards to ensure compliance with state requirements and prepare students for the state’s mandated tests. “CSCOPE was created by teachers and for teachers, and with constant feedback from teachers,” noted Land. “This was done so that every district in the state did not have to re-invent the wheel of working on curriculum calendars or scope and sequences. CSCOPE can keep up with the state changes electronically instead of waiting for a new adoption of a textbook.”
One criticism of CSCOPE has been the idea that it circumvents the need for textbooks and limits the materials a student can take home. “CSCOPE is not designed to eliminate textbooks or other instructional materials,” explained Land. “It is designed to complement them for the benefit of the teachers and the students.”
CSCOPE does have a wide array of resources for districts and teachers to utilize that include everything from a Year-at-a-Glance calendar and vertical alignment documentation, to exemplar lessons and assessments or quizzes. While some districts require their teachers to use every portion of CSCOPE without any flexibility, teachers at Brownwood ISD are not so restricted, and are currently only required to utilize certain sections of CSCOPE. “Brownwood ISD requires teachers to follow the Year-at-a-Glance. This just tells you which TEKS to teach and in which six-weeks to teach them. The Year-at-a-Glance is basically like the curriculum calendars we used to develop within the district,” noted Land, adding that Brownwood ISD also requires teachers to use the Instructional Focus Documents, which give teachers the readiness standards, supporting standards, and the specificity for the subject being taught.
“The other portion that we require as a district is the Assessment piece,” said Land. “Assessments have dramatically changed through the years. The state assessments are no longer a test of memorization; they involve process and problem-solving. The assessments focus on the higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy which are analyzing, evaluating, and creating.” In addition, CSCOPE assessments are crafted in a way that will help students with the types of questions that might appear on standardized tests such as the STAAR (The State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).
Specific lessons, supporting documents, handouts, and examples are also provided with CSCOPE. “We do not require the use of the lessons; however, we do encourage teachers to look at the lessons,” noted Land. “Some teachers use all of the lessons, some pick and choose, and some do not use any of the lessons.”
Recently, a few CSCOPE lessons have been singled out for their content in various articles and media outlets. These, along with other reported CSCOPE issues were brought up at a recent Brownwood ISD Board of Trustees meeting, and Brownwood ISD has responded by reassuring the board and the community that its administrators actively review CSCOPE to make sure it aligns with the best interests of the student and their education. Additionally, Brownwood ISD has recruited the EIC (Education Improvement Committee), made up of parents, professional staff, teachers, principals and community members, to look into any concerns regarding CSCOPE.
A common misconception is that CSCOPE is the source of the subject matter that is being taught. Though CSCOPE does offer materials and content that support specific lessons, it is primarily a tool that keeps districts and teachers on a schedule that is aligned with the state TEKS, or the essential skills and knowledge standards for each subject.
Having a dynamically aligned curriculum calendar that changes with the state standards also provides a financial benefit to the district. “Now with CSCOPE, we don’t have to pay teachers to come spend weeks in the summer to build these. They are already done for us,” said Land. “CSCOPE is a reasonable K-12 management system that costs the district only about $7 per student and covers grades K-12 for all four core-subjects. Is it perfect? No, but neither was our district calendar. Without a curriculum coordinator for each subject, CSCOPE is a tool to help teachers know what to teach and when to teach it, but still gives them time to be creative as to how they teach. CSCOPE has definitely made our teachers and administrators more accountable and aware of their TEKS and what the student expectation looks like at the current grade, as well as the grades before and after.”
CSCOPE also helps to prevent educational gaps for students that are constantly moving. ”With so many districts in the state using CSCOPE, as kids move in and out of districts, they are more apt to be in alignment and not miss pertinent TEKS,” added Land.
Another point of recent criticism about the CSCOPE program was that the system itself was closed to parents and the public, and teachers were given little means to provide criticism or input. It should be noted that the Region 15 Service Center provides support, various ways for teachers to give feedback, and upgrades are on the way that will allow broader access to the content. “The service center in San Angelo provides on-going CSCOPE trainings and support, and they host a ‘Back to School’ staff development every August for Brownwood ISD and surrounding districts,” explained Land. “Organized CSCOPE meetings are held several times a year on each campus to meet with teachers and support them. Teachers have daily opportunities to voice concerns, questions, or even request help with printing or anything else they need support with. Every year CSCOPE also has a state conference in which at least two from this district have attended for the past three years. This summer, all eight principals, four teachers from every campus, and three central office staff members will be attending the state CSCOPE conference. The conference attendees will then return to the district and set up professional learning communities by providing our own staff development to the rest of the district.”
Brownwood ISD Board of Trustees members have reported that parents are questioning the lack of access to CSCOPE, and they desire the ability to see the scheduled lessons and materials to help their children with homework. “A growing concern, in regards to CSCOPE, has been the transparency issue for parents,” acknowledged Land. “At any time, a parent has the option of speaking with a teacher and any CSCOPE information will be made available to them. Textbooks, workbooks, and internet links are all still available for parental help as needed. The district and the state will be taking steps to broaden parental access and support parental involvement by upgrading the current parent portal that is located on the BISD website. Teachers will be allowed to post any content they feel will help parents better understand what their child is learning. This, of course, does not include tests and answer keys. The new portal will also allow teachers to post on their classroom website items such as, handouts, worksheets, or lessons that they believe are beneficial for students. Teachers may also make hard copies for parents to view.”
Many improvements are in the works, and some of the changes are scheduled to be complete by the end of this school year. “The TESCCC will continue to work with CSCOPE schools to improve direct parent access and to assist them in establishing set procedures prior to the start of the 2013-2014 school year,” continued Land. “The TESCCC is currently developing a completely new parent resource site that will provide more information to parents than ever before. The new site will include unit summaries, key terms students will be learning, and items related to student performance in that unit. It is the goal of the TESCCC that these elements are available starting the fifth six weeks for this school year, but will continue to collect feedback and work to improve the site prior to the 2013-2014 school year.”