Coping with CSCOPE: Educators try to adapt to flawed curriculum software

By KIM HILSENBECK

Four years after subscribing to a district-wide curriculum at a cost of more than $100,000 a year — many Hays CISD teachers are still dissatisfied with the product called CSCOPE.

Most teachers who spoke with the Hays Free Press were hesitant to do so on record, citing concerns about speaking against school officials.

 

What’s really going on?

District administrators know many teachers are unhappy but say Hays CISD is fully committed to using the web-based curriculum.

“It’s a work in progress,” said Kim Pool, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction.

Pool, who was instrumental in bringing CSCOPE to Hays CISD, said the program allows the district to have system-wide scope and sequence, offering a better education for students. She said it also teaches students about critical thinking and understanding concepts that can be applied to other problems.

CSCOPE’s creators call it a vertically aligned curriculum – a technical way of saying students get the foundation in earlier grades and build on it as they progress.

More importantly, says Jennifer Drumm, senior coordinator for curriculum and instruction at Education Services Region 13, it’s all on the same timetable and each grading period block has specific lessons and assessment tests.

Teachers say they appreciate this mobility; students can switch schools within the district during the year and still be on the same page as his or her new class.

One former Hays CISD middle school teacher said CSCOPE is conceptually good, but the materials are full of errors and the lessons don’t match the assessments. In other words, teachers say they can teach six weeks of lessons but the CSCOPE assessments – which are required by Hays CISD – may cover different material.

Several Hays CISD teachers, including Esperanza Orosco, a teacher at Blanco Vista Elementary and president of the Hays Educators Association, said the system is riddled with errors that have been there for a few years even though teachers have sent complaints to the CSCOPE development team.

“Our district tells us to use the feedback button in the software,” Orosco said, “and the development team tells us to let our curriculum personnel know about problems. The bottom line is, nothing gets done.”

Ed Vara, deputy executive director for academic services at the Education Services Center Region 13 is on that CSCOPE development team.

“Of course there may be errors with CSCOPE,” Vara said. “But we own that and are working to make changes. There is always room for improvement.”

Vara said his team is often busy keeping up with new changes to the Texas education standards, sometimes to the exclusion of fixing previous errors because edits are handled on a priority basis.

“Obvious content errors or those perceived to have some negative impact on student learning are priority one,” Vara said.

Vara noted that his team experienced more errors in unit tests this year.

“We are currently under a major revision of those documents so they are ready to roll out next year in significantly better shape,” he said.

 

Who wrote CSCOPE?

CSCOPE was created by current and former teachers who work for a collaborative of Education Services Centers — nonregulatory public entities created by the state legislature to provide training and support for educators.

There are 20 such ESCs in Texas; Hays CISD is in Region 13, which has approximately 200 employees.

The more substantial teacher criticisms about CSCOPE are that it may have inappropriate content for the student’s level, the curriculum moves too fast, and lessons take longer to prepare.

Several teachers also said it is not helpful for students who do not speak English or those in special education classes.

Another complaint is that CSCOPE does not always provide all the lesson materials. One first-grade teacher said she often scrambles to find materials and examples in the CSCOPE system, then wastes time recreating the wheel.

While teachers said they were told by the district that CSCOPE would help in this age of standardized testing, Orosco said CSCOPE is not endorsed by the Texas Education Agency or the College Board as a preparatory curriculum for the new STAAR or the current Advanced Placement tests.

Vara said about 800 Texas school districts use CSCOPE and each has the flexibility to choose how to best implement the curriculum.

“If teachers have a better lesson plan, materials or ideas, they are free to use those,” Vara said. “The goal is by the end of the school year, the students have master of the content based on the Performance Indicators upon which CSCOPE is based.”

Those indicators spell out the specifics of what students should know in each subject. The CSCOPE curriculum, Vara says, is a framework for teachers to help their students get there.

“The implementation of CSCOPE has been rocky in Texas,” Lyon said, “and there are many, many teachers here and statewide that do not like it.”

However, Lyon said Hays CISD is fully committed to CSCOPE , even with the glitches and dissatisfaction among educators.

“The service centers have not been as attentive as I would like in correcting problems, but they are getting better,” Lyon said.

Board of Trustees President Patti Wood said teachers have struggled with the CSCOPE implementation, but thinks the district would be hard pressed to find anything that creates absolute agreement.

For some teachers, the concept of staying with a product that doesn’t meet the needs of the customer is akin to buying a defective car, asking the dealer to fix it, and still not getting what you want.

Tim Savoy, Hays CISD spokesperson, said that analogy may be true, except if teachers didn’t have CSCOPE, they wouldn’t have an integrated curriculum that aligns with state standards.

“It would be like saying CSCOPE is the Model T Ford, so if you want to trade it in, you get your horse and buggy back.”

Steve Thompson, a teacher at Lehman High School and president of the Association of Texas Professional Educators, said writing your own curriculum is also fraught with problems.

While Thompson said he would like Region 13 to be more responsive in addressing edits and errors, he believes CSCOPE is an idea whose time has come.

“For me,  CSCOPE is great,” Thompson said. “It’s a logical progression where you keep building on what kids already know. But I can see where teachers with more years of experience may feel like their skill and creativity is no longer valued. I don’t think that was the intention.”

Thompson agreed with other teachers and district officials who say there is a disconnect between the idea that CSCOPE is a tool for teachers to use versus administrators telling them ‘you must use this and nothing else.’

“That idea may not have been presented correctly at some campuses,” said Thompson.

In the end, teachers say it’s the students who will ultimately suffer the consequences of a poorly implemented curriculum.

Pool said that the district is continuing with CSCOPE because it’s the best product available right now and she believes it will continue to improve.

Some critics of CSCOPE say they want an independent audit of the effectiveness of the curriculum – not from within the district or at the ESC Region level.

“For now,” said Pool, “it’s what our district uses and we believe we can work with teachers to make it better.”

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