by KIM HILSENBECK
Questions continue to surface about CSCOPE, the online curriculum used by about 70 percent of Texas school districts to help meet the state education standards, called TEKS, which stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills.
But teachers and parents welcome recently announced changes to how the organization that developed the curriculum system operates as well as the removal of some content that has been called inappropriate by groups of parents across the state.
Introduced in 2002, implemented at Hays CISD in 2009, CSCOPE has had its share of problems in this district. Complaints from teachers included errors and mistakes in many of the lessons, assessment tests that did not match the lessons and lessons moving too fast.
Hays CISD leases the curriculum from the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC), the organization that develops and markets CSCOPE, at a cost of more than $100,000 a year.
CSCOPE is supposed to align curriculum both vertically (as students progress from grade to grade) and across the state; therefore, teaching on a timeline is important to its effectiveness. But many teachers said the lessons move so fast that some children cannot keep up.
In other districts, there was also confusion about whether teachers were to follow CSCOPE verbatim or use it as one of their teaching tools. Hays CISD officials have said teachers do not have to use CSCOPE lessons verbatim but the assessments are non-negotiable.
Parents raised concerns to the State Board of Education (SBOE) and Texas Sen. Dan Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, about not being able to view the lessons in CSCOPE; many parents were told by teachers that they were not allowed to share the content because they had signed a lengthy nondisclosure agreement that had criminal penalties attached for breaching the contract. Chapter 26, section 26.007 of the Texas Education Agency code guarantees the opportunity for parents to review classroom teaching materials.
At the SBOE meeting in November, member Ken Mercer made a motion asking for oversight and review of CSCOPE, which has thus far operated outside the purview of the SBOE. Meetings were not open to the public and minutes of those meetings were not readily available under the Freedom of Information Act.
Ed Vara, Texas Education Services District Region 13 academic director, recently told participants in a question-and-answer session at another school district that CSCOPE had no outside oversight.
“No, we don’t currently contract with others to do that,” he said.
Mercer’s motion was denied but the issue gained some traction when national media organizations started reporting on potential problems.
Patrick picked up the thread and called a hearing in January. In conjunction with the TESCCC and the SBOE, Patrick heard from teachers, parents and TESCCC staff.
The result was several immediate changes to CSCOPE and how TESCCC operates; those changes are outlined in the side bar to the right.
Following the hearing and results outlined by Patrick, TESCCC added this text to its website:
“It has always been the intention of the TESCCC to allow teachers and school districts to share CSCOPE content with parents. That is a parent’s right and the TESCCC strongly encourages parents to play an active role in their child’s education. However, it was brought to the attention of the TESCCC that the user agreement teachers accept before accessing the site had language that was misinterpreted and had created confusion for our districts.”
Buda resident Will McManus, who has two current and one former Hays High School students and is a 1987 graduate himself, was glad to hear about the changes. He had several negative experiences with CSCOPE over the years since the curriculum program was introduced at Hays CISD.
He said he feels CSCOPE tries to standardize but the rollout at Hays CISD was poorly executed, to the detriment of teachers and students.
“It’s a red flag when my children do well in school but make a C on a CSCOPE assessment test,” McManus said.
He said his children’s teachers told him, “everyone does poorly on CSCOPE tests.”
“I have a huge problem with this,” he said.
Several of McManus’s teacher friends told him they are “flying blind” on the assessments because even they are not sure what lessons will be tested – he was told teachers are not able to see the assessments ahead of time.
“I’m all for standardization of what’s being taught,” he said. “But when parents and teachers don’t know what’s going to be assessed, we need visibility into the program.”
McManus suggested looking to the highest achieving schools around the state and emulate what they do to be successful.
Texas legislators may have the opportunity to vote on the issue of CSCOPE being more visible during this biennium. The CSCOPE Transparency Act, House Bill 760, was introduced by Rep. Steve Toth and calls for oversight for e-learning material/curriculum within public schools. Toth requested all financial documents and meeting minutes from TESCCC related to CSCOPE.
Last year, Kimbroly Pool, Hays CISD curriculum superintendent, called CSCOPE “a work in progress.”
With the recent changes from Patrick, she said there is still some work that the TESCCC will be doing.
“We are all in a bit of a holding pattern to see what changes will take place in CSCOPE,” she said. “We will certainly make the portions of CSCOPE that were protected previously available to parents as soon as it becomes available.”
CSCOPE changes to be immediately implemented based on parent and teacher concerns
Texas Sen. Dan Patrick (R-Houston), in coordination with the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (TESCCC), announced significant changes to the CSCOPE curriculum management system. The TESCCC worked with Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, and the State Board of Education (SBOE), to address concerns raised at a recent committee hearing on the CSCOPE system.
The changes that take effect immediately include:
• All future meetings of the TESCCC Governing Board, beginning with the February meeting, will be public with all the respective notice requirements being met.
• The TESCCC will begin a joint review process of all CSCOPE lessons with the SBOE beginning with Social Studies.
• Clarifying that all teachers and districts may post any and all CSCOPE lessons that they deem necessary.
In addition to these immediate transparency and quality control changes, CSCOPE will also undergo structural, governance, and other changes, including:
• Ending the non-profit 501(c)3 arrangement that incorporates CSCOPE.
• Initiating the posting of CSCOPE lesson content to their public website.
• Creating a standing curriculum review panel, comprised of parents, teachers, school administrators, members of the SBOE, and TESCCC board members.
Finally, CSCOPE is notifying all participating school districts that lessons are not intended to be taught verbatim, and the governing board generally recommends that local districts utilize CSCOPE lessons solely as a resource. Until CSCOPE lessons can be reviewed through a collaborative process with the SBOE and TESCCC, districts are strongly encouraged to review all lessons at the local level, to ensure that lessons are appropriate for their students.