A sometimes-controversial curriculum management system utilized by a majority of the state's 1,200-plus school districts is set for substantial changes aimed at mitigating concerns about a lack of transparency and intrusive oversight.
Neither Kilgore ISD nor Sabine ISD currently utilize the comprehensive, Web-based CSCOPE system, but both are considering implementing the K-12 curriculum framework come August.
KISD is in the survey process now, interim Superintendent Dennis Williams noted Tuesday, determining if the district will utilize the resource in the next school year and how it will embrace CSCOPE's "scope and sequence" tied to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS).
"If that's something that we choose to do as a district," Williams noted, "one of the things we're going to do is keep our local voice and local control."
In the recent past, a headline making concern about CSCOPE (not an acronym, just a title) involved districts' use of the program's provided lessons – one, reportedly developed by another source and not an official CSCOPE element, likened the Boston Tea Party to a terrorist attack in a Social Studies activity.
Currently, CSCOPE is notifying participating districts that lessons are not meant to be taught verbatim, recommending the system's content be used as a resource instead of primary material.
"Districts are strongly encouraged to review all lessons at the local level, to ensure that lessons are appropriate for their students," state Senator Dan Patrick's office announced earlier this month.
Patrick, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, issued the joint release with the Texas Education Service Center Curriculum Collaborative (which developed CSCOPE) and the State Board of Education.
In the Feb. 8 announcement, the various parties listed multiple, immediate changes to the CSCOPE system:
• all meetings of the collaborative's governing board will be public;
• the collaborative will jointly-review all CSCOPE lessons with the State Board of Education, beginning with Social Studies;
• teachers and districts may post any and all CSCOPE content they deem necessary.
In addition to those attempts to increase transparency and quality control, CSCOPE will also be changed in terms of its structure and governance: its non-profit 501(c)3 arrangement will end, CSCOPE lesson content will be posted on its Web site and a new curriculum review panel (including parents, teachers, school administrators and representatives of the State Board of Education and the curriculum collaborative) will be established.
According to CSCOPE's Web site, the number of districts using the system has grown from 182 in 2006-2007 to 875 active participants in 2012-2013, about 70 percent of 1,247 school districts in Texas.
Sabine ISD is scheduled to officially implement the system in August, according to Shelley Yates, director of curriculum and instruction.
The development of CSCOPE began in the 2005-2006 school year – Yates, involved with the system soon after at another school district, says the program has evolved over the years.
Not unlike textbooks with the occasional printed errors, "CSCOPE's not perfect, by any means. Nothing is... It has improved," she said. "Some districts do it differently – some districts do mandate the lessons be taught as CSCOPE puts them out there."
Not so at Sabine ISD.
"CSCOPE is implemented in different ways. It's very flexible. It's aligned to state standards," Yates explained. "What we're going to do is mandate the direction that CSCOPE recommends but we're going to let the teachers have the option of using CSCOPE lessons or not using CSCOPE lessons. They can make their own lessons, but it has to be to the rigor and standards that CSCOPE and the state are using."
The benefit of CSCOPE is its vertical alignment, tied to the TEKS, she added, saving teachers the time-consuming burden of keeping up-to-date with the state's requirements.
"As years have gone by and as the state has changed their standards and increased the level and the rigor of them, updates have to be done every year. It takes a lot of time and knowledge to update the curriculum throughout the summer," Yates explained. "CSCOPE provides a working, living document and it is continually being revised and updated as the state updates their standards and revises them."
It will be an immense help to teachers to rely on the 'when' of CSCOPE's structure, its general map and framework, Yates said; their teaching-preference will not change as they implement the bundled concepts according to CSCOPE's sequencing.
"We want to give the teachers as much leeway and freedom, creativity, to instruct how they need to instruct."
Kilgore ISD's faculty has developed its own curriculums over the years, Williams echoed. That local touch will not be pushed aside if the district chooses to implement CSCOPE's framework.
"Our teachers will have the latitude to use their own lessons that cover the same objective," he said. "Those things that are near and dear to our community, such as the things our teachers have done, we're going to keep."