Concerned parents and residents packed the Smith Middle School library on Thursday to learn more about the recently controversial CSCOPE curriculum alignment tool.
Attendees came armed with heated questions about what they have read and heard about CSCOPE, including why it was being called “un-American.” Some asked whether it was true that CSCOPE taught students that Islamic culture and faith is superior to Christianity. Others said they heard it said socialism is better than America’s mixed-market system.
Cleburne ISD Assistant Superintendent Tammy Bright said most of the rumors began when a Lumberton ISD teacher taught an Accelerated Placement world geography class about different world religions. A group of students tasked with giving a presentation on Islam wore burkas to school as part of the project.
“Initially, everybody thought the teacher forced the students to wear burkas,” Bright said. “The kids got to create how they wanted to present the religion. As it went down the pipe, it got exaggerated a little bit more. Even our Commissioner of Education [Michael Williams] sent out a letter to the schools.”
Bright explained that the teacher did not ask the students to wear the clothing and that the lesson had nothing to do with CSCOPE, as AP classes — which track toward college — don’t use the tool. She also said that there is no CSCOPE lesson that teaches one religion is better than another, nor do lessons force students to wear burkas.
“The Texas Education Agency is aware of concerns raised regarding a world geography lesson recently offered in the Lumberton Independent School District,” Williams said in a letter to schools last month. “At my direction, TEA staff visited with the LISD superintendent to determine the specific circumstances. I have been assured the decisions regarding development of this particular lesson were made at the local classroom level and not part of the CSCOPE curriculum management system.”
CISD administrators and teachers said CSCOPE is simply used to align Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills — standards for what students should know and be able to do — and bundles them in a way that makes sense to teach.
CISD Director of Elementary Curriculum Kathy Ferrell said she thinks of TEKS as a bunch of scattered bricks and CSCOPE as the mortar that puts the bricks in a logical order.
“We have these TEKS, thousands of them, but there is no order,” she explained to attendees. “CSCOPE tells us what’s the best way [to teach]. It helps us build and construct things.”
Attendees said another concern is that the 875 out of 1,100 Texas districts that use CSCOPE are wasting money on something that doesn’t work.
CSCOPE costs CISD about $50,000 a year, or $8 per each of about 6,000 students.
Region XI Education Service Center Deputy Executive Director Robert Steeber said that CSCOPE is an affordable option for smaller districts because the cost of hiring up to eight CISD curriculum coordinators could cost more than $500,000. Using CSCOPE takes the guesswork out of when to teach each of the 6,000 TEKS students learn in school.
Bright said students have to learn 120 social studies TEKS, for example, in 126 days before the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam. Having the curriculum lined up across all campuses ensures students are learning the same things at the same time.
Director of Secondary Education Chris Jackson said that before the district adopted CSCOPE in 2009, he could not guarantee that a student would be learning the same thing at one campus versus a student in the same grade at another.
“When you have the seven elementary schools that we do, we want to be able to guarantee to our folks, that no matter where you take your kids, they will be learning the same things,” Jackson said.
Jackson also talked about how CSCOPE, among other initiatives, had helped boost Santa Fe Elementary School’s scores on state tests in just two years.
Some areas showed gains of 25 points or more, he said.
“When I became principal at Santa Fe Elementary in 2009, we had a really tough opening,” he said. “And Santa Fe was rated academically unacceptable. I want to point out, we had no district curriculum alignment. None. I would compare it to curriculum chaos. We were on the hunt to make sure we were on target with our Texas standards. I’m not going to say CSCOPE caused us to make all these gains, but over three years, no other schools in Johnson County made gains like these.”
He also said that CISD was in the 28 percent of districts in the state that met the No Child Left Behind federal accountability Adequate Yearly Progress standards this year, with Cleburne High School being only one of seven percent of high schools to meet AYP.
“To make AYP this late into the NCLB law, it’s quite an achievement,” Jackson said. “The number of schools making AYP are drastically down.”
Burleson resident Susan Harbour, a grandmother of six who are in various districts around the state, said she first became aware of the CSCOPE controversy through an email she received from a friend.
“The email said you couldn’t access it without a password,” Harbour said. “So, I Googled CSCOPE and immediately tried to access it and it asked for my password. My response was: ‘What are they hiding?’”
CSCOPE has been inaccessible to the average person because of copyright laws, Steeber explained. CISD administrators, however, said that until the alignment and lessons are made public next month, anyone is welcome to visit central offices at 505 N. Ridgeway Drive to access CSCOPE through the district login.
Bright said that anyone has always been able to ask for access to CSCOPE but it hadn’t been brought up until the recent controversy.
“I don’t think CSCOPE wanted to not be transparent,” Bright said. “I don’t think they had the capacity to [be transparent].”
For more information, visit www.cscope.us.