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New curriculum brings frustration to teachers

By ERICA RODRIGUEZ
Nov. 22, 2010 at 5:22 a.m.
Updated Nov. 23, 2010 at 5:23 a.m.

Students take a geometry exam in Nona Crater's class at East High School. Crater is using a new curriculum called CScope, which lets her be more creative in the interactive presentation.

WHAT IS CSCOPE?CScope is the new curriculum the school district is using to make academics more consistent for students.

The standardized curriculum makes teachers in the same grade level or subject give the same test and teach material in the same order.

CScope includes material that will show up later in the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test, so teachers don't have to focus on the test. More than 800 districts in Texas use the curriculum.

Source: Susanne Carroll, VISD executive director of curriculum instruction and accountability

A change in school district curriculum has teachers relearning teaching methods.

"It's like we're on a downhill train ride with no brakes," said Edward DeClements, social studies teacher at Victoria West High School, explaining the change to CScope, the district's new standardized curriculum.

The district spent roughly $88,000 to move to the new curriculum in the spring. The change comes after the district was rated academically unacceptable by the state and administration looked for ways to address academic problems for low-income students.

"We have a high number of students who are very mobile in our community, and as they went from campus to campus, there wasn't a consistency from the way the curriculum was delivered," said Susanne Carroll, executive director of curriculum instruction and accountability. "...They either might be ahead or behind and the student would get gaps in their knowledge."

The change will keep teachers districtwide on the same teaching schedule and is designed to make academics more complex.

Carroll said this year was the best time to make the change to help prepare students for next year's new standardized State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam, which is rumored to be even tougher than the current exam.

But there was little time for teacher training, and combined with acclimating to new schools, dress code and bell schedules, at the secondary level, many teachers believe the change was too much.

"A lot of us teachers really felt blind-sided," DeClements said.

CScope gives teachers detailed plans on what concepts to teach and the exact number of days to teach it.

The curriculum doesn't follow a textbook, so many teachers spend extra time thumbing through the books on their own to find supporting material for CScope assignments.

DeClements, who teaches 140 students in world history, government and economics, spends hours during and after school doing this.

"It's keeping us very busy, both during school time and our personal time. It's kind of frustrating," he said.

But the biggest struggle is balancing years of lesson plans with CScope assignments and tight teaching timelines.

"We had so many great lessons," said Victoria Gonzales, a long-time high school senior English teacher. "Hey, 15 years of collaborative effort of great teachers, you hate to just throw it all out."

CScope also asks teachers to give a pre-created test every three weeks, which has been a challenge.

"...It's so rapid that the kids aren't getting at least the groundwork information with these courses," DeClements said. "We're leaving a lot undone."

But some teachers have found a balance. For long-time teacher Nona Crater, a geometry teacher at East High School, the ready-to-teach CScope plans give her more freedom.

"Now I feel like I can be more creative because I don't have to worry about putting all this stuff together and looking all that stuff up. It's here for me," she said.

But Crater said she is also behind on the teaching timeline and struggles with students who don't know the prerequisite information CScope says they should.

"The CScope assumes that every kid that walks into, say a geometry classroom, has all the skills they need to be successful and we're finding that's not the case," she said.

But, if the curriculum sticks around, Crater believes change will come.

"If the district gives it time and the kids see it every year and the rigor increases every year, then we're going to turn out some fantastic high school graduates," she said.

CScope is used in 20 area districts, including Cuero, Goliad, Refugio and Edna, and about 800 districts across the state.

Carroll said the district will start seeing changes within the next five years.

"I imagine we'll see significant results after the second year of implementation," she said.

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