Desks in the fifth-grade classroom are drawn close, bringing the students into groups of threes and fours.
Working together, their youthful hands use rulers to measure the lengths and widths of small items such as playing cards, crayons and glue sticks.
“I want you to make estimates first,” said math teacher Nelda Cope. “How long do you think it is? I’d rather you not put three feet. Then measure it to find out the actual width and length.”
Cope, a teacher with 25 years of experience and currently a fifth grade math and science teacher at Boyd Intermediate School, is leading the class in a lesson on measurements. She’s following the sequence of lessons laid out in CSCOPE.
It’s the first year the program has been used in the district, and its use in Boyd seems a far cry from the anti-American, anti-Christian and pro-socialist claims made by some critics about the curriculum building program.
“From everything I’ve seen, it’s been a smooth transition,” said Ted West, Boyd ISD superintendent. “We’ve been having success with it.”
This school year Boyd ISD began using CSCOPE for grades K-12. It’s only being required in math courses this year, but in the future it will include additional subjects.
Bridgeport Superintendent Eddie Bland said they introduced CSCOPE last year.
“It’s not a curriculum,” Bland said “The state tells us what to teach through the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills). All CSCOPE does is create a manageable scope and sequence.”
The TEKS “are the state standards for what every student should know and be able to do” according to the Texas Education Agency. TEKS in turn are what shows up on standardized tests that students have to take in order to move on to the next grade.
CSCOPE takes those TEKS and breaks them down into a timeline for teachers to follow. For example, for a fifth-grade math class, CSCOPE might map out that students spend 10 days on division, seven days on learning measurements, nine days on fractions, etc.
Prior to CSCOPE, teachers had to figure out on their own how to fit all the TEKS, into the school year.
Cope said in the past she has had to draw information from multiple sources and from attending various seminars to find ways to sequence all the TEKS.
A USEFUL TOOL
Several veteran teachers at Boyd said they find the CSCOPE useful.
Jackie Smith, who has 25 years experience in the classroom, is a language arts teacher at Boyd Intermediate. She isn’t required to use CSCOPE for her subject for another four years, but she, along with several other teachers in various subjects, has already started using it.
“I’m getting more done in class than I ever have before,” Smith said. “I’m real happy with it.”
Some groups have attacked CSCOPE as taking away from the creativity of teachers. A website called Texas CSCOPE Review has numerous articles pointing out grammatical errors or typos in some CSCOPE sample questions. It has even claimed CSCOPE is anti-American, pro-Islamic and pushes a subliminal agenda prepping students for a one-world government of tomorrow.
“Some think it takes away from creativity, but that’s not the case at all,” Cope said. “If I have a cool way of showing how to do something, I can still use it. But sometimes I do get some good ideas and see new ways to ask questions through the CSCOPE examples.”
“CSCOPE is only a resource for the teachers,” West said. “It is not the teacher.”
Boyd curriculum director Barbara Stice admits there are some errors in the examples. But she also pointed out that teaching about different religions and forms of government is standard social studies fare.
“CSCOPE is built by teachers, and we all know teachers make mistakes,” Stice said. “But one of the TEKS in social studies is teaching about other religions and cultures.”
And she stresses that CSCOPE does not take away from a teacher’s creativity.
“CSCOPE does have one way to teach a lesson, but if a teacher has another way to teach it they are free to do it,” Stice said. “CSCOPE is a live, living document,” Stice said. “Our textbooks are static. Our textbooks are outdated. TEKS are constantly being revised and textbooks can’t keep up.
“The state gives us the EOC (End-of-Course) exams to make sure we’ve successfully teaching TEKS.”
“After the STAAR (EOC) test results came out we all went ‘Whoa!’” Cope said. “We needed something more rigorous to make sure we were covering all the TEKS. That’s what CSCOPE does. It’s laid out so well. And the rigor is comparable with the STAAR.”
Following the CSCOPE sequence has made for more rigorous class work.
“I’ve seen a lot of hands-on work, a lot of group work and a lot of higher level thinking,” Stice said.
As for some of the claims Texas CSCOPE review makes about it being a pro-Islamist, pro-socialist?
“One of the TEKS in social studies involves teaching about other religions and cultures,” Stice said.
She said she’s seen no indication of it pushing religions on anyone. She understands that is something no parent wants.
“It’s very clear-cut and simple,” Cope said. “It makes sure I cover everything. It’s very good. There’s nothing spooky about it that I’ve seen.”
Bland said large school districts with big staffs draw up their own version of what CSCOPE does, but for the hundreds of smaller districts, the program is a lifesaver.
“It simply aligns what we teach with what the state will be testing for,” Bland said. “But like everything else we will keep looking.”
“It’s not the end all,” Stice said.
Meanwhile, students continue to work in groups, solving ever-tougher problems for ever-evolving standardized tests.