Survey reveals challenges

By Brian Knox | Published Saturday, April 6, 2013

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Increasingly difficult state standards.

Lack of adequate teaching resources.

Not enough time to plan lessons.

A rocky start for a new curriculum.

These are some of the challenges educators have faced, according to a recent survey of Decatur ISD teachers on curriculum issues including the district’s use of CSCOPE.

Judi Bell, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction, explained that CSCOPE is an instructional tool, made up of several parts packaged together. It includes curriculum, lesson plan and assessment components.

When CSCOPE was introduced to the district four years ago, the intent was for teachers to strictly follow the curriculum component, but the lesson plan component was to be used simply as a resource. Teachers were supposed to plan their own lessons and assessments.

Bell said teachers did not get that message.

“We really want to emphasize to our teachers that lesson planning is up to you,” Bell told school board members at a recent meeting. “This is where you bring your expertise to the table. And I know when CSCOPE was brought in, teachers were told, ‘You will use these lessons.’ And we’ve said since the beginning of the school year, ‘You are not tied to those lessons.'”

The survey revealed that a majority felt CSCOPE was a valuable tool in lesson planning, with 42 percent “strongly agreeing” and another 25 percent “agreeing.” Only 21 percent “disagreed” and 12 percent “strongly disagreed.”

The biggest issue to come out of the survey on lesson planning was the feeling that teachers do not have enough time to plan with their co-workers. Only 36 percent felt they had adequate time to plan lessons. Bell said more training days have already been built into next year’s calendar.

Part of the problem with lesson planning may also be a lack of resources. Bell pointed out that the state used to provide up-to-date resources, such as textbooks, to support the educational standards they would present – the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS). No tests would be given until those resources were provided.

Times have changed. Bell said the only textbook that is up-to-date is English. The state has lacked the funding to purchase textbooks in recent years.

“We last got history textbooks that met all of our TEKS in 2003,” she said.

In American history alone, there have been two wars, a recession and a change in presidency since ’03. World history in that period has included the “Arab Spring.”

The lack of textbooks means teachers must spend more time seeking other resources.

Because the TEKS say what a student should be able to know or learn at the end of a course, teachers need a “road map,” Bell said, in order to get them to that point. Curriculum is that road map.

“All the curriculum does is take those standards, bundle them together and say this is the sequence you need to teach those standards. That’s the written curriculum, and that’s the part we purchased from CSCOPE,” Bell said.

And that, some teachers say, is one of the problems with CSCOPE. While a majority said its scope and sequence are appropriate for the age and grade they teach, 43 percent said it’s not.

Bell said part of that feeling may be due to the rigorous standards being placed on students and teachers by the state. But she also acknowledged that CSCOPE sometimes “puts the cart before the horse” by having teachers present concepts out of order.

“One of the things I told teachers was … you have the ability to take a concept, and if you feel it should be here, move it – but stay within the six weeks so that we all stay together and so that we can do it in a logical fashion,” she said. “You can’t let your curriculum drive you. You drive the curriculum.

“If there is a problem with sequencing, you have the ability to fix it.”

Trustee Diana Mosley expressed concern at the last school board meeting that “gaps” in lesson plans were resulting in fifth and sixth graders still struggling in areas such as multiplication.

“If we’re still paying $25,000 a year for a product that at this point is still in a developmental stage, that is a concern. I think our students deserve the best,” she said.

Bell said the district needs to have a good intervention model to help those students meet the standards. It’s a challenge districts across the state are dealing with, she said.

As for the annual cost, Bell said that the alternative is much more expensive. Larger districts with their own curriculum departments will often employ up to 10 to 15 people, which could easily cost close to $1 million a year.

One of the complaints heard around the state about CSCOPE is that the lessons have an anti-Christian slant. When asked if they had ever felt forced to teach anti-Christian lessons, 95 percent of DISD teachers said no – 88 percent of them strongly.

As for the other 5 percent, Bell said she would like to see the lessons that were thought to be anti-Christian. She said no teacher has ever complained about a specific lesson being anti-Christian.

When asked by board member Jeff Alling at the last meeting what the district needs to improve its curriculum, Bell focused on curriculum coaches to go into a classroom and identify ways to improve instruction and show the necessary level of rigor to achieve success.

The district has hired these types of outside instructors before, to come in to provide such training. Bell said feedback shows that training time proved effective.

As for CSCOPE, Bell recommends the district continue using the curriculum next year.

“We’ve got to make it ours.”

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