There has been much discussion lately in our school district about the implementation of a new curriculum called CSCOPE. Several of the comments that the administration and Board of Trustees have heard are not correct, and hopefully this article will clear up some of the confusion.
Standards for seniors graduating are set by the Legislature and the Texas Education Agency. All school districts in Texas must use at least those minimum standards. In addition, students are periodically tested by a standardized state-wide test and must pass an exit test to graduate. The administration or Board of Trustees cannot legally waive this requirement. The current tests are referred to as TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills) exams. It is safe to say that few parents could answer many of the questions on the exit level TAKS, but the State still requires students to pass it to graduate. One could even make a plausible argument that every student does not need to have the level of competence required by the exit level TAKS, but the State has made that decision for us.
Now comes the hard part. The last Legislature put in place a system to replace the TAKS with end of course (EOC) exams, or their official name “State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness” (STARR). Commissioner of Education Robert Scott has stated, “The new tests will be significantly more rigorous than previous tests and will measure a child’s performance, as well as academic growth.” Making the tests even harder will put a tremendous strain on schools across Texas, and this includes Llano. Unless we upgrade what we do, we are going to have students who will not graduate.
To attempt to be sure that our seniors could graduate in a timely manner, we had to change our curriculum. The most important part of the change was to adopt a curriculum that assured that, at each level of the student’s progress, he or she had the required skills to move to the next level, as required by the State. In other words, each grade level must not only teach what it believes the student should know at that level, it must also teach what the student will be required to know to begin work at the next grade level. This process is known as “vertical alignment” and is critical to success. Because so much has to be covered at each grade level, the program has to have some discipline or rigidity. Otherwise, gaps will start to show up as the student progresses. It is not enough just to adopt a curriculum. That adopted curriculum must be taught, and to insure that it is taught, there must be monitoring of the process.
At the current time, the best curriculum to accomplish our goals is one called CSCOPE. (It doesn’t stand for anything.) CSCOPE has vertical alignment built into it in a rigorous manner. As a result, approximately 65% of the school districts in Texas are using this curriculum. The administration and Board of Trustees have been unable to find any system in Texas that is better. In addition, we have trained our staff in the “5E” model of instruction, which is basically a system where students learn by doing, rather than by just listening to a lecture. Research shows that this method of teaching is highly effective.
Because of the rapid change in requirements, our textbooks are woefully out of date. If we taught solely by the current textbooks, students would have massive gaps between what they learned and what they are going to be tested on to graduate. To fulfill the requirements, we must teach some information that is not in any available textbook.
What happens if we do nothing? Research indicates that without a strong vertically aligned curriculum, the district’s performance on the state mandated tests will be determined largely by the education level of the parents, the number of parents living in the home, the type of community in which the school is located, and the poverty rate of the students attending. We cannot control these social factors, but we can control the adopted and taught curriculum. Given the demographics of our district, a vertically aligned curriculum is vitally important.
1.We must align curriculum or face the real possibility of academic consequences for our students that are unacceptable.
2.We must insure that strong instructional practices are the established norm for our students in each of our classrooms.
3.State standards for student success and graduation are increasing. School personnel must rise to meet this challenge, and it won’t be easy.
4.Parents and students must be aware of the increased State standards and must rise to meet the challenge.
5.At Llano I.S.D., we are committed to student success. We are in a totally different school environment than most adults can remember as students, and that environment is significantly harder. Increased State standards for student performance, and accountability standards for public schools are responsible for the environmental changes required of us.
6.We must be successful in meeting these challenges. There is no other real option for our students. They are depending on us!