Bastrop ISD students and teachers are using new curriculum throughout the district this year. Focusing on on-grade-level reading and engaging material, the curriculum aims to increase the district's State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness passing rates.

The overview
  • Bastrop elementary and middle schools adopted Eureka and Carnegie curriculums for math, respectively.
  • A curriculum designed by Amplify is used in elementary and middle schools for English language arts courses.
  • A curriculum called StudySync is used in high school English classrooms.
How it happened

Last year, literacy and math task forces assessed BISD schools as a result of a Strong Foundations grant from the Texas Education Agency. From the task force, the district developed literacy and math frameworks on which the new curriculum is based.

Matthew Warford, assistant superintendent of curriculum and instruction, said BISD teachers began training for the new curriculum over the summer. Teachers also engage in weekly training to better use the new curriculum.

The details

Warford said one of the tenets of the new curriculum is text complexity, which means all students are expected to read text on grade level.

The new curriculum uses an aligned approach across the district.

“Every teacher will do it the same way,” Warford said. “[The curriculum is going to] be giving kids the same access.”

The approach

Special education or emerging bilingual students may need extra assistance in completing this more rigorous curriculum. Warford said teachers are encouraged to use sentence stems—or opening statement sentences—to aid students in English language arts classes.

Savannah Feekes teaches freshmen English I at Bastrop High School. Her fourth year at the school, Feekes uses StudySync curriculum in the classroom. According to Feekes, students can be left behind with the curriculum's pacing.

“The majority of my students are below level so it takes them longer,” Feekes said. “If a student doesn't get it, we don't have extra time to make sure they understand.”

Teachers are given a class period to complete lesson internalization in which they read, annotate and modify lesson plans.

According to Feekes, the StudySync curriculum requires a lot of modification to fit into a 50-minute class period. Feekes said this often requires her to work outside of this time to keep up with the curriculum.

“At the beginning of the year, I will be working every single weekend trying to highlight my lesson plans and do what I can,” Feekes said. “It's becoming too much, like I don't have time to spend time with my husband.”

Some schools in the district, such as Cedar Creek Middle School, give teachers an extra class period to work with the new curriculum. CCMS Principal Riza Cooper said this extra time prevents her teachers from feeling overwhelmed.

“I feel like we're doing what's best for students,” Cooper said. “So I think we keep that high expectation, but we also have to have high support for our teachers.”

The impact

Cooper said several campuses in BISD are projected to be rated F campuses by the Texas Education Agency based on last year’s accountability scores. Cooper said while the new curriculum is more challenging, it will help prepare students for the state exams.

“It doesn't do us any good for [students] to be making real high scores on our local assessments and then we get blindsided when a more rigorous assessment is put in front of our students,” Cooper said.

However, teachers, including Feekes, feel the new curriculum’s demands hinder learning in the classroom. The micromanagement aspects of the curriculum has also negatively impacted teacher morale at her school, Feekes said.

“I definitely think it's negatively impacting the students. This feels like the most superficial year that I've taught,” Feekes said. “I feel like I'm only able to scratch surface-level skills because we don't have time to dig into it and talk about it.”

Courtney Grafton, who teaches language arts and reading at Bluebonnet Elementary, uses Amplify curriculum in the classroom. Grafton said her students love the more engaging curriculum.

“Everyone in this district was working incredibly hard,” Warford said. “I never walked into a classroom where I was like, ‘That person needs to be doing more.' They were working so hard. What we're trying to do is work smarter."

Looking ahead

Toni Malone, president of the Bastrop Federation of Teachers, addressed some teachers' concerns with the curriculum's pacing at the Oct. 17 school board meeting's open hearing. Malone said she has received a increased number of calls from teachers who find adhering to the curriculum challenging for lower-level students.

"As a teacher, it's really hard to look at a child in your classroom and not be able to help," Malone said.

In a meeting with BISD Superintendent Barry Edwards and Deputy Superintendent Kristi Lee on Oct. 25, Malone proposed allowing teachers to work in groups when internalizing curriculum and using staff development days for further teacher internalization.

"It was a very productive meeting," Malone said. "I think that having teachers speak up and having principles really, really helped them to see that you can't eat the whole cake in one bite. You've got to take it a little at a time."