The Good News—Research That Offers a Practical Solution

A study that was recently completed at the University of Connecticut’s National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (NRC/GT) (Reis, et al., 1992) examined strategies that teachers use to modify the curriculum so that it accommodates the specific strengths of high ability students. A sample of 27 school districts and 465 second through sixth grade classroom teachers throughout the country from collaborative school districts that are a part of the NRC/GT were selected for this study. To participate, districts had to meet two criteria: no previous training or implementation of Curriculum Compacting, and a willingness to accept random assignment to a treatment group or control group. The districts participating in the study represented a wide range of elementary schools from across the country, ranging from a small rural school in Wyoming to a magnet school for Hispanic students in California.

Three treatment groups which received escalating levels of staff development were used to examine the most efficient but effective method for training teachers to modify curriculum. Teachers from a fourth set of classrooms served as a control group and therefore received no training. All treatment group teachers received videotape training and a book about the compacting process. Teachers in Treatment Group 2 also received approximately two hours of group compacting simulations conducted by an experienced trainer. The simulations developed by Starko (1986) have been a standard resource in this type of training. Treatment Group 3 received the same training as Group 2, but also had an additional 6 to 10 hours of peer coaching throughout the year, as suggested by Joyce and Showers (1983). Teachers in the control group continued normal teaching practices which did not include the use of Curriculum Compacting.

Treatment and control group teachers were asked to target one or two candidates in their classrooms for Curriculum Compacting, using a set of criteria outlined in the material provided by the research team. All targeted students in treatment and control groups were tested before and after treatment with out-of-level Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS). Next-grade-level tests were used to compensate for the “topping out” effect that is frequently encountered when measuring the achievement of high ability students.

Although space does not permit a detailed presentation of the descriptive and nonparametric statistical procedures that were used to analyze data from this study, a summary of important findings will be described, and the interested reader is invited to consult a comprehensive technical report that is available from The NRC/GT (Reis, et al., 1992).

How To Get More For Less!

The most important finding might best be described as the more-for-less phenomenon! Approximately 40 to 50% of traditional classroom material was compacted for targeted students in one or more content areas. When teachers eliminated as much as 50% of regular curricular activities and materials for targeted students, no differences were observed in post test achievement scores between treatment and control groups in math concepts, math computation, social studies, and spelling. In science, the students who had between 40 to 50% of their curriculum eliminated actually scored significantly higher on science achievement post tests than their peers in the control group. And students in group one whose curriculum was specifically compacted in mathematics scored significantly higher than their peers in the control group on the math concepts post test. These findings clearly point out the benefits of Curriculum Compacting so far as standard achievement is concerned. Analyses of data related to replacement activities also indicated that students viewed these activities as much more challenging than standard material.

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