Curriculum Compacting

An overview of the research into curriculum compacting as a educational strategy for schools

CURRICULUM COMPACTING "is the process of identifying learning objectives, pretesting students for prior mastery of these objectives, and eliminating needless teaching or practice if mastery can be documented" (Reis et al. 1992, p.10).

Curriculum compacting is increasingly being used in classrooms as part of teaching that is more precisely focused on student needs. The aim is to avoid wasting time and risking loss of motivation in teaching material that students have already mastered. The technique simultaneously generates the time needed for extension activities, independent projects, mentoring and similar educational strategies that are more appropriate for the students.

Research from the US suggests [1] that the difficulty level of textbooks has declined (Farr & Tulley 1985) with "new work" in mathematics texts only accounting for about half of the texts' content (Flanders 1987), [2] that most average late primary students can pass pretests on basal comprehension tests before the material is presented (Taylor & Frye 1988), [3] that eliminating up to 50% of the grade level curriculum for gifted students made no difference in achievement test results (Reis et al. 1992), and [4] that with minimal training teachers can effectively identify and eliminate already mastered material (Reis et al. 1992).

Curriculum compacting involves the following steps (Gibson 1993, Reis et al. 1992, Winebrenner 1992):

  • identifying the relevant learning objectives
  • finding or developing some means of assessing students' achievement of these objectives prior to instruction - important for teaching focus and accountability, pretests can often be found in textbooks
  • determining if all or only selected students should be pretested for possible curriculum compacting - any selection could be based on a wide range of factors covering general indications of both giftedness and subject-specific talent, it could also be voluntary with the purpose made clear to students
  • pretesting - the assessment should be detailed enough to indicate particular sub-areas of mastery and non-mastery, the concept of mastery relates to the defined learning objectives, and may be at a similar level to what would be considered "mastery" after instruction
  • eliminating practice and instruction in areas where students have achieved the learning objectives - generating time for these students to participate in or pursue enrichment or acceleration options
  • streamlining instruction of those sub-areas where students have indicated achievement of some of the learning objectives
  • offering acceleration and enrichment options - this challenging step involves teacher preparation and planning and can include: students working their way through the curriculum with teacher oversight, individual or small group research or hands-on projects, mentoring, etc.
  • keeping records - for both professional accountability and teacher ease of management, records can include both specially designed forms and student products and self-evaluation reports.


© David Farmer 31 January 1996 - This piece was adapted from text I wrote for an educational video/booklet package Meeting the Needs of Gifted Students in the Regular Classroom