What is Curriculum Compacting?

Shannon McGill


The question I researched was "What is Curriculum Compacting?" I was involved in a pilot, mathematics curriculum compacting program in my school last year and I wanted to know more about the teaching model. As I researched my topic, more questions developed. I wanted to know what aspects of curriculum compacting had been researched and also what parents and students had to say about the curriculum compacting process.

 Poster Format

Curriculum Compacting is the process of identifying learning objectives, pre-testing students for prior mastery of these objects, and eliminating needless teaching practice if mastery can be documented. (Sally Reis)

I also included a list of goals educators strive to achieve through compacting the curriculum:.

Included as well, is a simplified list of steps to follow when compacting the curriculum:

 A list of behaviors exhibited by students who may benefit from this model is also included. Two examples from this list include:

 On the left side of the poster are the results of the parent survey I conducted with the parents of my last year’s class. The survey had ten questions and the parents were to answer the questions using a rating scale ranging from strongly disagree to strongly agree. I have included percentages of the responses and parent comments. On the right side of the poster are statistics from three research studies conducted on curriculum compacting by Sally Reis, Taylor and Frey and The Educational Products Information Exchange Institute.

 What I Learned

I learned that curriculum compacting is a way to help high ability students move at their own pace through the curriculum. Curriculum compacting involves defining a set of objectives, pretesting students over those objectives and then eliminating what they already know from your teaching and their practice. Eliminating the mastered curriculum allows time to provide the students with enrichment and accelerated learning options. I learned that there is not a specific "right way" to compact your curriculum. Compacting can be as simple or complex as you would like it to be. You can do it with one subject or several subjects. Compacting can be done in your class room exclusively or as a grade level. You can involve all students in compacting or a few select students. I learned that compacting can be done as and independent project or even with a mentor. I learned that the biggest challenge of compacting is being able to locate and develop activities that will help meet the students’ needs. Compacting is not giving a child more work, it is cutting out practice they don’t need, which allows them time to explore areas of learning that most students are unable to get to. I learned that when grading students participating in compacting, you give them an "A" for the material they have mastered. You must then develop a way to evaluate their enrichment or accelerated work and hold the students accountable. I became more aware of the behavioral signs associated with students who may need to be challenged or be taught at a faster pace. Signs such as daydreaming and creating their own diversion are usually recognized as misbehaviors, but may be a child’s way of signaling us to move at a quicker pace. When reading the research studies on curriculum compacting, I saw the main focus was on effects of compacting on achievement testing. Teachers were fearful that if they cut out portions of the prescribed curriculum, the students would not do as well on achievement tests. A study by the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (1993), showed that students in their sample who participated in curriculum compacting did just as well as the other students on the ITBS and even did better on the sub test of mathematical concepts. I would like to see more research done on which models of compacting work best and how compacting effects a child’s self esteem.

I was very pleased with the results of the parent survey on curriculum compacting.

The results of the survey conclude that the majority of the parents felt that their child’s needs were identified and that their child received instruction at the appropriate level. The majority of parents felt that their child’s self esteem was raised or not affect by participating in compacting. Also most parents would like their child to participate in curriculum compacting again in the future. Though most parents reported that they felt informed of what was being taught and what methods were being used, comments such as, "I would have liked to receive a list of approximately when and what the pre-test were to cover. This way, as a parent I could have helped my child review at least the basic concepts of that unit. Sometimes the children are caught off guard by these pre-tests," lead me to believe that some parents are not completely aware of the part pretesting plays in the over all compacting model. We are not testing to see how well students have studied for the test. We are trying to evaluate what students already know before any teaching of the concepts occurs. Comments such as, "I believe that being with different students and teachers was beneficial and added variety. Also, since the students were grouped together according to a common knowledge base, there was less chance of a child being bored with the subject," were encouraging.


Curriculum compacting is cutting out the material from your curriculum that students have shown mastery for, thus allowing time to offer students acceleration or enrichment activities. There is not a set way to do curriculum compacting. It can be tailored to meet you own needs and comfort levels. Cutting out portions of students’ curriculum does not effect their scores on achievement test. Planning and scheduling can be the biggest challenge for teachers in curriculum compacting. Curriculum compacting keeps students who may otherwise be bored and misbehave, challenged and actively involved in learning.



Journal Articles

Reis, S. & Purcell, J. (1993). An analysis of content elimination and strategies used by elementary classroom teachers in the curriculum compacting process. Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 16 (2) , 147-171.

Bailey, L. (1992). Compacting curriculum through pretesting. Teaching Exceptional Children, Spring, 55-56.

Starko, A. (1986). Meeting the needs of the gifted throughout the school day: techniques for curriculum compacting. Roeper Review. 9 (1) , 27-33.


McGill, S. (1999). Curriculum compacting survey.

 Web Articles

Farmer (1996). Meeting the needs of gifted students in the regular classroom: curriculum compacting. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/farmer/gitsccmp.html

Metagifted Education Resource Organization (1996). Curriculum compacting: what is it, how do you do it, and does it work? http://www.metagifted.org/topics/curriculum/compacting/

Reis, S. National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (Javits Center) Curriculum compacting study. http://www.ed.gov/offices/OERI/At-Risk/javs2.html

Reis, Westberg, Kulikowich & Purcell . Curriculum compacting and achievement test scores: what does the research say? http://www.nagc.org/Publications/GiftedChild/compact.html

Tools For School (1998). Curriculum compacting. http//www.ed.gov/pubs/toolsforschools/curc.html

Talbott, F. Compacting the curriculum. http://www.asd.k12