Archived Information

Tools for Schools - April 1998

Curriculum Compacting

What Is It?

High-ability or high-achieving students are frequently asked to participate in practice exercises or instruction that they have previously mastered. Classroom teachers should provide curriculum that is adapted to the learning needs, rates, and interests of our above-average students, but often do not have the needed planning time or guidelines. Curriculum compacting is a process to "streamline" and modify the grade-level curriculum by eliminating material that students have previously learned. In doing so, all learners are challenged, and students who demonstrate high levels of achievement are provided with time for differentiated enrichment or acceleration activities.

Why Did It Get Started?

An absence of challenge in the regular curriculum exists for high-ability or high-achieving students. Students who already know the material can face boredom, inattentiveness, and underachievement, and may become discipline problems in their classrooms. The need for curriculum compacting for some students is due to inadequate textbooks, repetition in content, and mismatch between student ability and instruction. For some students, less is more, particularly with curriculum compacting. Less repetition of previously mastered material can result in more learning for some students. Modifying curriculum is not a new concept; many educators have been effectively practicing it for years. Curriculum compacting is one way of modifying and differentiating content that has been widely used across the country.

How Does It Work?

In the curriculum compacting process, a form entitled the Curriculum Compactor can be used by teachers to guide the compacting services provided to the students. Teachers pre-assess students to gain information about their level of knowledge related to the subject. The following eight steps are involved:

Identification of the relevant learning objectives in a particular subject area or grade level;
Identification of students who may possess mastery of these objectives;
Development of some means to pretest students on one or more of the objectives prior to instruction;
Pretesting students;
Streamlining practice, drill, or instructional time for students who have demonstrated mastery of the objectives;
Individualization of instructional options for students who have not yet mastered all of the specified objectives, but who are capable of mastering the objectives more quickly than other classmates;
Development of enrichment or acceleration options for students who have demonstrated mastery of the learning objectives; and
Development and maintenance of records of this process and the instructional options available to students whose work has been compacted.

What Are The Costs?

The costs are relatively low: teacher training and professional development in the process of compacting, and providing differentiated replacement activities. Professional development can be provided in a summer training program or directly on site by consultants or staff members who have learned the process and can serve as peer coaches. Costs for training and replacement materials range from $3,000 to $8,000, depending on the size of the school.

How Is The Model Implemented In A School?

A committee of teachers and/or parents and/or administrators decides to implement compacting. All teachers receive a detailed teacher's manual supplemented by inservice at the beginning of the school year that is provided by trainers. A technical report and a videotape training program are available for classroom teachers, with an implementation guidebook.

The staff development model emphasizes initial training with extensive classroom follow-up, coaching, and group discussion. Throughout the year, follow-up visits are made to the school staff, and inservice presentations are conducted on such topics as management of compacting, instructional pace, and enrichment teaching and learning. The building facilitator also organizes many informal sessions to facilitate discussions about differentiation and enrichment teaching and learning.

What Is The Evidence That The Model Is Successful?

Several studies have documented the effectiveness of curriculum compacting. One study examined the effects of curriculum compacting with elementary student populations including economically disadvantaged and limited-English proficient students. After receiving staff development services, teachers in three treatment groups implemented curriculum compacting for one or two high-ability students in their classrooms. The control group teachers identified one or two high-ability students and continued normal teaching practices without implementing curriculum compacting. A battery of pre- and post-achievement tests, Content Area Preference Scales, and a questionnaire regarding attitude toward learning were administered to identified students in the fall and at the completion of the school year. The results of this study indicate that the compacting process can be implemented in a wide variety of settings, with positive effects for both students and teachers.

Where Can I See It?

Classroom teachers in schools across the country use curriculum compacting. Contact The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented for the nearest sites.

Whom Do I Contact?

The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented
University of Connecticut
362 Fairfield Road, U 7
Storrs, Connecticut 06269 - 2007
Telephone: 860-486-4676; Fax: 860-486-2900
E-mail:; Website:

The Research Base

The Curriculum Compacting Model is influenced by the body of research that indicates that instruction must take into account the varying abilities, background interests and learning styles of the various students. Research also suggests that to engage students' interests and effort, they must be provided with stimulating and increasingly challenging material. Curriculum Compacting provides a mechanism for differentiating curriculum within the classroom to respond to the varying learning styles and abilities of the students. It also encourages flexible grouping for instructional purposes within classrooms, to enable challenges to be provided for high-ability students.

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