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Research and writing on the topic of curriculum can generally be classified in one of two categories. One category is narrowly focused and deals with the evaluation of specific subjects or topics; the second is broad and includes general theories and principles of curriculum. Almost all writing on curriculum falls into the latter category—conceptual or prescriptive and rarely experimental. Research usually focuses on teaching, which is the curriculum enacted.

This initial annotated bibliography comprises research studies on curriculum and is a living document that will be augmented frequently with practice and theoretical pieces. In this first edition, we have sought to gather formative studies that represent or guide thinking in the large, often underrepresented field of curriculum. We have included studies on the use of curriculum in a variety of areas of education. Future editions of this bibliography will be based on a value-adding electronic, searchable, web-based platform and will include specific, content-focused ELA, mathematics, and science resources.

For purposes of this work, we have defined curriculum as the planned experiences, learnings, and materials used for scholastic endeavors. Standards are considered a component of curriculum but are, by no means, curriculum itself.

Agodini, R., Harris, B., Thomas, M., Murphy, R., & Gallagher, L. (2010). Achievement effects of four early elementary school math curricula: Findings for first and second graders (NCEE 2011-4001). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

This large-scale randomized comparative trial of the effectiveness of four leading elementary school mathematics curricula (consisting of a textbook, ancillary materials, and teacher professional development) spanned several years. It was federally sponsored, budgeted at $21 million, and designed to determine the effectiveness of instructional materials.

Schools in each of four participating school districts were randomly assigned to four curricula. The relative effects of the curricula were calculated by comparing mathematics achievement of students in the four curriculum groups. First-grade students were pretested in the fall and posttested the following spring on a standardized mathematics assessment. The spring mathematics achievement scores of Math Expressions and Saxon Math students were 0.30 standard deviations higher than those of students using Investigations in Number, Data, and Space and were 0.24 standard deviations higher than those of students using Scott Foresman-Addison Wesley Mathematics. The study indicated that a student's year-end percentile rank would be nine to 12 points higher if the school used Math Expressions or Saxon.

Studies such as this are rare because they are expensive and time-consuming. The Institute of Education Sciences What Works Clearinghouse examines the effectiveness of instructional materials, but such studies have limitations, and research on the effectiveness of instructional materials is limited.

Anyon, J. (1981). Social class and school knowledge. Curriculum Inquiry11(1), 3–42.

This one-year investigation of elementary classrooms is one of the most extensive studies of the connection between socioeconomic status (SES) and curriculum. Students were distinguished by four social class levels—working, middle, affluent professional, and elite executive. The researcher examined instructional materials, assignments, class discussions, and tests in these classrooms and found a correlation between the SES of the students in a classroom and the cognitive level of its curricular elements: the higher the SES of the students in a classroom, the higher the cognitive level of its curricular elements.

August, D. & Shanahan, T. (Eds.). (2006). Developing literacy in second-language learners: A report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

The National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth identified, assessed, and synthesized quantitative and qualitative research on learning to read and write in a second language and explained key findings. The panel focused on six areas: (1) the development of literacy; (2) the relationship between second language oral proficiency and second language literacy; (3) cross-linguistic relationships, sociocultural contexts, and literacy development; (4) instructional approaches; (5) professional development; and (6) student assessment.

For example, the panel found little evidence for the impact of sociocultural variables on literacy achievement or development. However, home language experiences could have a positive impact on literacy achievement. Moreover, individual differences contributed significantly to English literacy development. Most assessments did a poor job of gauging individual strengths and weaknesses. This report showed that instruction focusing on the key components of reading identified by the National Reading Panel as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension had clear benefits for language-minority students. Instruction in the key components of reading was necessary but not sufficient for teaching language-minority students to read and write proficiently in English. Oral proficiency and literacy in the first language could be used to facilitate literacy development in English.

Brown, J., Schiller, K., Roey, S., Perkins, R., Schmidt, W., & Houang, R. (2013). Algebra and geometry curricula (NCES 2013-451). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education.

Examining the relationship between course taking and mathematics achievement, the researchers used textbooks as an indirect measure of what was taught in classrooms—the intended course curriculum. Chapter review questions from the textbooks were used to identify the mathematics topics covered and the complexity of the exercises. Approximately 17,800 high school graduates and 550 public schools participated in this study. Its findings show that about 65 percent of the material covered in high school Algebra I was devoted to algebra topics, while about 66 percent of the material covered in geometry courses focused on geometry topics. School course titles often overstated course content. Approximately 73 percent of graduates in honors Algebra I classes received a curriculum ranked as an intermediate Algebra I course, while 62 percent of graduates who took a geometry course labeled honors by their schools received a curriculum ranked as an intermediate geometry course.  

Carmichael, S. B., Martino, G., Porter-Magee, K., & Wilson, W. S. (2010). The state of state standards—and the Common Core—in 2010. Washington, DC: The Thomas B. Fordham Institute.

The researchers compare the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) with standards in place in each of the states. They stress the importance of standards and argue that standards are the foundation upon which education and school outcomes rest or should rest. They point to Massachusetts as an example of how effective, well-defined standards have a positive impact when combined with smart implementation.

Based on their criteria, the researchers found the Common Core State Standards to be clearly superior to individual state standards. They concluded that the Common Core State Standards are clearer and more rigorous than the English language arts and mathematics standards developed and used by the vast majority of states.

Chingos, M. M., & Whitehurst, G. J. (2012). Choosing blindly: Instructional materials, teacher effectiveness, and the Common Core. Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

The authors review the research on influences on student learning and conclude that there is strong evidence indicating that the choice of instructional materials strongly affects student learning. Chingos and Whitehurst argue that these effects rival in size those that are associated with differences in teacher effectiveness. Based on their analysis of the research, they conclude that making better choices among available instructional materials is critical, since the evidence suggests that choice of instructional materials can have an impact as great as—or greater than—the impact of teacher quality.

Gersten, R., Baker, S.K., Shanahan, T., Linan-Thompson, S., Collins, P., & Scarcella, R. (2007). Effective literacy and English language instruction for English learners in the elementary grades: A practice guide (NCEE 2007-4011). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee

This practice guide stresses the importance of intensive, interactive English language development instruction for all English learners focusing on developing academic language. The guide provides five recommendations for improving the reading achievement and English language development of English learners in the elementary grades. Based on the quality and quantity of available evidence the panel determined that there was a strong evidence base to support the following recommendations:

  1. Conduct formative assessments with English language learners using English language measures of phonological processing, letter knowledge, and word and text reading, and use this data to identify English learners who need additional instructional support and to monitor their reading progress over time.
  2. Provide focused, intensive small-group interventions for English learners determined to be at risk for reading problems. Explicit, direct instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension should be provided to these students.
  3. Provide high-quality vocabulary instruction including essential content words and the meanings of common words, phrases, and expressions.
  4. Practice and extend material already taught by providing instructional activities in which pairs of students at different ability levels or different English language proficiencies work together on academic tasks for approximately 90 minutes weekly.

  5. The level of evidence to support the following recommendation is low because it is primarily expert opinion and there is little empirical research on the topic; but the panel of experts deemed it sufficiently important to be included in the recommendations:

  6. Develop academic English beginning in the primary grades. Daily academic English instruction should be integrated into the core curriculum.

James-Burdumy, S., Deke, J., Lugo-Gil, J., Carey, N., Hershey, A., Gersten, R., et al. (2010). Effectiveness of selected supplemental reading comprehension interventions: Findings from two student cohorts (NCEE 2010-4015). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee

This study was conducted based on a rigorous experimental design for assessing the effects of four reading comprehension curricula on reading comprehension. Schools were randomly assigned to use one of the four treatment curricula in their fifth-grade classrooms or to compose a control group. The sample included 10 districts, 89 schools, 268 teachers, and 6,349 students in the first year of the study and 10 districts, 61 schools, 182 teachers, and 4,142 students in the second year of the study. These schools and districts had above-average poverty levels and were larger and more urban, on average, than typical districts and schools in the United States.

After one school year, there were no statistically significant positive impacts of the interventions based on comparison of fifth-grade student test scores in schools that were randomly assigned to use the interventions and schools that were randomly assigned to the study's non-user control group.

In the second year of the study, all four curricula were included in the sixth-grade component and three of the four curricula were included in the fifth-grade component. Findings on intervention effectiveness in Year 2 of the study showed that the curricula did not have an impact on students one year after the end of their implementation; impacts were not statistically significantly larger after schools had one year of experience using the curricula; and the impact of one of the curricula (ReadAbout) was statistically significantly larger after teachers had one year of experience using it.  

Kamil, M.L., Borman, G. D., Dole, J., Kral, C. C., Salinger, T., & Torgesen, J. (2008). Improving adolescent literacy: Effective classroom and intervention practices. A practice guide (NCEE 2008-4027). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc

Based on the quality and quantity of available evidence reviewed by a panel of experts, this practice guide provides five recommendations for increasing adolescent reading ability:

The following recommendations are based on strong levels of evidence:

  1. Provide explicit vocabulary instruction.
  2. Provide direct and explicit comprehension strategy instruction.
  3. Ensure that trained specialists provide intensive and individualized interventions for struggling readers.

  4. There are moderate levels of evidence for the following recommendations:

  5. Provide opportunities for extended discussion of text meaning and interpretation.
  6. Increase student motivation and engagement in literacy learning.

Kercheval, A., & Newbill, S. L. (2002). A case study of key effective practices in Ohio's improved school districts. Bloomington, IN: Indiana Center for Evaluation.

Fifty Ohio school districts were involved in this study designed to identify practices that educators considered to be responsible for their districts' substantial improvements on the Ohio Local Report Card. The study involved three phases of date collection, including: (1) use of the Delphi technique (an organized, semiformal communication process) to identify effective practices used by these districts; (2) telephone interviews with administrators and teachers in these districts to more fully describe effective practices; and (3) site visits to the districts to gather supporting documentation of steps taken to improve proficiency scores.

In order of importance as ranked by the 50 school districts involved in this study, the following key effective practices were identified:

  1. Curriculum alignment
  2. Professional development
  3. Emphasis on literacy
  4. Data analysis and tracking
  5. Intervention and remediation strategies
  6. Test preparation strategies

These key effective practices closely correspond to the characteristics of effective schools as identified by a considerable body of research.

In the context of this study, participants identified curriculum alignment as the single greatest factor in achieving improved test results. Curriculum alignment was reported most frequently and was ranked first in importance during the Delphi portion of the study. The concept of curriculum alignment was defined to include analysis of the curriculum as it appeared in the classroom, comparison to state-mandated proficiencies to identify curriculum deficiencies, and alignment of curriculum across grade levels and subjects.

Kimpston, R. D., & Anderson, D. H. (1986). The locus of curriculum decision making and teachers' perceptions of their own attitudes and behaviors toward curriculum planning. Journal of Curriculum and Supervision, 1(2), 100–110.

This study examined teacher' perceptions of their own attitudes and behaviors toward formal curricula and curricular decisions and whether their attitudes and behaviors toward curricula use and planning differed depending on the locus of curricular decision making within their school districts. The researchers defined curricular decisions as those relating to what is to be taught, to which students, for what period of time, and in what particular order or sequence. These decisions were made at the district, school, or classroom level. For those teachers in districts in which decisions were made at the school and classroom level, all teachers were directly involved in those decisions. In the two districts with a centralized process in which curriculum decisions were made by committees, teachers were either directly involved in those decisions or had their views represented by the committee.

Results collected from 488 teachers in six school districts suggest that teachers have a greater self-reported inclination to attend to their formal curricula and report a more favorable attitude toward their formal curricula when these decisions are made at the district level. Their direct participation in these curriculum decisions is not a requirement for their attending to the curricula that result from these decisions. These results suggest that teachers value curriculum decision- making in differing degrees depending on the context in which decisions are made within districts.

Marzano, R. J. (2003). What works in schools: Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Marzano conducted a meta-analysis of 35 years of educational research and identified 11 factors in three categories—school-, teacher-, and student-level—that have the greatest effect on student achievement.

Marzano concluded that, of the five identified school-level factors that promote student achievement, a guaranteed and viable curriculum is the most powerful when determining overall student achievement. A guaranteed and viable curriculum is defined as one that guarantees equal learning opportunities for all students and that also guarantees adequate time for teachers to teach content and for students to learn what is being taught.

Moulton, J. (1997). How do teachers use textbooks? A review of the research literature (Health and Human Resources Technical Paper No. 74). Washington, DC: U.S. Agency for International Development.

For years, the textbook has been an internationally recognized element of curriculum. The reliance on textbooks, their prevalence in the classroom, and their influence on educational decision making have led the discussion of how textbooks are used as curricular material. Moulton conducted a revealing review of the research focused on the following questions:

  • How pervasive is the use of textbooks?
  • How do teachers use textbooks to plan and make decisions about instruction?
  • How do teachers rationalize their use of textbooks during the teaching-learning process?
  • What use do teachers make of teachers' guides?
  • What do teachers learn about textbooks during their preservice training?

Moulton's research review found that commercially produced instructional materials dominate teaching practice in the United States. Available estimates indicate that 70 percent to 98 percent of teachers use textbooks at least weekly. Teachers are more likely to cover topics presented in the materials selected by their schools or districts than to cover topics not included. Similarly, they are more likely to follow the topical sequence shown in the selected materials. Their instruction is influenced by the instructional design of the materials.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.

The National Early Literacy Panel was appointed in 2002 to apply a methodological review process similar to that used by the National Reading Panel to issues of instructional practices used with children from birth through age five so that parents and teachers could better support their emerging literacy skills. The panel identified the following six variables representing early literacy skills or precursor literacy skills that showed medium to large predictive relationships with later measures of literacy development: (1) alphabet knowledge, (2) phonological awareness, (3) rapid automatic naming of letters or digits, (4) rapid automatic naming of objects or colors, (5) writing or writing one's name, and (6) phonological memory. An additional five variables defined as potentially important to early literacy skill were also moderately correlated with at least one measure of later literacy achievement. These include the following: (1) concepts about print, (2) print knowledge, (3) reading readiness, (4) oral language, and (5) visual processing. These 11 variables consistently predicted later literacy achievement for both preschoolers and kindergartners.

The panel also analyzed research studies focusing on instructional practices that enhance early literacy skills. It grouped these studies into five categories, including code-focused interventions, shared-reading interventions, parent and home programs, preschool and kindergarten programs, and language-enhancement interventions. Findings suggested that there were many things parents and preschool teachers could do to improve the literacy development of young children. These various approaches influenced the development of a different pattern of essential skills.

National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, & Council of Chief State School Officers. (2010). Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: Authors.

The state-led initiative coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Officers identified what students should know and be able to do in the areas of English language arts and mathematics in order to be career and college ready when they graduate from the K–12 system. Forty-five states including Illinois have adopted these Common Core State Standards.

The Common Core State Standards are targets that should guide state assessments and accountability systems; inform teacher preparation, licensure, and professional development; and give direction to curricula, textbooks, and other instructional materials. Effective implementation is critical to the impact the CCSS can have on student achievement.

National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instructionReport of the subgroups. (NIH Publication 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

In 1997, the U.S. Congress asked that a review of research be conducted to provide an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research and literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction in order to determine what could be done to improve reading and writing achievement. As a result, the National Reading Panel (NRP) reviewed published reports of experimental and quasi-experimental research. The NRP report was organized around five major topics: alphabetic, fluency, comprehension, teacher education for reading instruction, and computer technology and reading instruction.

The NRP developed an explicit, rule-based system for the selection, synthesis, and analysis of existing research on what works in reading education. The panel reviewed only studies considered to be scientifically based reading research with a quantitative experimental design.

Based on their review of the research, the NRP suggested that instruction in early literacy needed to be organized and systematic and identified the following areas on which to concentrate during instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, comprehension, vocabulary, and fluency.

National Mathematics Advisory Panel. (2008). Foundations for success: The final report of the National Mathematics Advisory Panel. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from www.ed.gov/MathPanel

In 2006, the National Mathematics Advisory Panel was charged with fostering greater knowledge and improved mathematics performance among American students. In addition to asserting that more research was needed to inform policy and practice, the panel made the following recommendations:

  • The mathematics curriculum in Grades PK–8 should be streamlined and should emphasize a well-defined set of the most critical topics in the early grades.
  • Research on how children learn should be utilized based on the recognition of: (a) the advantages for children in having a strong start; (b) the mutually reinforcing benefits of conceptual understanding, procedural fluency, and automatic recall of facts; and (c) that effort, not just inherent talent, counts in mathematics achievement.
  • Initiatives for attracting and preparing teachers and for evaluating and retaining effective teachers are crucial.
  • Instruction should be informed by research and by the professional judgment of teachers.
  • Assessments should emphasize the knowledge and skills leading to algebra.

Porter, A. C., Kirst, M. W., Osthoff, E. J., Smithson, J. L., & Schneider, S. A. (1993). Reform up close: An analysis of high school mathematics and science classrooms. (Final report to the National Science Foundation on Grant No. SAP-8953446 to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education). Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin-Madison, Consortium for Policy Research in Education.

During the 1990–92 school years, a team of researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Stanford University examined mathematics and science content and instruction delivered to students in more than 300 high school classrooms in six states. The researchers collected detailed descriptions of practice using daily teacher logs for a full school year in more than 60 of the classrooms. The descriptors of high school mathematics and science were organized into three dimensions: topical coverage, cognitive demand, and mode of presentation. Each dimension consisted of a number of discrete descriptors. Topical coverage consisted of 94 distinct categories for mathematics, such as ratio, volume, and expressions. Cognitive demand included nine descriptors—memorize; understand concepts; collect data; order, compare, and estimate; perform procedures; solve routine problems; interpret data; solve novel problems; and build and revise proofs. Seven descriptors for modes of presentation were applied, including exposition, pictorial models, concrete models, equations and formulas, graphical, laboratory work, and fieldwork. Content was described as the intersection of topical coverage, cognitive demand, and mode of presentation. This coding scheme was used for both the daily logs and the observation protocols.

The researchers distinguished four components of the curriculum delivery system—the enacted curriculum, the intended curriculum, the assessed curriculum, and the learned curriculum. The enacted curriculum refers to the actual curricular content in which students engage in the classroom. The intended curriculum refers to policy tools such as curriculum standards, frameworks, or guidelines that outline the curriculum teachers are expected to deliver. The assessed curriculum is represented by high-stakes tests. The learned curriculum is the knowledge that students acquire as a result of their schooling experience. Achievement scores represent a portion of the learned curriculum.

Porter, A., McMaken, J., Hwang, J., & Yang, R. (2011). Common core standards: The new U.S. intended curriculum. Educational Researcher, 40(3), 103–116.

Using the Surveys of Enacted Curriculum, the researchers investigated how much change the CCSS represent by considering their alignment with state standards. They found low to moderate alignment between state standards and the CCSS in mathematics. Across the 10 grade levels of CCSS, alignment ranged from 0.01 to 0.541, with an average alignment of 0.25. On average, the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics standards did not have a higher degree of alignment with the CCSS than did the state standards.

The same low to moderate alignment between state standards and the CCSS in English language arts was also found. Alignment indices ranged from 0.10 to 0.48, with an average alignment between English language arts state standards and CCSS of 0.30.

The researchers also examined the alignment of state assessments to the CCSS. This alignment study suggests that the CCSS represent considerable change from what states currently require in their standards and in what they assess.

Purkey, S., & Smith, M. (1983). Effective schools: A review. The Elementary School Journal, 83, 426–452.

For years, multiple researchers have focused on identifying factors that make schools successful. With the use of statistical methodologies, variables such as wealth, class size, teacher training, and teacher experience were able to be taken into account. According to Purkey and Smith, this review of research differs from many reviews in three main ways. The authors reviewed all research with a highly critical perspective. Multiple studies were reviewed, even studies that were peripherally connected or used survey or case study methodologies. This "open call" for studies allowed opportunities for newer or different variables to be introduced into the review. Purkey and Smith also focused on the inclusion of "process and content" (p. 5), meaning that variables within schools and different personnel characteristics were considered, in addition to the ways that schools functioned on a daily basis.

In their review of research on effective schools, the authors identify curriculum articulation and organization as the most important organizational-structural variables. The research literature on effective schools notes the importance of curriculum aligned to proficiency standards across all subject areas and grade levels, the frequent use of standardized assessments to monitor student progress, and clear instructional objectives.

Schmidt, W., Houang, R., & Cogan, L. (2002). A coherent curriculum: The case of mathematics. American Educator (Summer), 1–18.

Based on their analysis of data from the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS), these researchers argue that differences in mathematics and science achievement from country to country are related to what is taught in different countries. They argue that the curriculum itself—what is taught—makes a huge difference.

These researchers examined the intended content—what officials intended for teachers to teach—and the enacted content—what teachers actually taught in their classrooms. In terms of mathematics and science curricula in the United States, the intended content is not focused. There are more topics at each grade level than in any other nation. There is no textbook in the world that has as many topics as U.S. mathematics textbooks. The intended content in the United States is highly repetitive. Topics are reviewed year after year with very little depth added each time the topic is reviewed. Moreover, the educational content in American schools is incoherent and is not very demanding by international standards.

Given these factors, the curriculum that is enacted in the United States is highly repetitive, unfocused, unchallenging, and incoherent. American students and teachers are greatly disadvantaged by the nation's lack of a common, coherent curriculum and the texts, materials, and training that match it. Teachers in the highest achieving countries have coherent guidelines in the form of a national curriculum. They also have related tools and training that prepare them to teach the curriculum and provide opportunities for curriculum-based professional development. Teachers in the United States have long lists of ideas about what should be taught and textbooks that include something for everyone but very little guidance, tools, or training.

Based on their analysis, the researchers argue that curriculum matters. The particular topics that are presented at each grade level, the sequence in which those topics are presented, and the teacher's depth of instruction are all critical factors that have major implications for what students learn.

Schmidt, W. H., McKnight, C. C., Houang, R. T., Wang, H. C., Wiley, D. E., Cogan, L. S., et al.. (2001). Why schools matter: A cross-national comparison of curriculum and learning. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Data from the Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS) were used by the researchers to show that curriculum affects learning. For each country studied, the researchers looked at the intended content (what officials wanted teachers to teach) and the enacted content (what teachers actually taught in their classrooms). Focusing on four factors—content standards, textbooks, teachers' content goals, and duration of content coverage (time)—the authors found a direct correlation between what schools teach and what students learn and achieve.

The authors' analysis revealed that the mathematics content teachers covered in their classrooms was significantly related to their students' performance, even when researchers adjusted the relationship for student background factors such as ethnicity, parent education level, socioeconomic status, and other factors. This relationship was evident at the classroom level as well as at district and state levels.

The researchers concluded that schooling does have an impact on student achievement. Specifically, the curriculum itself—what is taught—makes a substantial difference.

Schmidt, W. H., Wang, H. A., & McKnight, C. C. (2005). Curriculum coherence: An examination of U.S. mathematics and science standards from an international perspective. Journal of Curriculum Studies, 3(5), 525–529.

The researchers examined U.S. mathematics and science learning standards in comparison to those of other countries and found that the U.S. standards covered many more topics at each grade level than was typical in other countries. Particularly at the elementary level, the expectations expressed in U.S. state standards far exceeded those in the countries that performed best on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) eighth-grade assessment. The researchers ranked U.S. textbooks first in the world in terms of scope, size, and weight. They also analyzed educators' reports of the relative instructional emphases placed by teachers on a range of mathematics and science topics in 13 U.S. states and 14 school districts that participated as "countries" in the 1999 TIMSS. They found that across these states and districts, topics taught in eighth grade differed by nearly a year as measured by the international grade placement.

Schneider, R., Krajcik, J., Marx, R. W., & Soloway, E. (2002). Performance of students in project-based science classrooms on a national measure of science achievement. Journal of Research in Science Teaching39(5), 410–422.

The researchers investigated the effects of a project-based science curriculum on student achievement as measured by the 12th-grade National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) science test. In the course of their study, they defined five key elements of project-based science: (1) projects engage students in investigating a real-life question or problem that drives activities and organizes concepts and principles; (2) projects result in students developing a series of artifacts or products that address the question or problem; (3) projects enable students to engage in investigations; (4) projects involve students in a community of inquiry as they collaborate to address the problem; and (5) projects promote students' use of cognitive tools.

This study compared the results of 142 high school students in project-based science classrooms with a demographically comparable subgroup and found students in the project-based science classrooms significantly outperformed the national sample on 44 percent of the test items.

Shanahan, T., Callison, K., Carriere, C., Duke, N. K., Pearson, P. D., Schatschneider, C., et al. (2010). Improving reading comprehension in kindergarten through 3rd grade: A practice guide (NCEE 2010-4038). Washington, DC: National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved from http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc/pdf/practice_guides/readingcomp_pg_092810.pdf

The authors of this practice guide made five recommendations based on an analysis of studies that evaluated practices designed to improve reading comprehension for beginning readers. Analyzed works included both experimental and quasi-experimental effectiveness studies as well as qualitative reports of practices and strategies. Findings included:

  • Strong evidence was available for the recommendation to teach students how to use reading comprehension strategies.
  • Moderate evidence was available to support the following two recommendations:
    • Teach students to identify and use the text's organizational structure to comprehend, learn, and remember content.
    • Establish an engaging and motivating context in which to teach reading comprehension.
  • Although there was minimal evidence for the following two recommendations, the panel believed their application could potentially improve reading comprehension among K–3 students:
    • Guide students through focused, high-quality discussion on the meaning of text.
    • Select texts purposefully to support comprehension development.

Smith, E. R., & Tyler, R. W. (1942). Appraising and recoding student progress. New York: Harper and Row.

Ralph Tyler, arguably the most prominent name in curriculum studies in the United States, was the Director of Research for the Evaluation Staff for the Eight Year Study. Between 1934 and 1942, 30 schools and school systems were encouraged to develop programs designed to serve the high school students of that period, since many more students were attending high school because of the Great Depression, and the relevance of the traditional high school curriculum was questionable for many of these students. These 30 schools were given eight years in which to develop and try new educational programs. During that time, the schools were not obliged to meet the specific requirements of the state and of college entrance subjects; but they were required to undergo an evaluation. Tyler helped the staffs in the 30 participating schools to formulate educational objectives and then to develop assessment techniques to measure them.

The Eight Year Study revealed that college success is not predetermined by high school curriculum requirements and that students at more experimental schools tended to perform more highly than did students at less experimental schools. The Eight Year Study also found that integrative approaches to the curriculum, rather than breaking the curriculum down into disciplines, produced more favorable results.

In 1949, a decade after completing his work with the Eight Year Study, Tyler published Basic Principles of Curriculum and Instruction, which called for the application of four basic principles in the development of any curricular project. These four basic principles include:

  • Defining appropriate learning objectives
  • Establishing useful learning experiences
  • Organizing learning experiences to have a maximum cumulative effect
  • Evaluating the curriculum and revising for improvement

This publication has served as a standard reference for curriculum for more than 50 years.

Tompkins, E., & Gaumnitz, W. H. (1954). The Carnegie unit: Its origin, status, and trends. Bulletin No. 7:4-19. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare.

The Carnegie unit uses time as a basis for measuring educational attainment. Most high schools in the United States are still using the Carnegie unit. Critics of the Carnegie unit have argued for several years that its use should be reexamined due to a variety of factors, including increased access to online learning.

A team of researchers funded by the Carnegie Foundation observed and interviewed educators around the country to determine a standard definition for use in measuring one year of study. This was necessitated by the lack of a definition of "year" in the recommendations of the Committee of Ten that, in 1893, recommended the number of years in the secondary school curriculum to be devoted to each of nine subjects deemed essential for "life preparation." The Carnegie unit, which defined one year of study as 120 one-hour sessions, was the product of this empirical work. The Carnegie unit was an attempt to quantify high school credits in terms of time and has remained the definition of one year of high school study since its articulation.

Virginia Department of Education. (2000). A study of effective practices in Virginia's schools: Educators' perspectives of effective practices leading to student success. Richmond, VA: Commonwealth of Virginia, Department of Education.

Twenty-six schools (elementary, middle schools and high schools) were randomly selected from a statewide pool of schools where specified percentages of students were identified for free and reduced price lunches and where school-wide student performance on state tests increased significantly from 1997–98 to 1998–99.

For each school identified, three sets of semistructured interviews were conducted: one with a group of three to five teachers from the school, one with the principal, and one with a central office administrator. Following the interviews, participants rated each statement on a Likert scale of one (less important) to four (most important) based on their perceptions of the importance of each statement in improving student achievement.

Seven of the 16 effective practices identified from research conducted by the Governor's Best Practice Centers staff were perceived by the participants as more important than the other nine in having a positive effect on student performance on state tests. High percentages of participants in at least 22 schools identified curriculum alignment and curriculum mapping and pacing (along with assessment, data analysis, intervention strategies, leadership, and student motivation) as important. Curriculum alignment was voluntarily identified as an effective practice 72 percent of the time. Curriculum mapping and pacing was voluntarily identified as an effective practice 71 percent of the time.

Whitehurst, G. J. (2009). Don't forget curriculum (Brown Center Letters on Education No. 3). Washington, DC: The Brookings Institution.

In this piece, this researcher explores previously conducted studies and takes an in-depth look at the current policy suggestions and the role that curriculum plays within them. Effect size is used as a metric to compare curriculum to other policy levers in terms of enhancing students' achievement. Effect size is a way of representing in numerical terms the strength of a relationship between an educational influence and a student outcome. Whitehurst concluded that the effect sizes for curriculum are larger, more certain, and less expensive than for other policy levers of schools, including reconstituting the teacher workforce, preschool programs, and state standards.

The study analyzed states' experience with standards, examined several years of scores on the NAEP, and concluded that the CCSS will have little or no impact on student achievement.

Whitehurst concluded from an analysis of the standards that, for many years, the quality of state standards has not been related to state achievement; that the rigor of state standards as measured by states' cut points for measuring student proficiency is unrelated to achievement; and that the ability of standards to reduce differences in achievement is low.

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