Curriculum Mapping Research

Is There Research To Support Curriculum Mapping’s Usage
Generating Positive-Change Results?

This question is often asked. What makes an answer difficult is one’s definition of results. While one may define results as a steady rise in federal, state, or local test scores, others may value results as new or enhanced collegial dialogue that positively affects student learning and decision-making in and between grade levels, departments, or schools.

Since you may be interested in obtaining research that meets the former rather than the latter definition, the following provides insight into what is considered to be true research.

Investigative Continuum

On the far left of the Investigative Continuum lives a general opinion wherein results are expressed by anyone who may, or more significantly, may not have first-hand knowledge or experience in a given field, in this case, curriculum mapping. I have personally read editorials in newspapers and magazines wherein I could tell the author did not have a true understanding of curriculum mapping, nor experience in its implementation.

Moving toward gold-standard researched-based results is an expert’s opinion wherein the author or authors have had multiple first-hand experiences and attained various viewpoints and perspectives over a period of years in a particular field of study. The expert(s) synthesize these experiences, viewpoints, and perspectives that have established effective results. An expert is recognized in their field as a leader and continues to move the field of study forward in its natural evolution and advancements in results through ongoing professional practice and contributions from personal experience and practitioners in the field.

Field anecdotes are narratives from a person or persons who have experienced first-hand one or more aspects of a given field of study and evaluated personal perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs regarding how these three perspectives have positively impacted teacher practices and student learning and achievement results.

Change data surveys are designed to represent individual and group results regarding positive, measurable change. These changes include two critical aspects: teachers’ instructional practices and student learning/achievement. These positive change results can be immediate or measured over time. The data can be collected via literal teacher or student surveys or practices such as administrative walk-throughs or coaching/feedback sessions.

Case studies finally move investigative data across the [dotted] line, which symbolizes crossing over towards accepted gold-standard research-based investigative data results. These studies include well-planned out and executed research studies that oftentimes become doctoral thesis papers or quantitative studies. While this investigative genre represents good data, it is not considered to be Gold Standard research due to non-use of control group(s) and potentially not having a large enough sample base.

The remaining investigative genre, Gold Standard Experimental Design, is problematic when considering conducting such a study given NCLB’s Institute for Education Sciences (IES) guidelines. Dick Dalton, a special education teacher and parent, posted the following commentary on his Website, The Life That Chose Me. While he voices his personal opinion, it provides insight into why it is difficult to ask that a Gold Standard research study be conducted regarding a social science environment, which is where curriculum mapping “lives” and functions:

Educational research, under the best of conditions, is difficult. The randomized group designs advocated by NCLB as the gold standard have their roots in the methods we use when testing the yield of various agricultural crops or the performance of animals. For instance, if I want to test the effectiveness of weed control measures, I randomly assign different plots of crops to the experimental or control conditions….The crops are monitored and observations are made throughout the growing season and a person might be able to see the result visually if the results are remarkable enough. But the telling evidence is in the yield, when the crops are harvested. If there is a significant difference in yield in all the experimental plots as opposed to the control plots, then we might attribute it towards the independent variable, which in this case is weed control.

The problem with using this method of research on students is that they are not plants, which are relatively easy to control. Plants don’t ride home on a bus at the end of the day entering a myriad of different environments that can affect educational performance….Another problem, and this is even more critical, is that the random assignment of students only yields results of sufficient statistical power if the groups are large. This is fine in a wheat field where one plant is pretty much like another. Each wheat plant only represents a handful of grain. But each individual student represents a life span much longer than that of any agricultural commodity and a potential resource to a family, neighborhood or community much greater than an entire field of wheat. With large groups, statistical significance is measured only in terms of the aggregate as if each student is a data point and might as well be a bushel of grain.

I’ll give one more flaw to this methodology, which is one of ethical consideration. Supposing I study a group of 200 students who are behind in reading, comparing some type of new reading instruction designed accelerate the reading abilities of fifth graders. Students are randomly assigned to two different groups. One group of 100 receives the new type of instruction by specially trained teachers. The other group is the control group and receives whatever instruction is regularly given. At the end of my study, I discover that my experimental group increased their reading ability by an entire standard deviation over the control group. Woo-hoo! High fives all around! Right? Well, yes. And no. What happens to those 100 students randomly assigned to the control group as they head off to middle school?

The point Mr. Dalton makes is critical. Education is not an agricultural, nor conducive to control-group environment. We are dealing with young lives that have been entrusted into our care and we want all students to have equal access to success. To employ a true experimental, control-group design to measure results is not be in our students’ best interests. Therefore, gaining significant insights into the results of curriculum-mapping implementation via expert opinions, field anecdotes, change-data surveys, and case studies must be recognized as acceptable. In conclusion, while curriculum mapping may not have a Gold Standard study published at this time, there is a worthy and growing evidence base that chronicles the critical role curriculum mapping plays in positively impacting instructional practice and student learning results.

Investigative Research Genres
Sample Selection

Experts’ Opinions:
Curriculum Mapping Publications Based on the Work of Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs

(Ordered by Publication Date)

Jacobs, H. H. (1997). Mapping the big picture: Integrating curriculum
and assessment K-12
. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision
and Curriculum Development.

Jacobs, H .H. (2004). Getting results with curriculum mapping.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum

Udelhofen, S. (2005). Keys to curriculum mapping: Strategies and tools
to make it work
. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Hale, J. A. (2008). A guide to curriculum mapping: Planning,
implementing, and sustaining the process
. Thousand Oaks, CA:
Corwin Press.

Experts’ Opinions:
Educational Perspectives Embracing Curriculum Mapping Concepts

Collaborative Professional Learning Communities
DuFour, R., DuFour R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2006). Learning by doing:
A handbook for professional learning communities.
Bloomington, IN:
Solution Tree.

Curriculum Design
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by design.
Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum

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

Field Anecdotes

Mapping the Journey to Students Success (Miller, 2004)
Click here.

Curriculum Mapping as Professional Development: Using Maps to Jump-Start Collaboration (Mills)
Click here.

Change Data Surveys

The following study included change data surveys as a component of the data-collection process.
Similar Students, Different Results (SSDR): Why Do Some Schools Do Better? (California EduSource, 2004)
Full study is no longer available.

 Case Studies:
Curriculum Alignment/Curriculum Mapping as One of a Series of Critical Variables

Ohio: A Case of Key Practices in Ohio’s Improved School Districts (2001)
Purpose: to identify the most effective practices that resulted in substantial student achievement in 50 Ohio school districts

  • A three stage research process of online data collection, telephone interviews, and site visits with 404 teachers, superintendents, and administrators

  • Results: Curriculum alignment (defined as curriculum mapping with subsequent change in instructional practice) is the “single greatest factor in achieving improved test scores.”

Full Study
Click here.

Virginia: A Study of Effective Practices in Virginia’s Schools: Educators’ Perspectives of Effective Practices Leading to Student Success on SOL Tests (2000)
Purpose: to identify effective practices that significantly increased student achievement on Standards of Learning (SOL) tests

  • 26 schools that exceeded expectations from 8 regions in Virginia were randomly selected for the study, using teams of teachers, administrators, and supervisors for interviews

  • Participants responded by ranking the most effective practices from a list of 16 practices identified in research literature

  • Results: Curriculum mapping was identified as one of the seven most effective practices for increasing student achievement

Full study is no longer available.

South Carolina: Teachers’ Perception of the Efficacy of Curriculum Mapping As a Tool for Planning and Alignment (Lucas, 2005)
(Narratives compliments of Cobb County School District)

  • 573 teachers from 19 schools within a school district in South Carolina participated in the study

  • Surveys and focus group sessions were used to determine teacher perceptions of curriculum mapping

  • Results: The majority of teachers saw curriculum mapping as an effective tool for curriculum alignment and long range planning, and to a lesser degree as supportive for short range planning

Full Study
Click here.

Click here for Lucas’s summary article.

In conclusion, I have found that networking with schools and districts that have slowly, but surely positively impacted student learning and collaborative teacher-design curriculum and instructional practices through the implementation of curriculum mapping speaks volumes. If you would like to communicate with a learning organization that has had positive outcomes (as well as a few bumps in the road along the way), please contact me and I will arrange for you to network with a similar learning organization.