Curriculum Model Research

     The bulk of research on the DISCOVER Curriculum Model stems from the most recent project, called DISCOVER V, which was funded from 1996-2000.  One of the project’s objectives was to determine if implementing curricula, based on Curriculum Model guidelines, increased student growth—as measured by achievement tests, the DISCOVER Assessment, and the Test of Creative Thinking Drawing Production (TCT-DP).  Four elementary schools, containing primarily low-income students of differing ethnicities, participated in the three-year project.  Two of the schools were in Arizona, and the other two in New Mexico and Kentucky.

     Typically a study of this nature contains a control group, a set of teachers and students who are restricted from participation for sake of comparison.  In this case, however, Dr. Maker decided to modify the traditional control group design because of lessons learned in a pilot project from a previous project, DISCOVER III.  In the first two years of DISCOVER III, researchers observed the practical reality that teachers, regardless of opportunity, will implement innovations to varying degrees—some implementing new ideas enthusiastically with others participating only partially or not at all.  The DISCOVER V study took advantage of this fact by offering staff development equally to all teachers and then forming the control group from teachers who, for whatever reason, chose to implement project criteria at a very low level or not at all.  The level of teacher implementation was rated on a scale of 1 to 5 by using rigorous observation and independent rating procedures, based on how, and to what degree, the teachers incorporated the Curriculum Model guidelines into their day-to-day teaching. 

     Analysis of the results is ongoing, yet is showing encouraging trends.  The current focus is to look at growth of students who happened to be in “high-implementer” classrooms for all three years, compared to those with three years in “low-implementer” classrooms.  One would expect, if the Curriculum Model is effective, that students in high-implementer classrooms would show significantly higher growth, in one form or another.

     And this is proving to be the case.  For example, in one of the four schools, Byck Elementary in Louisville, KY, students of high implementers demonstrated significant increases on state standardized assessments (the Kentucky Instructional Results Information System [KIRIS] and the Commonwealth Accountability Testing and System [CATS]). KIRIS 1998. Six assessments were analyzed: science open-ended response, science multiple-choice response, on-demand writing sample, and writing portfolio. Significant differences were found in favor of the high implementer 4th grade teacher compared to the low implementer 4th grade teacher on both science assessments: science open-ended response (p<.008) and science multiple choice response (p<.021).  For the on-demand writing sample, 41 % of the high implementer's students scored in the “apprentice” range rather than the “novice” range, compared to 14 % of the middle implementer' s students and 13 % of the low implementer's students. CATS 1999. Four assessments were analyzed: science open-ended response, science multiple-choice response, on-demand writing sample, and writing portfolio.  Again, a significant difference was found in favor of the high implementer 4th grade teacher when compared to the low implementer teacher on the science open-ended response (p<.020).  The difference in reading scores for the high implementer 4th grade teacher compared to the low implementer teacher approached significance (p<.063). For the on-demand writing sample, 30 % of the high implementer' s students scored in the “apprentice” classification rather than “novice,” compared to 4% of the low implementer's students.  In the high implementer' s classroom, 4% of the students also scored in the “proficient” range.  Stanford 9. Although not statistically significant, the Stanford 9 mean scores of the high implementer teacher were higher than those of the low implementer teacher.  Both KIRIS and CATS include open-ended questions requiring a problem-solving focus while the Stanford 9 does not (Taetle, Maker, & Hudgens, 2000).

     In a concurrent project at Pueblo Gardens Elementary School in Tucson, AZ, students showed a significant increase in Stanford 9 scores during the last four years of its 7-year duration.  Scores steadily increased from the 20th percentile range to above the 60th percentile.

  Stanford 9 Achievement Test Scores

Stanford 9 Achievement Test Scores for Pueblo Gardens School

     The school principal attributes the gains to a strength-based curriculum, problem solving, parent involvement, high academic expectations, and no “drill and practice”.  In addition to DISCOVER assistance, students at Pueblo Gardens received over 1400 hours of arts and integrated arts instruction in 1998-99 from ArtsBuild, a program that shares a focus with the DISCOVER Curriculum Model, in that it is derived from Gardner’s Theory of Multiple Intelligences.

     Preliminary study results are showing that, in addition to the general constructivist/education-of-the-gifted principles underlying the DISCOVER Curriculum Model, its emphasis on arts integration is critical.  Other studies are showing the same thing.  Interdisciplinary research demonstrates transfer effects from arts-based instruction to improvement in other cognitive domains.  In New York City, Arts Connection, a DISCOVER Projects collaborator, sponsored arts-based instruction using student strengths.  They found that over 52% and 65% of participating students at two schools increased their achievement scores in reading even though class, school and school district scores decreased (Baum, Owen & Oreck, 1996).  At-risk students seemed to benefit the most from arts-integration; they were able to transfer artistic self-regulation behaviors into an academic setting (Baum, Owen & Oreck, 1997).  Caterall (1995) found that when 460 at-risk Los Angeles elementary school students participated in the arts-based curriculum: “Different Ways of Knowing” they significantly improved their achievement scores, motivation, and engagement in the learning process when compared to an equal number of at-risk students who did not participate in the arts-based curriculum.

     Hetland (2000), a researcher at Harvard Project Zero, in a meta-analysis of studies of over 700 children participating in classroom music, found that active, hands-on music instruction lasting two years or less leads to dramatic improvement in performance on spatial-temporal measures.  Spatial ability is an important aspect of mathematical reasoning and may be a reason for strong correlations between music and mathematical ability: math scores were compared for approximately 95% of over three million students taking the SAT from 1987-93; the highest SAT math scores were obtained by students in music performance classes (College Entrance Examination Board, 1993).  This research supports the DISCOVER focus on arts integration.

     As further analysis of DISCOVER Curriculum Model research becomes available, it will be posted on the DISCOVER website for review.


     Baum, S., Owen, S., & Oreck, B.  (1996).  Talent beyond words: Identification of potential talent in dance and music in elementary students.  Gifted Child Quarterly, 40(2), 93-101.

     Baum, S., Owen, S., & Oreck, B.  (1997). Transferring individual self-regulation processes from arts to academics. Arts Education policy Review, 98(4), 32,39.

     College Entrance Examination board (1993), Profile of SAT and achievement tests taken, 1987-93. Author.

     Hetland, L. (2000). Music instruction enhances spatial-temporal reasoning. Journal of Aesthetic Education.

     Hudgens, S. (2000). Concepts of giftedness: Teacher beliefs. Manuscript in preparation. The University of Arizona DISCOVER V Project.

     Maker, C. J., Rogers, J. A., Nielson, A. B., and Bauerle, P. (1996). Multiple Intelligences, problem solving, and diversity in the general classroom.  Journal for the Education of the Gifted, 19(4), 437- 460.

     Taetle, L., Maker, C. J., & Hudgens, S. (2000). Preliminary research data. Informal report prepared for the annual meeting of the Jacob Javits Gifted and Talented Education grantees. The University of Arizona DISCOVER V Project.

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