6 The Scope of Curriculum and Development of Curriculum

“If the curriculum is perceived as a plan for the learning experiences that young people encounter under the direction of the school, its purpose is to provide a vehicle for ordering and directing those experiences.”

            –Peter Oliva, 2009

Image with blocks of ocean water with a lighthouse on one, ships on two, and clouds on each of them.


The scope of curriculum studies encompasses the theory, planning, design, development, implementation, and evaluation of curriculum. Once the curriculum developers decide what is to be taught, who is to be taught, and who is in control of what the content of the curriculum is, the process can proceed to the planning and development stage. This is followed by the implementation of the curriculum and its evaluation.

Essential Questions

  • What processes are involved in the scope of curriculum studies?
  • How can curriculum theory be helpful in the curriculum development process?
  • How can a needs assessment inform the curriculum development process?
  • Why are stakeholders important in the curriculum development process?
  • What is involved in writing a good curriculum?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of adopting a commercial curriculum?

Scope of Curriculum Studies

From Curriculum Studies, pp. 36-38 Scope of Curriculum Studies

Curriculum studies incorporate a variety of processes including:

  • curriculum theory,
  • curriculum planning,
  • curriculum design,
  • curriculum development,
  • curriculum implementation, and
  • curriculum evaluation.

Curriculum Theory

What Is Curriculum Theory?

Curriculum theory refers to a set of related statements that give meaning to school curriculum by pointing out the relationships among its elements and directing its development, its use, and its evaluation. It gives justification for practices in curriculum.

According to Urevbu (1990), a curriculum theory provides practical guidance as to:

  • “what to teach,”
  • “who is taught,”
  • who controls its selection and distribution, and
  • who gets taught what.

In other words, it is a way of seeing ‘things’ or guiding principles for curriculum.

Functions of Curriculum Theory

What then are the functions of a theory? Most philosophers of science argue that theory has three legitimate purposes:

  • to describe,
  • to explain, and
  • to predict.

Thus, curriculum theory provides educators with a critical perspective about society and its schools. Hence, they describe and explain from a critical perspective.

Curriculum theory is, therefore, important for planning curriculum. It helps in guiding the planning process and then the curriculum development. The theory used is reflected in the product, i.e. the final curriculum.

Curriculum Planning

Curriculum planning can be viewed as the process of gathering, selecting, balancing, and synthesizing relevant information from many sources to design those experiences that will assist the learner to attain the goals of education (Glen, Hass, 1980).

Curriculum planning is the thinking or conception stage of the curriculum development process. Thus, it deals with seeking key answers to crucial questions such as:

  • What should be taught?
  • How should it be taught?
  • To what segment of the population?
  • What should be the relationship between the various components of the curriculum?

Note that the issues raised in planning are related to those highlighted in curriculum theory.

Curriculum Development

Curriculum development is the term for all processes and activities related to curriculum development. It is thus a continuous process of renewal and planning of curriculum. Implementation is putting into effect what has been planned.

It is the process of ensuring that the new curriculum and curriculum materials are made available to all the schools and institutions targeted by the curriculum development project.

According to Richards (2001) Curriculum Development refers to the “range of planning and implementation processes involved in developing or renewing a curriculum” (p. 41). Many curriculum development textbooks present the stages of the curriculum development process as follows:

  1. Needs analysis or assessment
  2. Setting goals and objectives
  3. Course organization
  4. Selecting and preparing teaching materials
  5. Evaluation

These steps may be varied according to the district or education entity and modified to meet the needs of the students and stakeholders.

Curriculum Development Process

From Curriculum Studies, pp. 150-136

In the past, curriculum development committees were typically composed of teachers with expertise in the content areas who were asked to create scope and sequence documents and to suggest texts and other resources for adoption by school districts. this understanding of curriculum development has changed. The process is now viewed as an opportunity to develop understanding and ownership by the participants, and hence curriculum development committees that include members of all parties with interests in the educational system. Identifying and sequencing the content can have a more positive effect on student achievement when it is combined with effective instructional and assessment strategies as well as a supportive school environment.

As a result, the job of curriculum development committees is more extensive than in the past. Curriculum development committees must research effective practices to support school environments that offer rich and varied learning experiences. They must review policies and behaviors that foster community involvement and equitable opportunities for all.

They must also consider professional development activities to support the content, instruction, and assessment expectations. The expectations of curriculum development committees cross some boundaries into what was previously defined as administrative roles. While some curriculum-development committees might not have the time, resources, or power to assume all of these roles, they can consider the importance of each of the issues raised in this document and delegate related responsibilities to others who can affect these changes.


A quality curriculum development process addresses what students are to know, be able to do, and be committed to (content); how it is taught (instruction); how it is measured (assessment); and how the educational system is organized (context).

Every aspect of curriculum development should model inclusive, learner-centered instruction. In other words, district curriculum development committee meetings and district professional development mirror best teaching practices. Curriculum development, instruction, and assessment are open, fair processes. Everyone involved must know the purposes for every activity, the materials or processes to be used, the definition of success, and the consequences of failure.

  • The goal is to encourage individuals on the committee to be independent yet collaborate effectively; be self-evaluative yet take others’ perceptions into account; be voracious learners yet commit themselves to a balanced education.
  • Curriculum development reflects the fact that students learn better when topics and concepts are tied together through interdisciplinary curriculum and thematic instruction.
  • Curriculum for educating and assessing young children follows early childhood education guidelines and include the involvement of parents and the early childhood community.
  • The curriculum development process must assume that students develop at different times; levels or stages must be looked at as ranges rather than specific grade levels or single-age categories.
  • Educational accountability means that the district has a clear statement of standards and expectations for students, teachers, instructional aides, parents, district officials, and all others who participate in the particular education community.
    • Both standards and assessments must be known and credible to the entire community. Standards must be evaluated by a variety of assessments.
    • Any evaluation process must identify the measurement yardsticks (processes, instruments), the purposes for measuring, the measurement points or descriptors, and the consequences of meeting or not meeting the stated expectations.
  • Professional development is provided for the curriculum development committee and, when implementing the new curriculum, teachers and staff also need professional development. A significant investment in professional development must be an integral part of any curriculum development process.
  • The educational structures must be flexible to allow for the integration of curriculum across the disciplines in cases where such integration would improve the motivation of the students and the relevance of the content.

These assumptions must lead to rethinking the conventional structure and schedule of schools in terms of the:

  • school day,
  • school year,
  • grade levels,
  • subject areas,
  • graduation requirements,
  • student grouping, and
  • physical plant (school building).

Why and When Should a District or State Revise Curriculum?

Although the curriculum development process results in a curriculum document, an equally important outcome is the involvement of teachers and community members in the process. Teachers, parents, and community members who have contributed to the process will be willing participants in the implementation of the curriculum. The curriculum is revised not only to address new research findings and the resulting new visions but also to involve new participants in those visions.

In many states, each school district has its own curriculum development process. Regardless of the political structure, all curriculum plans must be based on a planned cycle of renewal with guidelines on when curriculum is revised. Districts need to study this state framework document and begin a process that will prepare their curriculum development committees to address the content standards in their next revision cycle.

What Curriculum Development Committees Can Do to Ensure Success

The following curriculum development process provides step-by-step suggestions for organizing the work of a curriculum development committee. The committee may choose a different process although it should contain these basic components:

  1. Create a functional and collaborative process.
  2. Establish district curriculum/instruction/assessment committee(s). When committees focus on separate content areas, it is important to design a schedule that allows for collaboration and integration discussions. One solution is to consider establishing interdisciplinary committees with the following members:
    1. District curriculum coordinators, teachers, and parents/community
    2. Representatives (principals, library/media specialists, students)
    3. District assessment specialists, content specialists, and business representatives
    4. University representatives/faculty
  3. Plan an initial training on group processes to facilitate productive cooperation.
  4. Analyze the state, district, or school goals; the adopted content standards and key elements (if appropriate); and reform suggestions from professional organizations. Become very familiar with the basic premises of these documents. Reading and study groups are effective for this purpose.
  5. Develop a mission and philosophy statement for the district in light of district or state standards.
  6. Create an environment in which all committee members can identify and communicate their roles within the committee, who they represent, and their stake in this change.
  7. Develop a timeline for the curriculum revision process. The timeline needs to conform to a plan such as the six-year review process.
  8. Develop a system for soliciting information, communicating your decisions, and receiving teacher and community feedback at each step of the process. Work to ensure the support of local and district personnel as well as other stakeholders.
  9. Offer and gather input from teachers through curriculum surveys, reviews, and input opportunities.

The Importance of Stakeholders in Curriculum Development

In education, the term stakeholder generally refers to anyone who is invested in the welfare and success of a school, including administrators, school boards, teachers, students, parents, and community members.

States and districts often have different processes for including stakeholders in the process of curriculum development. The inclusion of multiple stakeholders can support the development of a curriculum because it encourages “buy-in” at many levels. An effective curriculum reflects the philosophy, goals, objectives, learning experiences, instructional resources, and assessments that comprise a specific educational program (Alsubaie, 2016).


Teachers should be the most contributing members of a curriculum-development effort because they have knowledge of textbooks, multi-media resource, and content; and most of important of all, knowledge of the students and their needs. Fullan (1991) found that teacher involvement in curriculum development can help to achieve educational reform but often they are not included at all in the process because of time and budget constraints. Most teachers need additional professional development to gain skills in the curriculum development and implementation processes. If teachers are not involved, they must make an effort to understand the curriculum and how to develop lesson plans that are consistent with the curriculum and benefit students.

In addition to developing the curriculum, teachers can help with analyzing data based on the curriculum development findings. Teachers can contribute to the process by submitting teaching plans and strategies for all students, and particularly students with special needs (Dillon, 2009). Having a curriculum that includes input from teachers can greatly support the achievement of the aims, goals, and learning objectives of all students.

Although modern technology is an important component in education, teachers remain at the center of the student’s learning progress. Technology should be integrated into the curriculum, but it is not a substitute for the role played by teachers in curriculum development and the general learning process.

School Administrators

School administrators also play an important role in the curriculum development process since it is their job to support and monitor the implementation of the curriculum. They are responsible for hiring teachers, working with parent groups, and purchasing appropriate learning materials for full curriculum implementation. In other words, school administrators influence the extent to which the school curriculum is implemented by regulating the release of the necessary learning resources.

School administrators should obtain feedback from teachers, students, and the community regarding the success of the curriculum implementation process. Also, they can consult with other school leaders and curriculum professionals to evaluate the performance of the curriculum.


Parents are also an important part of the process because they can support and influence the implementation of the curriculum in many ways. Parents may help in monitoring and evaluating the implementation of the curriculum by keeping a close check at the lessons learned by their children in schools and monitoring homework assignments. Moreover, the parent may stand in the gap between the child and school administration by providing their children with resources that may be necessary for the learning experiences but are not available in school. Parents may also help teachers by supporting good behavior and social development of the children, especially those with special needs. Parents can also contribute important information on curriculum development by talking with their children, and by meeting with the teachers or school administrators.

Community Members

Community members play an important role in curriculum development because they can provide additional resources that may not be available in the schools but can be found in the community. This would include local cultural events, community history, and individuals with knowledge about the community and its unique qualities. Lastly, community members can play an important role in the needs-assessment process.

Needs Assessments

The first step in the curriculum-development process is often a “needs assessment” which is a process of defining the outcomes, products, or results of a given sequence of teaching and learning. As such, it is a “curriculumless” process, which means it is neither a curriculum itself nor does it embrace any set of assumptions or specifications about the type of curriculum which ought to be developed to best reach the ends desired and defined  (English& Kaufman, 1995).

A needs assessment is a process of making specific what schooling is about and how it can be assessed. It is not just a curricular innovation, but a method for determining if innovation is necessary and or desirable.

A needs assessment is a process of defining what the outcomes of education are and can help develop criteria so curricula can be developed and compared. The combination of people and their needs and the time needed to produce and develop the curriculum can help produce the desired outcomes.

A needs assessment is also a way of determining the validity of behavioral objectives, which tests are appropriate, and under what conditions. It can be a problem-solving tool to find the gaps between results and then prioritizes these as “needs” which have a high priority, usually through the implementation of a new or existing curriculum.

For a needs assessment to be valid and useful, it is necessary to include the stakeholders who will help in identifying gaps or needs. It may also include external data for determining gaps, such as whether or not the district graduates are successful in the world they enter after leaving the school or district.

A needs assessment can be a tool for the curriculum developers to use to look at the problems or challenges of the schools and connecting it to a process that will analyze what is necessary to support students in meeting or exceeding the goals and objectives of the curriculum. It is a tool to define and outline the steps to become responsive, accountable, and productive.  In other words, “Curriculum can only be assessed in view of what it was shaped to accomplish.” (English & Kaufman, 1975).

The process for designing a curriculum involves several steps and may vary from district to district. Districts or schools may conduct a needs assessment prior to the formal curriculum development process to determine what gaps there may be in the curriculum, and what new components need to be added.  Several steps can be a part of the needs-assessment process according to the curriculum developers at the University of Idaho (see link below). They include data collecting methods, surveys, interviews, focus groups, and working groups.

For an in-depth view, an actual needs assessment conducted by the University of Idaho read Methods for Conducting an Educational Needs Assessment.

Develop a Curriculum Inventory and Identify Gaps in the Curriculum

From Curriculum Studies, p. 154-155

To develop a curriculum inventory and identify gaps in the curriculum:

  1. Identify what is currently being taught and the local expertise in the district.
  2. Solicit the thoughts, recommendations, and feelings about the current strengths and weaknesses and the future curriculum needs from all community members.
  3. Cluster and compare the results of the inventory.
  4. Make decisions about what is needed.

After the needs assessment is conducted, the results help inform the curriculum committee as they make decisions about how the process is to proceed.

Develop Curriculum and Assessment Guidelines

  1. Establish subcommittees for the different student grouping levels (preschool, primary, intermediate, and middle and high school) or create another process that ensures representation of teachers from all levels.
  2. Determine performance standards that are appropriate for students at different levels. Most districts are guided by state or local standards.
  3. Determine expectations and model assessments for each level and develop model portfolios that demonstrate the attainment of student standards.
  4. Implement feedback and editing process for the new curriculum.

Create Classroom Instructional Models That Support the Curriculum and Assessment Guidelines

  1. Choose topics that can address one or more standards. Choose some topics that are integrated across several disciplines to provide effective interdisciplinary models.
  2. Choose instructional methods and assessment strategies.
  3. Identify how the instruction prepares the students to meet the content standards.
  4. Choose supportive curricular materials and technology.
  5. Ask teachers to pilot specific instructional methods in their classrooms.
  6. Solicit feedback and editing.
  7. Revisit your Curriculum and Assessment Guidelines. Modify if necessary.

Identify Resources Needed and Determine Budgetary Demands and Priorities

  1. Support the use or development of facility resources that encourage cooperative work, community connections, and applications in real-life contexts: classrooms with tables that promote small-group cooperative activities, and students who have ready access to the world outside of the school building through telecommunications and doorways.
  2. Provide technology support that must be adequate and dependable for the use of increased technology in the classroom. Buildings that are wired to support local area networking via computers.
  3. Review hiring practices to guarantee that districts recruit highly qualified teachers who are reflective of the local cultures and have specific training in a variety of instructional and assessment strategies.
  4. Provide cultural sensitivity workshops for all personnel.
  5. Ensure that adequate time resources are provided for teachers via Professional Development.

Provide Professional Development Opportunities for All Districts/Schools


  1. Provide both method and content classes to all interested parties, including instructional aids and classroom volunteers.
  2. Create networking opportunities through technology among teachers, administrators, and community members on the local, regional, and national levels.
  3. Encourage teacher reflection and classroom-based research.

Additional Information

Leslie Owen Wilson describes some of the pitfalls of curriculum development The Instructional Design/Curriculum Development Process in The Second Principle.

Insight 6.0

In the process of developing curriculum and addressing sensitive topics such as race, suicide, politics, etc., it is important to include all voices and to have a process that addresses any concerns before the curriculum is finalized and implemented.

ILA 6.0

In your opinion, what are the roles for administrators, coordinators, teachers, and stakeholders in developing curriculum? Utilize the ILA Responses Group for your responses.


The scope and theory of curriculum provide the basis for planning, designing, developing, implementing, and evaluating curriculum.  Once the curriculum developers decide what is to be taught, who is to be taught, and who is in control of what the content of the curriculum is, the process can proceed to the planning and development stage. Conducting a needs assessment is important because it can help identify gaps in the curriculum and it includes community members and parents. Gaining support from all the stakeholders, including teachers is an important step in getting “buy-in” for the curriculum. Implementation of the curriculum and its evaluation are the next steps in the process. Evaluation should be on-going.


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Curriculum Essentials: A Journey Copyright © 2021 by Linda J. Button, Ed.D. is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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