'Outdated' program limits students

Written by Gillian Smith
 | Wednesday, 16 April 2014 16:56

Grouping high-end learners in elementary school is doing Duxbury students a disservice, school committee members were told at their most recent meeting. 


Assistant superintendent Laurie Hunter and Alden Elementary School principal Karen Whitaker proposed stopping the High End Learner program that has been in effect since 2008 for grades three to seven. The program’s goal was to cluster high-achieving students in a regular classroom and the group would be labeled “high-end learners.” The program was originally planned for second graders as well, but was not implemented because of a concern for developmental readiness at that level. 

“Our rationale is that differentiated instruction is the way we teach in the elementary school, which means we teach in small groups and do response to intervention,” Hunter said. “We have a great deal more data about each student than when the program began, which makes a difference.”

The current participation in the program is eight students in third grade, seven students in fourth grade and six students in fifth grade. At the middle school, students are broken up into classes according to their ability level, so the program has faded off without a formal request. The selection process for the program is a combination of parent input, teacher input and student data. 

“Good teaching is differentiating for all children, whether they are special needs or high achieving,” Hunter said. “Our recommendation is to eliminate the program, per se. It does not mean we are not going to service our students, but we are going to do it in other ways.”

Hunter said her main concern is with student placement. 

“Because we label certain classrooms high-end learner classrooms, it sometimes means a high-end child that qualifies might not be able to go with the teacher that is the best match for them because that teacher doesn’t have the high-end learner label,” she said. “We feel we are meeting the needs of our kids and our program has become almost restrictive.”

Whitaker said the high-end learner program is the program that has bothered her the most in the school system. 

“I feel it is not in the best interest of our students,” she said. “I am passionate to the point where I spoke with parents last year about their students who qualified and told them they might not be matched with the right teacher. All three parents decided to opt out of the program.”

Whitaker said that, as she gets to know the students better, she thinks the program is limiting their education. 

“If a student is really strong in math and the teacher is really strong in English language arts, it is limiting to them,” she said. “They could do really well in classes with a lot of technology, but don’t get placed in the right classroom, and that bothers me.”