Duxbury school officials say that there have been no recommendations to eliminate the current practice of leveling instruction of students through grade eight, contrary to what some residents might think. Duxbury school officials say that there have been no recommendations to eliminate the current practice of leveling instruction of students through grade eight, contrary to what some residents might think.

Superintendent Eileen Williams said that this is simply not the case and that a leveling research committee has been looking at the issue for over a year, but has not made any formal recommendations nor has the school committee made any decisions.

“I think some people feel that this is coming as a surprise and others feel decisions have been made,” she said.  “At this point, the committee has not even formalized a recommendation.”

Instead, she said, last January the leveling research committee made a presentation to the school committee on what Duxbury’s schools would look like if they “unleveled” instruction through eighth grade, but she reiterated that no decisions were made.

“The committee was given the go-ahead to look at the issue and that’s what they’ve been doing,” she said.  “We looked at this in the mid-1990s and made some changes and felt it was time to look at this again and the committee is still in its research stage.”

On February 24, the committee will present its findings, charge and proposed plan at Duxbury Middle School’s course selection meeting for parents and on March 10, present its finalized plan for approval to the school committee.

DMS Principal Joellen Scannell is a member of the leveling committee and said the investigation into removing these levels has to do with ensuring students meet benchmarks being set for them.

“The whole thing is about having high expectations for children from MCAS to No Child Left Behind to state curriculum frameworks, which all have these high expectations for our students,” she said.

To ensure that all Duxbury students can meet and exceed what is expected of them, the process of leveling is being looked at to see if it is helping or hurting these goals.

Scannell said that the committee has done a great deal of investigating national research on learning/brain theory, ability grouping and teaching strategies to see why the school system makes decisions about students’ education, at what age and for what reason.

Included in this research was looking firsthand at Duxbury students and how levels affected them.  Among the results presented to the school committee last January, the committee found that students in the higher levels through grade eight performed in high school at a higher level than lower level peers and that students followed from grade four to high school who were in lower levels did not improve and were at the same or lower level.

In interviewing DHS graduates, the committee learned that the process of leveling was not always clear to them, that once in a level you spent all your time with the same students and some felt “dumb” being in a lower level.

“[The feeling was] that once you are labeled, you are forever in that group,” said Scannell.

She added that in looking at 138 parent overrides of levels teachers recommended for students, 125 of these students maintained an A or B average, nine a C average and four a D average.

Scannell added that while there is the concern that “unleveling” will lower expectations, looking at current level practices shows otherwise.  She pointed to the fact that in grade six, for example, DMS is running eight level one (fast pace) classes and four level two (moderate pace) courses of the same curriculum.

She added that in looking at other school districts that perform at the top of the MCAS testing for proficient and advanced students, such as Wayland and Wellesley, all of them do not level English instruction, but do keep levels for math.

Williams said that despite the result of the presentation to the school committee in March, a decision on whether or not to keep levels will not necessarily be made that night.

“When and if the school committee votes to change [leveling], I don’t think anyone knows,” she said.  “This is not being looked at in a rushed manner.”