Stonington schools recommend disbanding some looping programs

Stonington — School administrators have recommended disbanding three combined-grade programs but preserving a fourth.

The recommendation calls for keeping the seventh- and eighth-grade CRICKETS program at Mystic Middle School and disbanding the fifth- and sixth-grade programs at Mystic and Pawcatuck middle schools. The Mystic program is the May/Junes program, while the Pawcatuck programs are called PFish and Otters.

There are currently 180 students in the combined-grade programs, known as looping programs.

The recommendation is a culmination of a review by school officials to determine whether or not the programs are able to meet new state standards. With the Common Core State Standards, to be implemented this fall, comes annual testing of students to determine if they are meeting the standards for their grade.

The concern is that students in the looping programs will not have had all the grade-appropriate curriculum instruction required for the testing because students learn material from both grades over a two-year period.

The recommendation was presented to the school board on Thursday.

A large group of students and parents, many of them affiliated with the challenging CRICKETS program, urged the school board at a meeting last month to not eliminate the programs. Students in CRICKETS score between 5 and 15 points higher on state mastery tests than their peers.

School officials are now recommending that the three fifth- and sixth-grade programs become individual fifth- and sixth-grade classrooms in 2013-14. This is because the new Common Core Standards are organized in clusters for K-5 and 6-8, making the differences between the fifth- and sixth-grade standards significant, according to the recommendation.

The recommendation states that although teachers have indicated there are various ways to meet the new standards within the fifth- and sixth-grade looping programs, “the administration feels that separating the grade level expectations is in the best interest of academic achievement for all students.”

The recommendation states that an expected decrease in enrollment at Pawcatuck Middle School next year also poses “a number of challenges and opportunities to reconfigure the classroom settings in those grades.”

It adds that aspects of the programs, such as group learning and project-based learning, will be incorporated in all classrooms.

“This doesn’t mean that the good things about these programs won’t remain in some way,” school board Chairwoman Gail MacDonald said Thursday.

The reconfiguration will equitably distribute students in heterogeneous groups, which was not the case with the looping programs because placement was based on parental preference, the recommendation states.

Because of fewer differences in the Common Core Standards between grades six and seven, the report said the CRICKETS program will remain in place for 2013-14. Though no details were included, the recommendation states that the selection process must be changed to ensure the class matches the overall demographics of each grade level.

Currently, students who wish to apply submit their names, and the class is chosen by lottery.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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