Help is on the way amid Fitch High School changes

Groton - Some of the most noticeable changes during the new school year may take place at Robert E. Fitch High School, where administrators are adding classes to help struggling students and expanding the pilot of a new grading system.

Principal Joseph Arcarese said the school is placing freshmen and sophomores into an extra math or reading class as part of their regular schedule if they're having difficulty with those subjects. The class will meet every other day for 80 minutes, like other high school courses, and will be taught in addition to students' regular math and English classes.

Parents will be notified if their child is recommended for the program.

"We're here to help the kids," Arcarese said.

Students will be identified based on standardized test scores and teacher recommendations, and will stay in the class for at least one semester, Arcarese said. Students could then test out of the class or continue it for the rest of the school year and receive one credit.

The course would take the place of an elective or another class in the students' schedule; Fitch High School students take eight classes per semester that meet for 80 minutes every other day.

School Guidance Director Erin McGuire said the school has about 150 students enrolled in the classes so far, with 10 sections of math and eight of reading where students will receive small group instruction.

"These classes have been designed to help students in groups of 10 and smaller," McGuire said. Fitch had a support program for math and reading last year, but it took place during the daily 25-minute advisory period. This is the first time the school has created an actual class.

In addition to the reading program, Fitch is expanding its pilot of a new grading system, called "equal interval grading."

The system replaces the traditional A through F, or 100-0 numeric grading system, with a 5-0 scale. It's designed to give each grade equal weight, so 5.0 to 4.0 is an A, 3.9 to 3.0 is a B, 2.9 to 2.0 is a C, and so on. An F would be assigned 10 points, not 60 points as under the current system.

Here's how the new system would help some students: If a student received a 95, 75, 75 and 0 on four tests, the numeric average under the traditional system would be a 61, or an F. If the same student were graded under the 5-0 scale, the average would be a 2.3, or a C.

Fitch piloted the grading system last year with 21 teachers, and this year will expand it to 35 or 40 staff, which will affect 600 to 700 students, McGuire said. The school plans to move all classes to equal interval grading during the 2014-15 school year, Arcarese said.

He said students can still fail, but added that the goal is to make grades more equitable so that students who fail a test or two can still pull up a grade and succeed.

"The new system does give kids hope and a light at the end of the tunnel," Arcarese said. "That if they have a few bad days, they can still manage."

d.straszheim@theday.com

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