foxboro high school building

Foxboro High School.

Last week’s voluminous data dump outlining student assessment outcomes in Foxboro schools should be required reading, not only for the parents of local schoolchildren, but anyone seeking to realistically gauge the efficacy of this important practice.

But before contacting the school department for a copy of the reports, be forewarned: this isn’t easy reading. The dense handouts generated for public consumption are packed with assessment data — including 2019 MCAS results, a “baseline and benchmark” report prepared by Foxboro administrators that features SAT and ACT outcomes, AP test scores and an international test comparing the performance of randomly-selected 15-year-olds in participating schools around the globe.

Despite the inclusion of helpful charts and other visuals, it’s a lot to unpack all at once. Even the takeaways highlighted in summary documents require a degree of focus and staying power.

But then, that’s exactly what such testing practices demand of our students: focus and staying power. So it’s perfectly understandable that preparing students for the MCAS exams transcends academic spadework, especially at lower grade levels. It also requires teachers willing and able to get their students into test shape by sharpening personal habits that will last a lifetime – among them creativity, self-discipline, tenacity and personal resolve.

As might be expected, the testing data released last week shows local students performing at higher-than-average levels across a range of different assessments documents and criteria — outcomes consistent with the socio-economic composition of a suburban district like Foxboro. High school math scores were especially encouraging, showing a significant uptick over statewide averages.

There are red flags, of course — most notably middle school MCAS tests which reflect proficiency in English language arts & literacy, math and science engineering technology at different grade levels.

Not only are the middle school comparative averages lower than at the elementary or high school level, scores in core competencies seem curiously erratic.

To their credit, local administrators have maintained an even-keeled approach, sensibly attributing such fluctuations to uncertainty associated with a three-year overhaul of the Massachusetts MCAS program. This upgrade — partly a response to growing criticism of so-called “high-stakes” testing — involves not only substantive changes to content and curriculum, but also is transitioning the format from a pen-and-paper test to a computer-based environment.

And while we can appreciate the need to remain current by periodically tweaking testing channels, it still represents a lot of change in a short period of time, setting a steep learning curve for students and educators alike. Under the circumstances it takes time to re-align classroom instruction with new assessment protocols.

Without short-changing the outstanding accomplishments of local students outlined in last week’s presentation, we were even more impressed by the way test data is being employed in Foxboro schools.

In particular, I applaud the executive team of Amy Berdos and Alison Mello for prioritizing efforts to harvest reams of information for use in shaping classroom strategies in a variety of ways, with the aim of improving cumulative knowledge, critical-thinking skills and educational experience.

“We assess kids so we can instruct them,” observed Noelle Hendrixson, K-8 math & science director.

It’s a lesson we all should take to heart.

It seems simple, but it’s an important lesson nonetheless.

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