Carmen Williams addresses the School Committee/ Credit: Needham Observer

Needham schools overall continue to score high on the state MCAS tests, but the 2023 numbers have yet to return to pre-pandemic levels. 

Carmen Williams, Assistant Superintendent for Instruction and Innovation, reported the results at Tuesday night’s School Committee meeting. The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) tests are administered to all students in grades 3-8 and 10. 

“MCAS is a statewide assessment, and it’s a data point that helps us locate ourselves within the larger context of teaching and learning,” said Williams. “We’re able to see where we’ve come from, where we’re going and how to identify goals and action steps.”

Needham’s accountability score of 79% for 2023 puts it in the highest level of achievement in the state’s ranking, which means the schools are meeting or exceeding targets. In 2019, the last time the state released the ratings, Needham scored 86%. The state bases the scores on a formula that includes student achievement, growth percentiles, English learner progress, absenteeism, high school completion and advanced coursework completion.  

“So the state has determined that given the pandemic, our targets need to be adjusted as school districts and entities,” said Williams. “If your scores are on the same track as they were in 2019, your district is considered to be on a path forward. And if you’re not yet back on track then you’re on a recovery path. Needham is currently on a recovery path. So depending on the student subgroup, we have up to four years to recover and go back to our pre-pandemic scores.”

She said that means an all hands on deck approach. “We’re thinking about innovations to accelerate and deepen and enhance our learning opportunities for each and every student.” 

Even though the overall average is high, she said the numbers show the achievement rate varies among different subgroups and is much lower for students in the most vulnerable groups such as those with high needs and low income. Williams acknowledged there is more to do to address their needs. “We will continue to deal with the effects of the global pandemic, but we are steady in our recovery efforts.” 

Williams made a point of noting that achievement test scores don’t reflect the full picture and skills of the students in Needham schools. “We know that this MCAS report does not tell the story of who we are. It is a snapshot — an important one, but just a snapshot. Our students are so much more than these scores.”

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