Star Trib: MLES ‘beating the odds’

One of 75 high-poverty schools across Minnesota with math, reading test scores at least 10 percentage points better than expected


Mountain Lake Public Elementary School (MLES) was one of 75 schools across Minnesota showing promise that it is possible to boost the test scores of low-income students to match the scores of their wealthier peers, with math proficiency rates between 50% and 90%. Other high-poverty schools in the state had a combined average math proficiency of 35%.

Each year the Star Tribune identifies high-poverty schools “beating the odds.” The newspaper uses a statistical analysis on math and reading results from the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments (MCA). This analysis calculates an expected proficiency rate for each school based on its poverty level. Schools with an actual proficiency score at least 10 percentage points higher than the expected score are considered doing “better than expected.”

Thirty of the 75 schools (all primary grades combined) “beating the odds” during the 2016-2017 school year come from the metro area, though the bulk of schools doing better than expected are – like MLES – outstate.


  • Reading Proficiency – 55% predicted, 72% proficiency (better than expected).
  • Math Proficiency – 51% predicted, 75% proficiency (better than expected).

For the 2015-2016 school year, MLES was named a Reward School by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) based on Minnesota’s Multiple Measurement Rating (MMR) system for scoring among the top 15% of Title I schools in the state this year. The designation reflected the gains MLES has demonstrated in exceptional student outcomes and success in closing achievement gaps. Reward Schools must have 95% of Title students taking the MCA testing; MLES rates were 97%-98% of students.

A pair of area schools, Northside Elementary in St. James and Sleepy Eye Public Elementary have been on the list the past three years. Another area school, Butterfield-Odin Public Elementary School recorded 14.9% proficiency in math and 26.9% proficiency in reading for the 2016-2017 school year.

However, statewide MCA results showed 59% of state students meeting math standards in 2016-2017, the same as in 2015-2016. In reading, 60% of students tested proficient in reading, also the same as in 2015-2016.

While racial achievement gaps are often discussed, facts culled from research show that poverty is the most significant factor in school-to-school test scores.


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