Mounds View Public Schools: a study in success
October 26, 2023

During the warm summer months, when high school students from Mounds View Public Schools were working summer jobs, enjoying the sun, or building their resumes with volunteer experiences, another group of students were hard at work on their behalf. A cohort of scholars from the Carlson School of Management’s Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program were analyzing data culled from Mounds View’s Early College Program to help school administrators answer a very important question: does taking courses for college credit while still in high school serve as a predictor of future success?

“We call it a live case—a hands-on approach to data analytics,” says Mochen Yang, a professor of information and decision sciences in the Carlson School. First-year master’s students take Yang’s introductory course and learn the basics of data analysis over 10 weeks. The last four weeks of the class are spent analyzing data for a real client. The live case partnership is powered by 3M, through a generous gift that equips U of M students with the technology they need to crunch the numbers.

“The fundamental purpose of the live case is to give students an opportunity to put whatever they have learned in terms of abstract technical knowledge in a real-world context, to solve a real problem,” says Yang. “It’s an invaluable experience for students. The live case shows students the good, bad, and ugly of real-world problems and they have to be able to analyze data from a number of angles and then present it to the client in a professional setting.”

The Client: Mounds View Public Schools and the “academic middle”

“The top 20 percent of our students do very well—they’re participating in AP courses, doing college in the school, or post-secondary education options,” says Angie Peschel, executive director of curriculum and instruction at Mounds View. She’s been in her role for a decade, curating courses in the district’s robust Early College Program. “And for our students who were underperforming, we had some very good systems in place,” she continues. “But we had this academic middle that we wanted to do more for. We felt like they had the potential to achieve at the same level as our high-performing students and we wondered what kind of programming we could put in place to encourage them.”

To that end, Mounds View Public Schools educators expanded college-level course opportunities to include Anoka-Ramsey Community College, Advanced Placement (AP) courses, as well as Career and Technical Education (CTE) courses, including a popular welding course and other hands-on classes with an emphasis on transferable skills.

“We’ve had some anecdotal evidence that students taking college-level courses at Mounds View were meeting certain indicators of success, but what we really wanted was to find out if our quantitative data could back up what we were noticing on an anecdotal level,” says Peschel. “For example, we wanted to know if students were able to complete double majors in four years, were they able to graduate early, could they take fewer remedial level courses once they were in college, did they go on for graduate-level studies? These were the questions we asked the MSBA students to tackle and see if they could find answers.”

The data

Mounds View District provided course completion numbers to the Carlson School students, as well as previously unexamined data obtained from the Minnesota Statewide Longitudinal Education Data System (SLEDS). The state program is designed to match “student data from pre-kindergarten through completion of postsecondary education and into the workforce. By bridging existing data with other incoming data a range of education programmatic and delivery questions can be answered to gauge the effectiveness of current programs and design targeted improvement strategies to help students,” per the SLEDS website.

Mary Stobb is director of research, evaluation, and assessment in the Mounds View School District. “I wanted an unvarnished opinion,” she says, “of whether or not our Early College Program was really working. As we examine and refine our offerings in this program, we also wanted to know if we needed to accelerate working with students on ‘soft skills’ such as time management, advocating for themselves, and increasing their ability to read college material would help them beyond high school.”

The researchers

Carlson School students set to work during their four-week intensive, working in small groups to pour over the data and try to extract the stories the data tells. “This is a high-dimensional, multi-faceted problem and there’s a lot of nuance we try to understand and do justice to,” says Yang. The team approached the issue from various angles, including an analysis of the impact of diversity and equity on high school students belonging to underrepresented groups. 

Each group developed a unique track and returned with several useful ways of understanding the data. Many groups even created dashboards that will allow district leaders like Peschel and Stobb to continue to query the data as new classes graduate, head off to college or the workforce, and provide new data sets during their post-secondary years.

“It was like having 70 new partners,” laughs Stobb. “We had more people—more talent—looking at the problem from angles we hadn’t even considered. And what the students delivered was actionable data. We’re already looking at ways to be responsive to the changes they recommended and to continue supporting the areas they noted were producing success.”

Finding meaning in the data

In their final days in the class, the MSBA students presented their findings—first to Professor Yang before eight select groups stood in front of a contingent of Mounds View School District leaders in the 3M Auditorium at the Carlson School. “Each group found that, yes—the data shows there is a significant and meaningful relationship between taking even a single college course in high school and future success in completing some level of post-secondary education,” says Yang. And within that discovery came the nuance.

One team discovered a single course was the greatest indicator of future success: a freshman-level biology course offered through Anoka-Ramsey. “This one single course predicted a 35 percent increase in college or tech school graduation,” says Peschel.

Groups also found that “there was equitable access for students from underrepresented backgrounds and those student groups reached the same levels of success in their post-secondary pursuits if they participated in the Early College Program,” says Yang. “We were really fortunate with our client—Mounds View—to not just solve a data analytics problem, but an analytics problem with a very real impact on students’ lives and success. I told my students, ‘this is one of those projects with very clear social impact. Not only will you get exposure to a real-world data problem but whatever you do—if you do it well—will have positive impact for students.’”

“We’re thrilled with the outcome,” says Stobb. “Now I am better able to interpret the information from SLEDS, and we are planning to share the SLEDs resource with other district administrators across the state.”

It’s a great outcome for Yang as well. “We’re able to offer this program to community partners free-of-charge because of our partnership with 3M. And because of 3M’s help, we can bring useful and actionable data analysis to clients who might not otherwise afford access to such a comprehensive service.”