College of Education and Human Development

Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement

Elevating student learning beyond the basics

Educational leaders across the country are catching on to the idea that traditional grading practices and standardized tests do not adequately capture the scope of what young people know and can do. With funding from The Civic Affairs Trust, researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed two resources to rethink and improve the evaluation of student learning in schools.

“Academic learning isn't the only outcome of a public education that matters to families and communities,” says Sara Kemper, Research Associate at the UMN Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). “By the time they graduate, we want our young people to be able to navigate college and the workplace, solve complex problems, and contribute to their communities, among other skills.”

Beyond the Basics: Lessons from Innovative Schools on Evaluating Student Learning identifies ways to evaluate student learning that more thoroughly reflect the breadth and specificity of learning outcomes that our society expects from schools, and that students want for themselves. Kemper and her co-authors looked at case studies of five U.S. schools and districts currently implementing innovative student evaluation systems. A companion guide, Evaluating Student Learning “Beyond the Basics” is intended for PreK-12 leaders interested in exploring innovative approaches to evaluating student learning. Specifically, it identifies practices in evaluating learning beyond academics, including career readiness skills, social and emotional competencies, and other important outcomes.

Report and guide

Educational leaders across the country are catching on to the idea that traditional grading practices and standardized tests do not adequately capture the scope of what young people know and can do. These schools and districts are experimenting with new models for assessing learning and communicating results with students and families. This project aimed to unearth promising practices in the evaluation of student learning that more thoroughly reflects the breadth and specificity of learning outcomes that our society expects from schools, and that students want for themselves.

Main report (2023)

Beyond the Basics: Lessons from Innovative Schools on Evaluating Student Learning identifies promising practices for addressing the shortcomings of prevailing evaluation structures, along with tools and approaches, applications, and evidence-based recommendations.

carei beyond the basics: lessons from innovative schools on evaluating student learning full report cover
    • Acknowledgments    5
    • About the Authors    5
    • Vignette    6
    • Introduction    7
    • The Case for Reimagining Student Evaluation    7
      • Prevailing Evaluation Structures and their Shortcomings    9
        • The Carnegie Unit: Success as Seat Time    10
        • Standardized Tests: Success as Performance in Narrow Academic Domains    11
        • Consequences    12
        • Public Opinion    14
    • Promising Practices in the Evaluation of PreK-12 Student Learning    15
      • Phase I: Defining Meaningful Learner Outcomes    15
        • Universal Competency Domains    15
        • Individualized Competency Domain    16
        • Portrait of a Graduate    16
      • Phase II: Designing Systems to Evaluate Student Learning    17
        • Criterion 1: Empowering    19
        • Criterion 2: Aligned    20
        • Criterion 3: Meaningful    21
        • Criterion 4: Multiple Ways    23
        • Criterion 5: Rigorous    24
        • Criterion 6: Feasible    25
    • Tools and Approaches for Planning, Evaluating, and Reporting Student Learning    27
      • Tools and Approaches for Determining Learning Targets (Phase I)    27
      • Tools and Approaches for Evaluating Learning (Phase IIa)    30
      • Tools and Approaches for Summarizing and Communicating Learning (Phase IIb)    32
      • Summary    34
    • Applications in Schools and Districts    35
      • Capstone Projects at Cañon City High School – Cañon City, CO    35
      • Mastery-Based Assessment at Brooklyn International High School – New York City, NY    37
      • Del Lago Academy – Escondido, CA    38
      • Evaluating Students with Learning Differences at Lionsgate Academy – Minnesota    40
      • Balanced Assessment in Spring Lake Park Schools – Spring Lake Park, MN    42
      • Synthesis of Findings from Case Studies    43
    • Recommendations    45
      • Start with the End in Mind    45
      • Engage Others    45
      • Evaluate Existing Student Evaluation Systems    45
      • Consider Viable Alternatives to the Carnegie Unit    46
      • Embrace Competency-Based Grading Practices    46
      • Get Inspired    47
      • Prioritize    47
      • Beware the Naysayers    47
      • Tap Teachers    48
      • Start Small    48
    • Final Thoughts    49
    • References    50
    • Appendix A: Guiding Questions and Methodology    60
    • Appendix B: Example Competency Domains and Portraits of a Graduate    63
    • Appendix C: Cañon City Capstone Rubric    67
    • Appendix D: Mastery-Based Assessment Measures at BIHS    71
    • Appendix E: Del Lago Academic Internship Program Overview    73
    • Appendix F: Lionsgate Academy IEP Reporting Document & Summary    75
    • Appendix G: Spring Lake Park Balanced Framework & Student Portrait    78
    • Appendix H: Sources of Assessment Data    80

    Companion guide (2023)

    Evaluating Student Learning ‘Beyond the Basics’ is intended for PreK-12 leaders interested in exploring innovative approaches to evaluating student learning. Specifically, it identifies ways to evaluate learning beyond academics that can be implemented in schools.

    carei evaluating student learning "beyond the basics" a guide for schools and districts
      • Introduction
      • The Case for Reimagining Student Evaluation
      • Promising Practices in the Evaluation of PreK-12 Student Learning
        • Phase I: Defining Meaningful Learner Outcomes
        • Phase II: Designing Systems to Evaluate Student Learning
      • Tools and Approaches
        • Determining Learning Targets (Phase I)
        • Evaluating Learning (Phase IIa)
        • Summarizing and Communicating Learning (Phase IIb)
      • What Schools are Doing
      • Recommendations
        • Start with the End in Mind
        • Engage Others
        • Evaluate Existing Student Evaluation Systems
        • Consider Viable Alternatives to the Carnegie Unit
        • Embrace Competency-Based Grading Practices
        • Get Inspired
        • Prioritize
        • Beware the Naysayers
        • Tap Teachers
        • Start Small
      • Conclusion

      About the authors

      Sara Kemper Sara Kemper

      Sara Kemper, Ph.D., is a former 5th grade teacher who is passionate about reimagining schools to foster high-quality and equitable learning environments.

      Sara Kemper
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      Eskender Yousuf Eskender Yousuf

      Eskender Yousuf, Ph.D., is a researcher and evaluator who leverages his community-based experiences and racial equity focused scholarship to assist organizational leaders in developing more inclusive practices for all student or program participants,…

      Eskender Yousuf
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      Brittany Stahlman

      Brittany Stahlman, M.Ed., is a student in the Education Policy and Leadership Ph.D. program at the University of Minnesota who focuses her research on school culture, teacher development, and schoolwide policy implementation. She is an educator with over ten years experience teaching secondary language arts within a racially and economically diverse Twin Cities school district.

      Laura Potter Laura Potter

      Laura Potter, Ph.D., is an evaluator and educational psychologist who is committed to improving how schools and educators think about, collect, and use student data to enhance instruction and student outcomes. Dr.

      Laura Potter
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