Dr. Christ to keynote MDE Back to School Conference

Theodore J. Christ headshot
Dr. Theodore J. Christ

Theodore J. Christ, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) and professor in the Department of Educational Psychology’s school psychology program, will give a keynote speech at this year’s Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Back to School Conference.

Dr. Christ’s talk will focus on the importance of using research, assessment, and evaluation to guide decision-making and educational practice. During the speech, Dr. Christ will discuss ideas on how evaluation data may be used for system improvement to accelerate student outcomes. Finally, he will share the results of a recent statewide needs assessment in the areas of research, evaluation, and assessment with an opportunity to provide input on ways to respond to statewide needs.

The MDE Back to School Conference hosts education leaders and takes place August 9 -10 at the Minneapolis Marriot Northwest. This year’s theme is Minnesota’s commitment to the drivers of effective education leadership.

Theodore J. Christ’s leadership supports CAREI’s mission of improving the quality of education for all learners, and thereby society as a whole, through four service offerings: 1) evaluation, 2) research, 3) assessment, and 4) innovation and outreach. As applied researchers and evaluators, CAREI strives to have an immediate impact on communities, listening to and working with clients and partners to understand their experiences. CAREI seeks to impact 80% of Minnesota students within five years.

Report reveals state’s substantial unmet educational needs in order to improve outcomes for all learners

A new report shows substantial unmet needs at all levels of Minnesota’s educational systems in order to improve learner outcomes through research, evaluation, assessment and data use, particularly in rural and high need communities.

Effective use of quality data in educational decisions can improve educational outcomes for all learners and help the state reduce the gap between the top performing students and those that struggle to meet proficiency levels.

The 2015 Minnesota Needs Assessment: Research, Evaluation, Assessment, and Data Use in Education identifies six categories of unmet needs—infrastructure, capacity, efficiency, time, training, and ease of use—with several key findings and results. The majority of respondents believe quality data can improve educational decisions; a common theme was that all stakeholders would benefit from additional assistance in the use of data.

Despite substantial motivations and efforts to use data, most districts lack the capacity to meet their own needs for data-based decision making, in part due to a lack of qualified personnel. Only 33 percent of districts reported having staff with advanced training in evaluation and assessment. More than 70 percent of survey respondents indicated their school’s or district’s capacity to effectively use data to guide educational decisions was fair or poor. Further, the lack of centralized services to support sound data practices throughout the state limits the potential of Minnesota’s educational system.

The report was issued by the University of Minnesota’s Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). The findings are based on an extensive year-long process involving 800 individuals and educational leaders along with 13 professional organizations. This is the first time such a study has been conducted in Minnesota.

“We are grateful to the many individuals and organizations that generously shared their time and insights to develop this critical educational needs assessment,” said CAREI director Theodore Christ, associate professor of educational psychology. “It is clear we need to improve data literacy in Minnesota’s educational systems if we are serious about improving outcomes for all learners. But we do not want to simply provide recommendations. We want to provide the tools for educators and educational leaders to select the programs that have evidence associated with them so that as a state we can make meaningful advances in closing the performance gaps.”

Results of the needs assessment show that coordination of public resources is needed to identify common challenges among districts and coordinate efforts to implement solutions.

Minnesota has the opportunity to leverage current resources and establish a national model of collaboration based on the use of data and evidence to improve educational outcomes for all learners. Developing such an infrastructure may also substantially improve the effectiveness of the established state standards and data collection programs.

Education is the largest financial investment in the Minnesota state budget, and those investments place Minnesota students among the top performers in the nation. However, approximately 40 percent of Minnesota students did not meet state standards for proficiency in reading and math in 2015. Substantial gaps in opportunity and performance, commonly referred to as the achievement gap, persist for students of color and across ethnic groups, despite a range of efforts.


The Center for Applied Research And Educational Improvement (CAREI) was established in 1988 as an independent collegewide center in the University of Minnesota’s College of Education and Human Development to conduct rigorous, unbiased evaluation of innovative practices and policies in education. During the past 25 years, CAREI has completed more than 250 evaluation and research studies funded by federal and state agencies, local educational agencies, and foundations. These studies range from truancy reduction to later start times for high schools. The CAREI staff includes many with Ph.D.s from diverse backgrounds in educational psychology, statistics and measurement, curriculum and instruction, education policy and administration, educational leadership, and evaluation studies. CAREI project leaders coordinate research teams and collaborate with content experts and community members.

For more information, contact Kimberly Gibbons, CAREI’s associate director for innovation and outreach.


CAREI: Research, Development, and Engagement​

The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI) has an expanded mission and vision. The new CAREI will build capacity for Research, Development and Engagement throughout the university, state and region. The new mission and vision will be led by Theodore Christ as Director along with Delia Kundin and Kim Gibbons as Associate Directors. In addition to the program evaluation services that CAREI is known for, it now also provides consultation services for research and assessment. CAREI encourages interested partners to reach out to build collaborations (e.g., school districts, researchers).

This expansion occurs at the same time that CAREI celebrates its 25-Year Anniversary. Over the years, CAREI has completed nearly 600 studies that have had an enormous impact on teaching and learning, not only in Minnesota but across the U.S. The May 4th celebration included current and former CAREI staff, CEHD and University faculty collaborators, and many community partners, such as leaders from school districts, the Minnesota Department of Education, and neighborhood outreach groups. Former University of Minnesota President Robert Bruininks and current President Eric Kaler, plus CEHD Dean Jean Quam, were on hand to speak about CAREI’s strong educational research tradition, as well as its future.

CAREI 25 Year Anniversary Event
Pictured clockwise from left to right starting at top left: Former and current CAREI Directors Karen Seashore, Geoffrey Maruyama, Kyla Wahlstrom, Theodore Christ, Jean King, and not pictured: Steve Yussen; President Eric Kaler; President Emeritus Robert Bruininks; CEHD Dean Jean Quam; University Professors, Staff, and School District Representatives Serena Wright, Peter Demerath, Nicola Alexander, and Peter Olson-Skog; CAREI Staff Delia Kundin, Tim Sheldon, Kristin Peterson, Debra Ingram, Jane Fields, Theodore Christ, Michael Michlin, Beverly Dretzke, Rachel Satterlee, Dale Blyth, Kyla Wahlstrom; School District Representatives and University Professors Peter Demerath, Deanne Magnusson, Rick Spicuzza, Laura Bloomberg, Peter Olson-Skog, Sandy Christenson, Heidi Barajas, David Heistad, Kyla Wahlstrom, Theodore Christ.

CAREI researchers present papers at 2014 MWERA conference

MWERA LogoBeverly Dretzke, Timothy Sheldon, and Alicia Lim presented their research at the Mid-Western Educational Research Association (MWERA) conference held in Evanston, Illinois, in November. Dretzke and Sheldon are research associates at the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI). Lim, a research assistant at CAREI, is a Bachelor of Arts candidate in the Department of Psychology.  Their co-authored paper was entitled, “What Do K-12 Teachers Think about Including Student Surveys in Their Performance Ratings?” The paper presented the results of a study on teachers’ opinions about the use of student surveys as a component of a teacher evaluation system.  Elementary school teachers were found to be less supportive of using student survey feedback in their evaluations than secondary school teachers.  In addition, teachers were more skeptical than principals with respect to the usefulness of student feedback for improving teaching performance.

Dretzke also presented a paper co-authored with Maurya Orr from the Center for Community Arts Partnerships (CCAP), Columbia College Chicago. Their paper summarized the four-year evaluation of Transforming Education Through the Arts and Media (TEAM), an arts integration program implemented in seventh- and eighth-grade core course classrooms in Chicago Public Schools. TEAM is based on the concept of the 21st century transliterate learner and is designed to increase teacher capacity to integrate media arts and technology in classroom practice and to increase student motivation and achievement.  Funding for TEAM was provided by an Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination (AEMDD) grant awarded by the U.S. Department of Education.

CAREI to serve as project evaluator for new grant focusing on underrepresented college students

The Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement will serve as the project evaluator for a new $2.8 million CEHD grant. The project will focus on improving engagement of underrepresented and low-income college students and is part of the First in the World program. Read the full story.

Study of Family Liaison Positions in High-Poverty, Urban Schools

Education and Urban Society has published a study authored by Beverly Dretzke, a CAREI Research Associate, and Susan Rickers, a former CAREI Graduate Research Assistant who is now an Assistant Professor of Social Work at Bemidji State University. The paper, titled “The Family Liaison Position in High-Poverty, Urban Schools,” examines the roles and responsibilities of family liaisons working in urban schools with enrollments characterized by high poverty, high mobility, and ethnic diversity.

Results of the study indicated that the major responsibilities of the liaisons were creating a trusting and welcoming environment, facilitating parent involvement in the schools, keeping parents informed on school-related topics, and connecting parents with resources. To increase their effectiveness, the liaisons requested greater job clarity and more flexibility in their formal work hours. In general, it appeared that the family liaisons investigated in this study placed a stronger emphasis on creating a welcoming environment and establishing trust than has been found in research on family liaisons in more affluent communities.

CAREI Researchers Receive MWERA Award

A paper co-authored by Timothy Sheldon, Ph.D., and Elyse Farnsworth was selected by the Mid-Western Educational Research Association as the best paper presented in the Research, Evaluation, & Assessment in Schools Division (Division H) at its 2013 conference. Sheldon is a Research Associate with the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), and Farnsworth is a CAREI Graduate Research Assistant. Their paper, titled “Connection, Competence, and Contribution: New Outcome Measures for Assessing Outdoor Program Impact on Urban Youth,” reports the results of an evaluation of Wilderness Inquiry’s Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures (UWCA) program.To be selected, the paper had to meet several quality indicators as well as pertain to the conference theme of “Education, Access, Marginalization, and Empowerment.”

UWCA Participants.
Students participate in the Urban Wilderness Canoe Adventures program.

The primary objective of the UWCA program is to improve student academic performance through an innovative classroom/fieldwork curriculum that uses environmental educational experiences to teach science, social studies, and language arts. The ultimate goal is to inspire students to become environmental leaders. Program participants were fifth- through eighth-grade students in Minneapolis Public Schools.

Students’ grades and health improve with later high school start times

Later high school start times improve student grades and overall health, according to a new College of Education and Human Development study.

The three-year project, using data from more than 9,000 students attending eight high schools in three states, found that, when switching to a later start time:

  • attendance, standardized test scores and academic performance in math, English, science and social studies improved.
  • tardiness, substance abuse, symptoms of depression, and consumption of caffeinated drinks decreased.

In addition, the study found that there was a 70 percent drop in the number of car crashes involving teen drivers at Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming, which shifted to the latest start time of the eight schools (8:55 a.m.).

Wahlstrom“The research confirmed what has been suspected for some time,” said Kyla Wahlstrom, Ph.D., director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement (CAREI), which conducted the study. “High schools across the country that have later start times show significant improvements in many areas. The reduction of teen car crashes may be the most important finding of all, as the well-being of teens and the safety of the general public are interrelated.”

The study, funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), found that high schools that begin as late as 8:55 a.m. have 66 percent of students obtaining eight or more hours of sleep on school nights, which is the recommended amount for high school aged students. Schools that begin at 7:30 a.m. have an average of only 34 percent of students obtaining eight or more hours of sleep on school nights.

“Even a start time of 8:35 a.m. allows 57-60 percent of students to get eight or more hours of sleep, which is an important health benefit for a majority of students,” said Wahlstrom. “Local school districts, school personnel, parents, and students need to understand the importance of sleep and to make choices using the knowledge from this and other studies.”

In the first study to examine multiple schools in various locations across the U.S., student data were collected from eight schools that moved to later start times. Over the last three years, researchers surveyed St. Louis Park High School, Mahtomedi High School, Woodbury High School, Park High School, and East Ridge High School in Minnesota; Boulder High School and Fairview High School in Colorado; and Jackson Hole High School in Wyoming. Students were individually surveyed about their daily activities, substance use and sleep habits. Researchers then examined various health factors post-change in school start time and compared them with national average data.

The study also collected comparative data about students’ academic performance, including grades, attendance, tardiness and performance on state and national standardized tests. Car crash data were also examined for the communities surrounding the participating high schools.

The full report, “Examining the Impact of Later High School Start Times on the Health and Academic Performance of High School Students: A Multi-Site Study,” includes an examination of the processes by which local school districts participating in the study made the decision to change to a later start time. Key participants in the discussions and the decision-making were interviewed.

“Our research provides evidence of clear benefits for students whose high schools start at 8:30 a.m. or later,” said Wahlstrom. “More research needs to be done, but these findings are substantive and should provide more information for school districts considering a change in start time.”

See more research on teens and sleep. Also see coverage of this new study in the New York Times, HuffPost Live, Star Tribune, KSTP-TV, KARE 11-TV, and more media outlets.

Renewed focus on U teen sleep studies after Sec. Duncan’s comments

WahlstromGround-breaking teens and sleep research at the University, led by Kyla Wahlstrom, director of the Center for Applied Research and Educational Improvement, has received renewed attention following comments recently by Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. He suggested that high schools nationwide should consider the research on teens and sleep in relation to making decisions about school start times.
Twenty years ago Wahlstrom’s research about teen sleep began changing school start times in Minnesota. Now it’s become a national movement. The timing for this renewed interest coincides with the first national conference on teens and sleep in Minneapolis, Oct. 3-4, bringing experts from around the country to discuss current findings on teens and sleep and to translate them to create better school performance, improved physical and mental health, and reduced risky choices among teens.
See Wahlstrom’s appearance on KARE 11: