The Science of Summit: School Models that Drive Student Success

Today, Summit Public Schools is very proud to announce the release of The Science of Summit, a groundbreaking white paper 15 years in the making. The Science of Summit is our effort to share what we believe about young people, about the promise of public education, and about principles for school design rooted in the science of learning.

Since our founding in 2003, we have held ourselves accountable to a vision that every student should be equipped to lead a fulfilled life. We’ve worked in partnership with nationally acclaimed learning scientists, researchers, and academics to develop a model that supports that vision. It combines our core values, what science tells us on how students learn best, and cutting-edge research into a school experience that is tailored to every community’s needs. Today, we share this work with you.

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Measurable Outcomes that Drive Student Success

Every single element of our model is grounded in what science tells us about how students learn best. In The Science of Summit, we translate the science of learning into the intentional design of our schools to achieve student success in four outcomes: Cognitive Skills, Content Knowledge, Habits of Success, and Sense of Purpose.

Summit Learning Student Outcomes
Summit Learning students graduate having demonstrated mastery in four key domains.

Through the cited research below and many more references in the white paper, we describe how:

  • Cognitive Skills, such as communication, critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity are skills essential for success in college and career, according to the Partnership for 21st Century Skills. Multiple prominent curriculum frameworks and standards — Common Core State Standards, Next Generation Science Standards and the Center for Curriculum Redesign — advocate teaching these skills.  We prioritize Cognitive Skills in grading above all else. Working with Stanford’s Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity (SCALE), we developed a single Cognitive Skills Rubric to assess student work. The rubric outlines 36 Cognitive Skills such as asking questions, interpreting data, and synthesizing sources. Students spend the majority of class time immersed in real-world projects that require this higher-order thinking.
  • Students need a broad Content Knowledge base in order to put Cognitive Skills to work, as outlined in research from The ABCs of How We Learn. Daniel Willingham, Professor of Psychology at the University of Virginia, tells us students must understand academic subjects more deeply than a web search can provide. We enable students to advance through material at their own pace and move on only when they demonstrate proficiency, in line with findings from Harvard Graduate School of Education professor and scientist Todd Rose.
  • Social-emotional learning is inextricably linked to academic learning. Students need Habits of Success — a set of skills, mindsets, dispositions and behaviors grounded in the social nature of learning. To prepare our students for college and career success, we adopted prominent educational psychologist K. Brooke Stafford-Brizard’s 2016 Building Blocks for Learning as our framework. It outlines 16 key social-emotional learning skills for comprehensive student development.
  • Students need more than a diploma upon graduation; they need a Sense of Purpose. Research from William Damon, Professor of Education at the Stanford Graduate School of Education, tells us students thrive when they understand their interests, values, and skills and have a credible path after high school. To achieve this vision, we incorporate weekly 1:1 mentoring and goal-setting into our approach. By tracking goals weekly with mentors, students cultivate the “why” behind school and develop an inner compass for life after high school.   


Our Framework for Designing a School Model

Beyond detailing evidence for each of our student outcomes, The Science of Summit presents a framework for designing school models aligned to a school’s articulated purpose of education and grounded in evidence.

The Aligned School Model Framework was developed at Summit Public Schools.

The Aligned School Model Framework 
presents six steps for designing a school model that consistently and reliably predicts success for all students when implemented effectively. We used this framework to inform the design of our own model and hope it will be helpful for the greater education community.

This framework is critical to ensuring Summit schools meet the needs of all students. We hope it can do the same for others across the nation and encourage our peers to use this framework to articulate their own school models.

And finally, we invite the education community to collaborate with us, learn with us, and teach us. We hope educators everywhere will use the ideas we present in The Science of Summit to serve their communities. Please join us on this journey to support all students.

Download the full white paper now to read more about the science behind our approach and the framework we used to design our school model.


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About the author

Summit Learning
Summit Learning
Summit Learning is a research–based approach to education designed to drive student engagement, meaningful learning, and strong student–teacher relationships that prepare students for life after graduation. Created by teachers with experience in diverse classrooms, Summit Learning is grounded in decades of research about how children learn. With Summit Learning, students gain mastery of core subjects like math, history, English, and science, while also carefully developing the skills and habits of lifelong learners. Summit Learning is independently led and operated by the nonprofit, Gradient Learning.