Physics Education Researchers have provided instructors with (1) tools to assess student learning, (2) details on the state of student knowledge, and (3) instructional materials and learning environments that have proven to be effective in promoting understanding. Unfortunately, the vast majority of this work has centered on students and instruction at the traditional research university. As instructors begin to implement innovative instructional materials, and as researchers begin to investigate student learning with diverse populations, complex differences emerge. The use of traditional PER tools in non‐traditional environments, such as the urban, comprehensive university, often leads to a very narrow picture of student development. Often, this limited view highlights deficiencies in learning and fails to reveal the strengths and resources of this population. In this paper we highlight issues we face with some of the traditional research tools and provide evidence for the resources we have found with our population of students.

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