From the late 1990s, education in East Africa started to be appraised on the basis of enrolment. The universalisation of primary education that started in Uganda in 1997 – and peaked in Tanzania in 2002, as well as in Kenya in 2003 – was politicised as the epitome of education reform. Yet, alternative voices called for consideration of improving quality and looking beyond numbers. Uwezo, an East African initiative, aims at contributing to the focus on learning outcomes for children aged 6 to 16 years in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda and operates on a theory of change that envisions large-scale learning assessment Mugo et al A call to learning focus in East Africa: Uwezo's measurement of learning as critical for strengthening the quality voice. Evidence is viewed as public utility in which citizens participate as both actors and consumers, and build bottom-up pressure to improve education quality. This article situates Uwezo's assessment in context of education reform in East Africa and presents succinct discussion of the evidence on learning competences generated between 2009 and 2012. The article concludes that learning outcomes are low and demands extensive efforts and multiple solutions – from both within and outside of the schooling systems – in changing the way schools work towards improved outcomes.