The creation, preservation, and degeneration of cis-regulatory elements controlling developmental gene expression are fundamental genome-level evolutionary processes about which little is known. Here, we identify critical differences in cis-regulatory elements controlling the expression of the sea urchin aboral ectoderm-specific spec genes. We found multiple copies of a repetitive sequence element termed RSR in genomes of species within the Strongylocentrotidae family, but RSRs were not detected in genomes of species outside Strongylocentrotidae. spec genes in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus are invariably associated with RSRs, and the spec2a RSR functioned as a transcriptional enhancer and displayed greater activity than did spec1 or spec2c RSRs. Single-base pair differences at two cis-regulatory elements within the spec2a RSR increased the binding affinities of four transcription factors, SpCCAAT-binding factor at one element and SpOtx, SpGoosecoid, and SpGATA-E at another. The cis-regulatory elements to which these four factors bound were recent evolutionary acquisitions that acted to either activate or repress transcription, depending on the cell type. These elements were found in the spec2a RSR ortholog in Strongylocentrotus pallidus but not in RSR orthologs of Strongylocentrotus droebachiensis or Hemicentrotus pulcherrimus. Our results indicated that a dynamic pattern of cis-regulatory element evolution exists for spec genes despite their conserved aboral ectoderm expression.