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Assessment Data
September 2020


What does the research say about best practices for using assessment data, including formative assessments, to inform instruction?

Ask A REL Response

Thank you for your request to our Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Reference Desk. Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 RELs that, by design, functions much in the same way as a technical reference library. Ask A REL provides references, referrals, and brief responses in the form of citations in response to questions about available education research.

Following an established REL Northwest research protocol, we conducted a search for evidence- based research. The sources included ERIC and other federally funded databases and organizations, research institutions, academic research databases, Google Scholar, and general Internet search engines. For more details, please see the methods section at the end of this document.

The research team has not evaluated the quality of the references and resources provided in this response; we offer them only for your reference. The search included the most commonly used research databases and search engines to produce the references presented here. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The research references are not necessarily comprehensive and other relevant research references may exist. In addition to evidence-based, peer-reviewed research references, we have also included other resources that you may find useful. We provide only publicly available resources, unless there is a lack of such resources or an article is considered seminal in the topic area.


Abrams, L., Varier, D., & Jackson, L. (2016). Unpacking instructional alignment: The influence of teachers' use of assessment data on instruction. Perspectives in Education, 34(4), 15–28.

From the Abstract:
"The use of assessment data to inform instruction is an important component of a comprehensive standards-based assessment programme. Examining teachers' data use for instruction can reveal the extent to which instruction is aligned with established content standards and assessment. This paper describes results of a qualitative study of teachers' data use in a mid-Atlantic metropolitan area in the United States. Focus group interviews with 60 upper elementary and middle school teachers from 45 schools were conducted. Findings indicate teachers aligned instruction and assessments with the state curriculum with the goal of improving student performance. While teachers found day-to-day informal assessments essential to shaping instruction, periodic formal assessments helped them monitor student progress and remediation efforts. Teachers described challenges associated with the misalignment of periodic assessments with instructional content, the breadth of content and higher cognitive demand expected in the newer state curriculum and the lack of infrastructure to support data use."

Andersson, C., & Palm, T. (2017). Characteristics of improved formative assessment practice. Education Inquiry, 8(2), 104–122. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"An earlier study showed that the changes in teachers' classroom practice, after participation in a professional development program in formative assessment, significantly improved student achievement in mathematics. The teachers in that study were a random selection of Year 4 teachers in a Swedish mid-sized municipality. In the present study, we analyse and describe the characteristics of these changes in classroom practice, which were based on a combination of various strategies for formative assessment. Data were collected through teacher interviews and classroom observations. The teachers implemented many new activities that strengthened a formative classroom practice based on identifying student learning needs and modifying the teaching and learning accordingly. The characteristics of the changes the teachers made reveal the complexity of this formative assessment practice and why such developments of practice are likely to require major changes in most teachers' practices. We also discuss how such changes in practice afford new learning opportunities."

Brink, M., & Bartz, D. E. (2017). Effective use of formative assessment by high school teachers. Practical Assessment, Research, and Evaluation, 22(1), 1–10. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"The purpose of this mixed-methods study was to gain insights and understandings of high school teachers' perceptions and use of formative assessment to enhance their planning, individualization of instruction, and adjustment of course content to improve student learning. The study was conducted over two years in a midwestern high school of approximately 1,000 students. Crucial to the three project teachers' understanding of formative assessment was developing and using preset curriculum road maps that tightly aligned course goals, learning objectives, activities, instructional methods, and assessment. The in-depth case studies of the sample's three teachers revealed that, when provided with specific information about formative assessment through staff development, they became more positive toward such assessment, and their implementation skills were greatly improved. The staff development had an especially positive impact on the teachers' understanding and skill sets for individualizing instructional practices. The personalization of the staff development proved to be the most beneficial when it tailored the content to the varying levels of initial proficiency of the three sample teachers. Support for formative assessment by the administrative team members was essential to creating a cultural shift from summative to formative assessment."

Curry, K. A., Mwavita, M., Holter, A., & Harris, E. (2016). Getting assessment right at the classroom level: Using formative assessment for decision making. Educational Assessment, Evaluation and Accountability, 28(1), 89–104. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"Current high-stakes accountability mandates emphasize data use for school improvement. However, teachers often lack training for effective data use, and data is often too far removed from students to actually influence instructional practice. This qualitative case study was designed to gain a better understanding of a district-wide, teacher-centered approach to data use. Findings suggest that when data is used to inform instruction rather than evaluate instruction, teachers begin to practice reflective teaching. A common language emerged across grade levels facilitating a collaborative approach to data use. Using the theoretical framework of Self-Determination Theory, we propose a data informed instructional theoretical model that stakeholders in K-12 education systems can use to enhance instruction and learning at the classroom level. This teacher-centered model is of particular importance as a framework to build collective capacity by meeting psychological needs of teachers of autonomy, competence, and relatedness."

Gleason, P., Crissey, S., Chojnacki, G., Zukiewicz, M., Silva, T., Costelloe, S., et al. (2019). Evaluation of support for using student data to inform teachers' instruction (NCEE 2019-4008). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance.

From the Abstract:
"Most districts help teachers use data to improve student learning, often supporting this effort with federal funds. But many teachers feel unprepared to use student data to inform their instruction—referred to as data-driven instruction (DDI)—and there is little evidence of whether it improves student achievement. This report assesses an intensive approach to supporting teachers' use of student data to tailor their instruction. The report found that this specific approach to DDI did not improve students' achievement, perhaps because the approach did not change teachers' reported use of data or classroom practices."

Lee, H., Chung, H. Q., Zhang, Y., Abedi, J., & Warschauer, M. (2020). The effectiveness and features of formative assessment in US K-12 education: A systematic review. Applied Measurement in Education, 33(2), 124–140. Full text available at

From the Abstract:
"In the present article, we present a systematical review of previous empirical studies that conducted formative assessment interventions to improve student learning. Previous meta-analysis research on the overall effects of formative assessment on student learning has been conclusive, but little has been studied on important features of formative assessment interventions and their differential impacts on student learning in the United States' K-12 education system. Analysis of the identified 126 effect sizes from the selected 33 studies representing 25 research projects that met the inclusion criteria (e.g., included a control condition) revealed an overall small-sized positive effect of formative assessment on student learning (d = 0.29) with benefits for mathematics (d = 0.34), literacy (d = 0.33), and arts (d = 0.29). Further investigation with meta-regression analyses indicated that supporting student-initiated self-assessment (d = 0.61) and providing formal formative assessment evidence (e.g., written feedback on quizzes; d = 0.40) via a medium-cycle length (within or between instructional units; d = 0.52) were found to enhance the effectiveness of formative assessments."

Klute, M., Apthorp, H., Harlacher, J., & Reale, M. (2017). Formative assessment and elementary school student academic achievement: A review of the evidence (REL 2017–259). Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Evaluation and Regional Assistance, Regional Educational Laboratory Central.

From the Abstract:
"Formative assessment is a process that engages teachers and students in gathering and using information about what students are learning. This comprehensive and systematic review identifies 22 rigorous studies of the effectiveness of formative assessment interventions among elementary students. Results of the study indicate that, overall, formative assessment has a positive effect on student achievement. On average, across the studies, students who participated in formative assessment performed better on measures of academic achievement than those who did not. Formative assessment interventions in mathematics had larger effects, on average, than formative assessment interventions in reading or writing. Both student-directed formative assessment and formative assessment directed by other agents, such as a teacher or a computer program, appear to be effective for mathematics. Other-directed formative assessment interventions appear to be more effective for reading than student-directed formative assessment interventions."

Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands. (2020). Creating and using performance assessments: An online course for practitioners. Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands. Retrieved from

From the Training:
"This self-paced, online course provides educators with detailed information on performance assessment. Through five 30-minute modules, practitioners, instructional leaders, and administrators will learn foundational concepts of assessment literacy and how to develop, score, and use performance assessments. They will also learn about the role of performance assessment within a comprehensive assessment system. The course content is based on seminal and current research in assessment literacy, performance assessment, and balanced assessment systems. Performance assessment refers to assessments that require students to craft their own responses to problems through constructing an answer, producing a product, or performing an activity (Parsi & Darling-Hammond, 2015). Researchers have found that the use of performance assessments can produce positive instructional changes in classrooms (Koretz, Mitchell, Barron, & Keith, 1996) and improve teaching (Darling-Hammond & Wood, 2008), including supporting teachers in developing strategies to deepen students' critical thinking and problem-solving (Faxon-Mills, Hamilton, Rudnick, & Stecher, 2013). Their use is also associated with increased student skill development, student engagement, and post-secondary success (Foote, 2005); and can strengthen complex conceptual understandings (Chung & Baker, 2003). Performance assessment ideally takes place within a comprehensive, balanced assessment system, which is a system that includes a variety of instruments and processes to produce information and data for stakeholders (Gong, 2010)."

Riddell, N. B. (2016). Maximizing the effective use of formative assessments. Teacher Educators' Journal, 9, 63–74.

From the Abstract:
"In the current age of accountability, teachers must be able to produce tangible evidence of students' concept mastery. This article focuses on implementation of formative assessments before, during, and after instruction in order to maximize teachers' ability to effectively monitor student achievement. Suggested strategies are included to help expand educators' repertoire of possible formative assessments that can be utilized in the classroom setting. These strategies can make teachers more productive and effective in monitoring and assessing student achievement."

Shepard, L. A., Penuel, W. R., & Pellegrino, J. W. (2018). Using learning and motivation theories to coherently link formative assessment, grading practices, and large‐scale assessment. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 37(1), 21–34. Retrieved from

From the Abstract:
"To support equitable and ambitious teaching practices, classroom assessment design must be grounded in a research-based theory of learning. Compared to other theories, sociocultural theory offers a more powerful, integrative account of how motivational aspects of learning—such as self-regulation, self-efficacy, sense of belonging, and identity—are completely entwined with cognitive development. Instead of centering assessment within systems that support use of interim and end-of-year standardized tests, we argue for a vision of formative assessment based on discipline-specific tasks and questions that can provide qualitative insights about student experience and thinking, including their identification with disciplinary practices. At the same time, to be consistent with a productive formative assessment culture, grading policies should avoid using points and grades "to motivate" students but should create opportunities for students to use feedback to improve their work. We argue for districts as the locus for the design of such coherent curriculum, instruction, and assessment activity systems because districts have responsibility for curriculum, teacher professional development, and equity; and districts allocate resources for textbooks and assessment."

Wilcox, K. C., Gregory, K., & Yu, L. (2017). Connecting the dots for English language learners: How odds-beating elementary school educators monitor and use student performance data. Journal for Leadership and Instruction, 16(1), 37–43.

From the Abstract:
"This article reports on findings from a multiple case study investigating the nature of educators' approaches toward monitoring English language learners' (ELLs) performance and using data to improve instruction and apply appropriate interventions. Six New York elementary schools where ELLs' performance was better than predicted (i.e. odds-beating) based on student assessment data were studied. The analysis revealed that several strategies were common among the schools studied and were associated with the schools' better ELL performance outcomes. These include: 1) connecting instruction and interventions to "real time" data based on multiple measures of student performance including benchmark and formative assessments; 2) communicating performance via technology among teachers and with family members and legal guardians; 3) collaborating through routines among teaching and support staff as well as school and district leaders. Implications for district and school leaders and teachers are discussed. Implications for district and school leaders as well as teachers and other instructional specialists are offered."


Keywords and Search Strings: The following keywords, subject headings, and search strings were used to search reference databases and other sources:"Formative assessment", "Formative feedback", Instruction, "Assessment data", "Classroom assessment"

Databases and Resources: We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar and EBSCO databases (Academic Search Premier, Education Research Complete, and Professional Development Collection).

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

Date of publications: This search and review included references and resources published in the last 10 years.

Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority was given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published and/or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations, as well as academic databases, including ERIC, EBSCO databases, and Google Scholar.

Methodology: The following methodological priorities/considerations were given in the review and selection of the references:

  • Study types: randomized control trials, quasi experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, and policy briefs, generally in this order
  • Target population and samples: representativeness of the target population, sample size, and whether participants volunteered or were randomly selected
  • Study duration
  • Limitations and generalizability of the findings and conclusions

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by stakeholders in Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington, which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest. It was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0009 by REL Northwest, administered by Education Northwest. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.