Skip Navigation
archived information

Ask a REL Response

Making adjustments when doing formative assessment — October 2015


Could you provide research on making adjustments when doing formative assessment?


We have prepared the following memo with 1) references on making quick adjustments when doing formative assessment and 2) organizations to consult. Citations include a link to a free online version, when available. All citations are accompanied by an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the author or publisher of the document. We have not done an evaluation of the methodological rigor of these resources, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Black, P., & Wiliam, D. (1998). Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 92, 81–90. Retrieved from

Abstract: Formative assessment is an essential component of classroom work and can raise student achievement.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N. (2011). Feed up, feedback, and feed forward. Science and Children, 48(9), 26–30. Retrieved from,-Back,-Forward.aspx

Abstract: “Feeding up” establishes a substantive line of inquiry that compels learners to engage in investigation and inquire. It also forms the basis for the assessments that follow. Once students understand the purpose and begin to work, they receive “feedback” that is timely and scaffolds their understanding. Based on their responses, the teacher gains a sense of what learners know and do not know. These practices drive a “feed forward” system that informs the teacher about what needs to be taught, or what students need to experience, next. In this article, the authors describe how a kindergarten science teacher used this inquiry-based approach to assessment with her students during a unit on conservation of resources. She found that this approach to assessment allowed her to make adjustments in instruction and experiences as students needed them, rather than wait until the end of the unit. In addition, this formative assessment system complemented her inquiry approach and the information she collected about student understanding did not interrupt her students’ investigation.

Popham, W. J. (2011). Transformative assessment in action: An inside look at applying the process. Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Retrieved from

Excerpt: Chapter 3. Immediate Instructional Adjustments Based on Assessed Performance: In the immediate instructional adjustment application of formative assessment, teachers gather assessment evidence, analyze that evidence, and change their teaching tactics (if a change is warranted) right then, within the same class session. Because immediate instructional adjustments by teachers can be based either on assessments of students’ performance or on students’ self-reported levels of understanding, we’ll be considering each of these sorts of adjustments separately, in different chapters. The focus here, in Chapter 3, will be immediate adjustments based on data gathered via fairly conventional kinds of classroom assessments.

Simmons, D. C., Kim, M., Kwok, O., Coyne, M. D., Simmons, L. E., Oslund, E., & ... Rawlinson, D. (2015). Examining the effects of linking student performance and progression in a Tier 2 Kindergarten reading intervention. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 48(3), 255–270. Retrieved from

Abstract: Despite the emerging evidence base on response to intervention, there is limited research regarding how to effectively use progress-monitoring data to adjust instruction for students in Tier 2 intervention. In this study, we analyzed extant data from a series of randomized experimental studies of a kindergarten supplemental reading intervention to determine whether linking performance on formative assessments to curriculum progression improved kindergarten reading outcomes over standard implementation. We were interested in whether specific progression adjustments would enhance the effects of supplemental reading intervention. Growth-mixture modeling using data from kindergarteners (n = 136) whose intervention progression (e.g., repeat lessons, skip lessons) was adjusted every 4 weeks based on mastery data identified four latent classes characterized by unique profiles of curriculum progression adjustments. Multilevel analyses comparing the performance of students in the four classes with that of propensity matched groups whose intervention was not adjusted (n = 101) indicated positive effects of curriculum progression for (a) students whose formative assessment performance exceeded 90% and received early and sustained lesson acceleration and (b) students who initially performed below 70% on assessments and who repeated early lessons and progressed to conventional implementation. Effects of curriculum adjustments for the two smallest groups were less clear.

Varlas, L. (2012). Improving student writing through formative assessments. Education Update, 54(2), 1–7. Retrieved from

Abstract: The article discusses formative assessments. It states that it is a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve student’s achievement on intended instructional outcomes. It mentions that formative assessments enable teachers and students to adjust their practices. It states that adjustments based on feedback from the formative assessment process would lead to improved student achievement.

Wylie, C. (2008). Formative assessment: Examples of practice. Washington, DC: Council of Chief State School Officers. Retrieved from

Excerpt: The purpose of this document is to provide examples of the FAST SCASS definition of formative assessment in practice, according to the attributes of effective formative assessment… Is It or Isn’t It Formative Assessment? Vignette 4: District-Developed Assessments. District-developed monthly exams are to be administered to all students at the end of each of the school year’s first eight months. The exams are based on state-authorized curricular goals for the grade and subjects involved. Because district administrators insist that teachers send results of these tests home to parents, all teachers do so. Yet, because the content covered by the monthly tests typically doesn’t coincide with what is being taught at the time the tests are administered, teachers rarely alter their instruction based on students’ performances on the monthly exams. In this example, we see neither teachers’ adjustment of their instruction nor students’ adjustment of their learning tactics. Thus, this probably well-intentioned distribution of the monthly exams’ results to parents would constitute a counterexample of formative assessment.

Organizations to consult

K–12 Educator Resources, Student Data Retrieved from

From the website: In a nutshell, formative assessments are those checks or assessments that inform instruction which provides the information to the teacher to adjust instruction prior to the end, or end of the unit where the summative assessment usually takes place. Many times this may happen, and should happen, throughout a single lesson. Another way that I’ve heard the difference between formative and summative explained is that formative is an assessment for learning and a summative assessment is an assessment of learning. Formative assessments could be those quick checks, listening to student responses to questions, listening in on student conversations, student performances, student writing, whiteboards and other overt responses. Other strategies might include ticket out the door, bell work, student reflection, 3-2-1, K-W-L, the list goes on.

How do we capture the data? If it’s written student work, it’s easy, you have the artifacts in hand. If the checks are student conversation, raised whiteboards, performances and the like it can be challenging. A strategy to consider is to use a seating chart or use a checklist—like a student roster. For the essential sub-objectives, tasks/activities, or concepts, create a column. As students do or perform the overt response, make some notation. One notation strategy is to use a minus, blank, plus system. The teacher notates a minus for the student who is still struggling at that point or uses a plus for the student who seems to have exceeded the expectation. For the student who is on track at that check the teacher leaves it blank. The importance of this is efficiency. The teacher is only notating the struggling and exceeding students and can quickly capture the formative assessment data. The teacher can also quickly see in browsing the list who those students are to make quick adjustments during the lesson—such as sub-grouping and changing their strategy in a reteach or using an extension strategy. The list itself is an artifact that could be used as the teacher reflects on the lesson and plans or makes adjustment for future lesson—especially in regard to learning strategies or pacing for the students.

Teaching Channel, Formative Assessment Resources Retrieved on October 14, 2015, from

From the website: Teaching Channel is a thriving online community where teachers can watch, share, and learn diverse techniques to help every student grow.


Keywords and Search Strings Used in the Search

“Formative assessment” AND “adjustments” OR “quick adjustments” OR “immediate adjustments”

Search of Databases

EBSCO Host, ERIC, PsychInfo, PsychArticle, Google, and Google Scholar

Criteria for Inclusion

When REL West staff review resources, they consider—among other things—four factors:

  • Date of the Publication: The most current information is included, except in the case of nationally known seminal resources.
  • Source and Funder of the Report/Study/Brief/Article: Priority is given to IES, nationally funded, and certain other vetted sources known for strict attention to research protocols.
  • Methodology: Sources include randomized controlled trial studies, surveys, self-assessments, literature reviews, and policy briefs. Priority for inclusion generally is given to randomized controlled trial study findings, but the reader should note at least the following factors when basing decisions on these resources: numbers of participants (Just a few? Thousands?); selection (Did the participants volunteer for the study or were they chosen?); representation (Were findings generalized from a homogeneous or a diverse pool of participants? Was the study sample representative of the population as a whole?).
  • Existing Knowledge Base: Although we strive to include vetted resources, there are times when the research base is limited or nonexistent. In these cases, we have included the best resources we could find, which may include newspaper articles, interviews with content specialists, organization websites, and other sources.

This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educators and policymakers in the West Region (Arizona, California, Nevada, Utah), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd. This memorandum was prepared by REL West under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-12-C-0002, administered by WestEd. Its 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.