CREATE Week: Paula Egelson on Mini-Case Studies in Formative Assessment

I am Paula Egelson from the Southern Regional Education Board. Much of the work I have done over the past 15 years has included formative assessment. Formative assessments focus on assessing students to improve learning and instruction. Below are snapshots of teachers who use formative assessment effectively.

“Lydia” is a Head Start teacher in a large northeastern city who teaches in a four-year-old classroom. Half of Lydia’s students have individual education plans and a majority of her students speak Spanish as a first language.

Lydia assesses her students frequently to learn whether students “get it” and to help guide instruction. The different developmental trajectories of her students means there is much individualized assessment. She uses flashcards to assess number recognition or letter sound pronunciation. Lydia does lots of informal questioning to determine whether students understand concepts. Lydia remarks, “I have to know my students.  I need to know how far I can take them.”

“Sutton” teaches a self-contained 5th grade honors class at a rural minority middle school. The science program Sutton uses includes labs. The students do interactive science note-booking. This includes developing focus questions, making predictions, observations, and reflections, vocabulary, and providing evidence collaboratively. In lab groups students are assessed on rubric concerning their engagement. Sutton checks a sample of student notebooks at night to assess understanding and mastery. He then has conferences with students about their notebooks the next day.

For math, Sutton’s students are placed in cooperative groups for instruction. Students must explain how they get their answers and learn different ways to reflect. Math instruction is in the morning; however, students play math games and use the Smartboard in the afternoon to address misconceptions. His students are allowed to redo work and correct mistakes. In addition, students self-assess by learning to read graphs about their own academic progress.

Denise teaches physical science at a minority high school. District policies encouraged Denise to try formative assessment. Denise uses the results of chapter pretests to guide her instruction. Some of Denise’s students have meager science vocabularies and struggle with the math. Denise often asks her students, “What do you think you know?” Once students respond, Denise knows where to start teaching or remediating struggling students. There are also benchmark tests and project rubrics used formatively.

Hot Tip: Formative assessment takes on many forms at all grade levels, and any evaluation of school improvement should include finding ways to capture formative assessment activities.

RAD Resource: See Improving Formative Assessment Practice to Empower Student Learning by E. Carolin Wylie, et al. for many examples of how to incorporate and improve formative assessment activities.

The American Evaluation Association is celebrating Consortium for Research on Educational Assessment and Teaching (CREATE) week. The contributions all this week to aea365 come from members of CREATE. Do you have questions, concerns, kudos, or content to extend this aea365 contribution? Please add them in the comments section for this post on the aea365 webpage so that we may enrich our community of practice. Would you like to submit an aea365 Tip? Please send a note of interest to aea365 is sponsored by the American Evaluation Association and provides a Tip-a-Day by and for evaluators.

1 thought on “CREATE Week: Paula Egelson on Mini-Case Studies in Formative Assessment”

  1. Hello Paula,

    Thank you for your engaging, practical and pertinent blog post. I appreciated how you chose to contextualize your “hot tip” by showcasing how formative assessment is being utilized in the classroom and providing a snapshot of the learning environment and context.

    The simple series of questions that teachers should continually be asking themselves, as laid out in your “RAD resource”, reminded me of a framework I was exposed to during my Bachelor of Education, the spirals of inquiry. Both RAD resource and spirals of inquiry are aimed at enhancing student learning, the former emphasizing assessment, the latter emphasizing student agency within the process. If you aren’t familiar with the spirals of inquiry, it is a framework of “interconnected phases”: scanning, focusing, developing, learning, taking action, checking. Each phase has related key questions, but essentially, they can be condensed to (Timperley, Kaser & Halbert, 2014, p. 5):
    1. “Where am I going (goals)?”
    2. “How am I doing (progress)?”
    3. “Where to next (what can I do to improve)?”
    “Information relevant to these questions can be generated and used by teachers, students, or peers” with intent being to not just identify gaps, but rather the goal should be to provide effective feedback that “help[s] learners imagine future action” (Butler, Schnellert & Perry, in preparation, p. 9.19).

    I agree with your succinct take on formative assessment, it comes in all forms, is applicable for any age and should be incorporated into schools. I would take it a step further and recommend that it be a part of a teacher’s daily practice. Although I am aware of the importance of formative assessment and recognize it as being an aspect of best teaching practice, in my work as a substitute teacher I have not always seen the results of formative assessment used to inform and guide instruction. I believe teachers start off with the best intentions but may not feel confident or perhaps feel overwhelmed in the task of translating results into action. Ultimately, I am curious about your thoughts on this issue: in general, have you observed teachers consistently using formative assessment to direct their instruction? I know you provided clear exemplars portraying effective formative assessment, but I am wondering whether to what degree is it the norm for you to experience and observe these kinds of exemplars.

    Thank you for causing me to reflect further into my own teaching practice and reminding me of the importance of formative assessment.


    Butler, D.L., Schnellert, L., & Perry, N.E. (in preparation). In Developing Self-Regulating Learners (pp. 9.1 – 9.25). Don Mills, ON: Pearson.

    Timperley, H., Kaser, L. & Halbert, J. (2014). A framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry. Centre for Strategic Education, 234, pp. 1-24. Retrieved from

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