Using Formative Assessment to Inform the
Use of Evidence-Based Strategies

By Debbie Grosser, M.Ed.
November/December 2013


As a result of the continued reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA, 2004), schools and classrooms have become more inclusive.  According to a report by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (2010), 57% of students with disabilities have received at least 80% of their instruction in general education classrooms.  As a result, it has become increasingly important for teachers to have the knowledge and skills to support students in finding success in these classrooms. 

Both IDEA (2004) and the No Child Left Behind Act (2001) mandate the use of evidenced-based strategies in supporting students with disabilities to make sufficient educational progress. Selection of these strategies must be based upon sound and appropriate assessment data.  There is an abundance of data in schools, which can feel overwhelming when determining which data sources are most useful for effective instructional decision-making.

Instructional assessments may be formative or summative. “Formative assessment occurs during instruction to inform teachers of student understanding and to guide additional instructional strategy decisions, whereas summative assessment occurs after instruction with the purpose of evaluating student mastery or demonstrating the sum of knowledge” (Cornelius, 2013, p. 15).  Summative assessments, on the other hand, are used as a measure of accountability, as a measure of student mastery, and to monitor progress towards annual IEP goals (Cornelius, 2013).

Formative assessment is ongoing and provides up-to-the-moment data that enhance teaching and learning. The information gathered through these measures identifies each student’s learning goals, current performance and skills, and the strategies needed to close the gap between the two (Chappuis, 2009). As such, it is used to inform instruction and to assist teachers in making the necessary adjustments to support student learning (Fisher & Frey, 2007).

Although both formal and informal methods may be used for formative assessment, the instrument does not inform the label.  Rather, it is the purpose of the data that identifies whether it is formative or summative.  Formative data are those that provide “sufficient detail to pinpoint specific problems, such as misunderstandings, so that teachers can make good decisions about what actions to take and with whom” (Chappius, 2009, p 6).  Formative assessment data gathered by teachers provide information needed to help identify effective learning strategies and instructional practices to increase student achievement.

This edition of Link Lines contains a number of articles on the use of assessment data to inform the selection of instructional strategies that support students with disabilities in accessing and progressing in the general education curriculum. 

Collaborative teaching is a partnership between special and general education teachers that allows these colleagues opportunities to share in the analysis of data to identify effective strategies that support learning. The article by Butler Knight and Lee Anne Sulzberger, Remove the Barriers of Time and Space: Strategies for Effective Co-Planning, provide suggestions for effective co-planning. 

Accurate and efficient data analysis is critical to instructional decision-making. A team approach to analyzing data provides an opportunity for teachers to share their skills and expertise to ensure selection of appropriate instructional strategies that increase student achievement. The Data Key: Unlocking Evidence-Based Instruction, by Denyse Doerries and Fritz Geissler, presents a process for achieving this important collaboration.

Data also inform teachers when there is an instructional mismatch between the academic tasks assigned and the student’s readiness to complete the task.  Instructional Match as an Effective Behavioral Intervention, by Elaine Gould, describes ways in which teachers can adjust the difficulty level of academic assignments to build students’ confidence and increase the likelihood that they will be engaged and on task. 

Effective strategies are available that support students whose data indicate that comprehending text at a deeper level would increase achievement.  One such strategy, effective questioning, is designed to assist students in deeply comprehending text.  In Making the Most of Questioning Techniques: Moving Students Forward to Deeper Learning, Mary Stowe provides guidance to teachers using effective questioning to enhance student comprehension of text.

Finally, Donni Davis-Perry, in Win/Win When Writing: Grade Less to Learn More, describes the Instructional Consultation and Assessment Teams’ (ICAT) problem-solving process, which emphasizes the collection and analysis of data to support student learning, with a focus on evidence-based writing instruction.

Formative assessment is used to monitor student learning, to adjust instruction to improve student performance, and to identify effective strategies that will enhance achievement.  This issue of T/TAC Link Lines offers resources and strategies to support educators in making informed decisions related to student learning.


Chappuis, J. (2009). Seven strategies of assessment for learning. Boston, MA: Pearson.

Cornelius, K. E. (2013). Formative assessment made easy: Templates for collecting daily data in inclusive classrooms. Teaching Exceptional Children, 45(5), 14-21.

Fisher, D., & Frey, N.  (2007). Checking for understanding: Formative assessment techniques for your classroom. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

No Child Left Behind Act. (2001). 20 U.S.C. 6301 et seq.  Retrieved from

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services. (2010). Thirty-five years of progress in educating children with disabilities through IDEA. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.