Students from four middle school science classes were randomly assigned to two conditions: half to complete the reflective assessment process, and the other half to serve as a control. Students in both groups were provided with criteria for scientific inquiry processes; for example, “being systematic” and “reasoning carefully.” Two of the classes used regular time during class to reflect on what they were learning and how they were learning it (e.g., using evidence from their work to support their evaluations), and the other two classes spent the same amount of time talking about how the activities could be changed. In this way, students in the reflective assessment (i.e., formative assessment) group monitored their own progress and the progress of their peers through verbal and written feedback and then were provided with opportunities to improve their performance later in the unit. The two classes of students that engaged in the reflective assessment process performed better on both project work and the unit test. Perhaps most notable, however, is the fact that lower performing students in the experimental class (as designated by score on the Comprehensive Test of Basic Skills) showed the greatest improvement in performance when compared with the control class.
Although we found no additional controlled studies of formative assessment, there is a handful of studies that provide case-based evidence of the process and value of formative assessment in science teaching. Ruiz-Primo and Furtak (2004) explored the on-the-fly formative assessment practices of three middle school science teachers and compared them with student performance. These practices were labeled as ESRU cycles, based on Bell and Cowie’s (2001) model: the teacher Elicits a question, the Student responds, the teacher Recognizes the student’s response, and then Uses the information collected to support student learning. Eliciting information focuses on the teacher’s strategies such as asking questions that allow students to share and make explicit their thinking (e.g., ask the students to relate evidence to explanations). Recognizing students’ thinking requires the teacher to listen and acknowledge their responses, explanations, or mental models (e.g., teacher repeats the student’s comment to make sure it has been understood appropriately). Using information involves taking action on the basis of student responses to help them move toward learning goals (e.g., by responding with another question, eliciting alternate points of view, conducting a demonstration, or repeating an activity). For example, a teacher might ask a student to provide an example (Eliciting), the student provides an example (Student Responds), the teacher repeats the statement to confirm that she has understood it correctly (Recognizing), and then the teacher encourages the student to share his idea with another student who has a different example for the same idea (Using) (Furtak and Ruiz-Primo, 2005).
Most of the cycles observed in the study were classified as focusing on making predictions, interpreting graphs, and other epistemic factors, with only a few cycles observed across the three teachers that focused on con-