How teachers enact formative assessment

Teachers' use of formative assessment is widely known to improve student learning. However, teachers enact formative assessment in many ways. How can chemistry teachers be more versatile and intentional in how we enact formative assessment so that we can maximize student learning by increasing their opportunities to learn? Our ACCT research and professional development partnership is aimed at learning the answers to this, and providing resources for chemistry teachers to enact formative assessment in the most effective ways.

Model of formative assessment enactment, adapted from the science tasks framework in Figure 1 of Kang, Windschitl, Stroupe and Thompson (2016).1


Formative assessment improves outcomes for all students, including among underperforming learners. When enacted intentionally by teachers with a wide repertoire of formative assessment practices, chemistry teachers can maintain high intellectual demand for students, attend to relational aspects that are beneficial to student learning, and support students in developing strong literacy and mathematical abilities. Effective formative assessment practices benefit students' conceptual understanding, attitudes, motivation, and effort.

Our ACCT project takes a design-based approach to research. This means that teachers and researchers collaborate on equal footing to design professional development for chemistry teachers, collect and analyze data about our teaching and our students' learning, develop and test the validity of findings, and create resources that provide principled and practical tools for chemistry teachers to enhance all of our teaching practices. We have found that the design of chemistry formative assessment tasks is critical to revealing how students think about the core questions of chemical thinking. Intellectual demand can be maintained for students so that they do sense-making when chemistry teachers notice and interpret how students are thinking about the chemistry. As teachers, we make thousands of decisions during a class period, and many of these decisions are about how to move student learning forward. Sometimes we want to learn more about how our students are thinking, so we elicit more of the students' thinking and show us more of how they make sense as they practice chemistry. Sometimes we want to press students to challenge their own and each other's thinking, to figure out whether one or more ways of reasoning makes sense, so we advance students' thinking more toward canonically accepted ways of practicing chemistry.

The resources shared below are built from what we have learned in studying how experienced chemistry teachers do their formative assessment enactment work and what makes it effective for students in learning chemical thinking.

Formative assessment task design 

The formative assessment enactment model

Noticing/interpreting in chemistry classroom talk 

Eliciting student thinking 

Advancing student thinking

Evaluating students' written work 

Formative assessment personalities

Blogs about enacting formative assessment


1. Kang, H., Windschitl, M., Stroupe, D., & Thompson, J. (2016). Designing, launching, and implementing high quality learning opportunities for students that advance scientific thinking. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 53(9), 1316-1340.