Case Studies Introduction


The CERI/What Works analysis includes case studies of formative assessment in practice in each of the participating countries. The schools featured were chosen because they provide useful examples of highly effective formative assessment in practice, and are therefore illustrative of what is possible. While there are common elements across the case studies, they also take a range of approaches to teaching and learning, including, for example, a co-operative learning programme in Scotland, a school focused on the use of ICT to re-shape teaching and learning in Québec, a programme designed to meet the cultural and learning needs of Maori students in New Zealand, and approaches to promoting democracy in Danish schools.

Country experts helped to identify suitable cases for the “What Works” study. Criteria for case study selection were as follows:

  • To focus on formative assessments used in connection with deliberate instructional strategies, illustrating examples of coordinated teaching and assessment strategies that responded to learning styles, skills, interests, and student motivations. Where possible, the case studies needed also to illustrate strategies that promote teachers’ abilities to diagnose learning needs, their assessment literacy, and, importantly, their knowledge and capacity to use this in their teaching, individually and collectively. 
  • To provide evidence of “what works”. To the extent possible, the cases needed to provide evidence that learning was significantly enhanced by the approach taken.
  • To be from the lower secondary level. The study was particularly interested in identifying schools that had made significant strides in overcoming powerful bureaucratic constraints – most often found in lower secondary schools – to promote innovation. In addition, students in lower secondary schools are often more vulnerable to developing poor images of their own learning skills, and losing motivation for learning. (Note, however, that formative assessment teaching methods are relevant to students of all ages, including the very young and adult learners.)
  • To involve “whole-school” approaches. The intention here was to ensure that studies of “what works” in innovation were not limited to one or a few classrooms in the schools visited. Case studies had to illustrate how schools had built their capacity to share knowledge and to influence and build each other’s practice. 
  • To be embedded in a policy process or broader initiative that could offer lessons for “scaling-up”. Often, policy reforms are limited to a few classrooms, or to a few very high functioning schools. 
  • To offer lessons of relevance to the majority of schools, rather than apply only to very specific sections of the secondary student population. The schools examined needed to offer lessons that would also be applicable to mainstream schools – and not just part of a special initiative with no hope for scaling-up or further dissemination.

Abridged versions of these cases are included in the What Works publication, Formative Assessment – Improving Learning in Secondary Classrooms.

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