For the data to be useful in guiding instructional decisions, the assessment methods should be consistent with the desired pedagogy. Thus, assessment takes into consideration process as well as outcomes and products and the instruction and activities that lead to those ends. Only if assessments in science classrooms can more closely approximate the vision of science education teaching and learning can they inform the teacher's work in trying to implement the emphasis in the Standards on students actively doing science.
The extent to which any assessment data inform teaching and influence learning depends in a large part on use. Assessment-generated data do little good in the head of the teacher, in the grade book, or by failing to inform future decisions, such as selecting curricula, planning class time or having conversations with students. Teachers must use it to adapt their teaching to meet the needs of their students. In other words, just as teaching shapes assessment, assessment shapes teaching. The success of formative assessment hinges in large part on how the information is put to use.
With rich assessment data, a teacher can begin to develop possible explanations about what the difficulties might be for the student. If some pedagogical approach did not work the first time, is it likely to be more effective when repeated? Or, is some new approach required? Might other resources be provided? Setting subgoals is another strategy that is often effective. The student is encouraged to take smaller steps toward learning a particular concept or skill.
Peer instruction is another approach that can sometimes work in helping students reach a learning or performance target. If a teacher notices that one student seems to understand (for example, by displaying a green “traffic light”) while another does not, the one who understands might help the one who does not. Students occasionally can assist one another because they themselves may have overcome a similar difficulty. Most all teachers use this technique from time to time during class discussion when they encourage the entire group to help a student who clearly is having difficulty. The same principle can operate with just two students working cooperatively when one may have just figured out the desired response and can explain it to