Bringing Formative Assessment Strategies to Virginia Public Schools

Virginia educators and students alike can now benefit from new assessment strategies.

The Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) sought to make high-quality professional learning opportunities available to educators in divisions and schools across the Commonwealth. These courses needed to provide training in formative assessment—the evaluation of student work for understanding. Such strategies can improve both student achievement and teacher morale, enabling educators to adjust instruction according to class comprehension.


Virginia Department of Education


Develop and scale professional learning systems to bring formative assessment strategies to all Virginia classrooms.


Use research-based professional learning content to create an online learning community, along with in-person orientations.

ICF staff at the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center (ARCC) launched a pilot for the learning community, building a foundation for future scale across the Commonwealth. Participants agreed that the experience improved their understanding of formative assessment—positively impacting student achievement as a result.


teams from elementary schools across the state in the initial pilot


teams in the pilot representing all grade levels by year three


reported connecting with other members 2x or more per month

Providing four critical areas of support

ICF staff at the ARCC supported the VDOE across four key areas:

  • Information: We gathered the best-available research on formative assessment strategies to encourage systemic change at the classroom level. This evidence was critical to gaining the trust of teachers.
  • Skills: We collaborated with VDOE staff in maintaining an online learning community, such as creating content, organizing events, facilitating synchronous and asynchronous interactions, and monitoring participation.
  • Structures: The team tested structures to determine the best way to support educators in the community. Some offline activities—such as in-person orientation meeting—bolstered online participation.
  • Processes: VDOE staff implemented and modeled a low-cost process to deliver, monitor, and evaluate online learning. The community was assessed annually and made changes based on participant input.

Crafting an execution plan that works

To succeed, the initiative required exploration of both formative assessment strategies and online learning communities. We connected department leaders in instruction, assessment, and school improvement with a formative assessment expert. This consultant shared extensive evidence and provided access to learning content used in other states.

We then restructured the content into a sequence for easy delivery via the internet. Our team built manageable units for schools to use within their learning communities. At first, we facilitated the platform while VDOE staff expanded skills. But, over time, their internal team took over full operation.

Collaborating for a successful pilot

Six districts took part in the initial pilot. Each school was responsible for creating its team and introducing the formative assessment materials. Through Google+ communities, teacher teams could check-in online with colleagues across the state, VDOE reps, and our ARCC consultants. This allowed considerable independence, but enough transparency for VDOE and ARCC to monitor progress.

We coached teams and provided support, such as helping with any tech issues affecting the online community. VDOE leads and ARCC consultants collaborated throughout the initiative’s evolution. In the end, VDOE staff reported “huge gains” in understanding formative assessment, both within the department and among the schools.

“This interaction with ARCC has been an example of how support should occur...It was a very collegial operation.”

—VDOE Staff

“By participating in the pilot program, I was forced out of my comfort zone into trying new things. It reminded me that I am never done learning—particularly when it comes to teaching. I now incorporate formative assessment into my lessons without even thinking about it.”

—Participant feedback during the first year

Talk to an expert today