The available research suggests that regular use of formative assessments can be a powerful driver of student learning. However, little rigorous research has been conducted on the impacts of formative assessment and data-driven instruction on student achievement, particularly in reform-rich urban school districts.
The Boston Plan for Excellence (BPE), a nonprofit organization that works to improve public education, in partnership with the Boston Public Schools (BPS), first piloted FAST-R in 2003-2004; when MDRC’s study was conducted, the program was in place in 28 schools in the district. FAST-R provides teachers with quick, usable data about students’ abilities to comprehend what they read; the intervention was designed to increase teachers’ capacity to differentiate instruction and maximize student learning. The intervention is built around a series of short, low-stakes assessments that provide information on students’ strengths and weaknesses in English language arts (ELA). Teachers in FAST-R schools receive analysis guides, advice from BPE data coaches, and other related professional development to help them identify and respond to patterns in the performance of individual students and groups of students. MDRC examined the implementation of FAST-R and evaluated the program’s impact on the reading skills of elementary school students.