Formative’s Research-Based Approach

Founded with Research in Mind

Craig Jones and Kevin McFarland co-founded Formative while attending graduate school at UCLA. From the beginning, they looked for every opportunity to learn more about how educators were utilizing technology in the classroom.

Early Research
  • The Los Angeles Unified School District granted access to Kevin and Craig to a field study. During this period, they researched the effectiveness of recent technology roll-outs in the district, averaging 4 site visits per week.
  • Kevin and Craig attended the 4.0 Schools incubator program (made possible by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) in New Orleans and worked directly with schools to observe what problems educators were trying to solve with technology.
  • While at UCLA, Kevin and Craig prototyped a precursor to Formative and partnered with schools across the nation to iterate on potential solutions to the problems they found in their previous research.

Jones and McFarland utilize a research-based approach to accomplish two main goals: 1) To push our understanding of effective pedagogical practices as educators, and 2) to make sure Formative is based on real-world teacher experiences and not only a personal vision of what the future of education could entail.

Other Research Notes:

Craig Jones worked as a Graduate Research Assistant for professors from UCLA Anderson, UC Berkeley Haas and UPenn Wharton to conduct research measuring the effect on which social pressures dissuade positive opportunities for at-risk youth. This research was acknowledged in the paper How Does Peer Pressure Affect Educational Investments?, which received media coverage in the Washington Post, Atlantic, and NPR, amongst others.

Kevin McFarland worked as an undergraduate researcher while attending Lehigh University, focusing on the transportation of heat throughout high-energy plasmas in tokamak fusion reactors. His research was done under the guidance of professors Glenn Batement and Arnold Kritz, to whom he continues to hold immense gratitude for their influence in his analytical approach. You can download a copy of his final report and a report of his research supported by Professor J.D. Callen (University of Wisconsin) at the following links: Testing Models in Simulations of Tokamaks and the Sensitivity to Those Models - McFarland et al and Paleoclassical H-Mode Pedestal Modeling - Callen et al.

Independent Research

Formative understands the necessity of staying independent in research of its own platform. We chose our specific pedagogy for formative teaching in large part due to prior research on Formative Assessment and Feedback.

According to the Education Endowment Foundation, speeding up the feedback loop between teachers and students is one of the lowest cost, highest-impact ways to help student learning. See research here.

Additionally, the studies below were performed completely by 3rd party research organizations with the intent to remove any bias or influence. In these studies, Formative team members did not conduct surveys, analyze responses, or write the results.

American Institutes for Research

Technology‐Mediated Formative Assessment:

A Study of Educators' Self‐Reported Practice

A majority of teachers believe that formative assessment data positively impacts student outcomes

First and foremost, special thanks go out to the Jefferson Education Accelerator (JEA) for their work with us the past few years and to the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation for making this independent study possible. We had been wanting to find a partner to research formative assessment practices and they were instrumental in getting the American Institute of Research (AIR) on the job. This is the second independent research conducted on behalf of Formative, and you can find the announcement from JEA HERE.

Highlights of the Results

The first half of AIR’s study focused on teachers’ perceptions of Formative the platform ( Here are some highlights of their responses.

92% of educators/teachers believed that Formative fit easily into their weekly schedules and improved efficiency.

93% of educators/teachers believed that Formative was an invaluable tool to add and use regularly within their classrooms.

90% of educators/teachers believed that Formative was directly responsible to the improvement of overall student outcomes.

The second half of AIRs study focused on the barriers, support structures, and practices inside of an educational setting that can impact a teacher’s ability to effectively utilize formative assessments as a practice. The following figure represents the correlation of responses across the listed categories.

Some Population Notes

  • Results are for all responses, including High-Use teachers (averaging 237 lifetime logins) and Low-Use teachers (averaging 3 lifetime logins)
  • The Average responding teacher logged Into the platform 72 Times
  • Responding teachers were 28% in elementary, 34% in middle, and 30% in high schools (8 % in other grade structures)
  • Responding teachers represented populations where 47% of students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch


2015 Short-Cycle Evaluation Challenge Pilot Report • April 2016

This was the first independent research conducted on behalf of Formative. Partnering with a school in Queens, NYC was a pivotal moment for Formative to really evaluate the efficacy of its tool and approach in a drastically different environment from what it had observed in the past.

Highlights of Results
  • 78% of students strongly agreed that Formative helped them to learn
  • 68% of students indicated that Formative made them more interested in the topic they were learning about in class
  • 76% of students strongly agreed that it was fun using Formative in class
  • 85% of students said Formative was easy to use
  • 73% felt that Formative helped them learn in a way that meets my needs
Student Quotes
I feel like Formative gives me a better understanding of what we do in class.
The technology is very easy to use. How instead of writing stuff on paper and take tests on paper, we can do it online.
It’s really helpful for anyone who needs help. It helps me to stay more focused on the topic.
I liked how you could add attachments or photos.
I like that when the teachers grade your work you could just click on that assignment and you can see your grade.
Teacher Quote
We want to do checks for understanding, so that we can differentiate instruction more effectively. It is very simple. The tool does exactly what we wanted it to do.
Administrator Quote
We were looking to find a tool that could offer real-time feedback so that teachers can adjust their lessons on the fly. Formative was able to do that for us. I saw that teachers had a visual of how each child was responding on their individual laptops, and could display the responses they wanted on the SMART Board. So the teacher could adjust by going directly over to Johnny and working on the misunderstandings he was having, or could project a common problem for everyone to see.
Highlights of Results

To help teachers at Crossroads Academy (a pseudonym) address the individual needs of all their students by checking to make sure they understand what is being taught in the classroom. Additionally, teachers wanted to be able to instantly check for student understanding by accessing data in real time.

Indicators of Effectiveness

EDC|CCT collected data on five “meta-indicators” that explain a product’s effectiveness for addressing a school’s challenge during the 90-day pilot. Pilots received an overall rating of Low, Moderate, or High on each indicator, based on a set of sub-indicators.