Evaluating Your Communications Efforts: Formative Assessment 

This is the second in a two-part series of blog posts about evaluating your school district’s communications efforts. Today, let’s look at how formative assessment can set the stage for communications success. 

Formative assessment is a vital tool in any teacher’s toolbox. In “Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders,” Connie M. Moss and Susan M. Brookhart identified three key steps for students and teachers to take to engage in the formative assessment process: 

  • Focus on learning goals;
  • Take stock of where current work is in relation to the goal; and 
  • Take action to move closer to the goal.

So what does this have to do with communications? It turns out that formative assessment, or research, is just as important for your communications office as it is in the classroom. 

In our previous post on goal-setting, we talked about how essential it is for any communications effort to have three key elements: 

  • a defined goal; 
  • a clear-eyed assessment of where things stand in relation to that goal; and 
  • a path forward to move toward the goal. 

So once you have set a clear goal for your communications, how do you assess where the district stands in relation to that goal?  

What to measure, and how to measure it 

We know what formative assessment looks like in the classroom, so let’s talk about what it might look like in communications. Here are some examples of how communications can be measured: 


Output reflects the work performed by the communications office. This can be helpful in understanding how resources of time and human energy are being allocated, and how much capacity exists for additional projects. Examples include: 

  • How many (publications, social media posts, media releases, videos) were produced? 
  • How often were these materials sent out? 


Reach reflects whether your messages are reaching audiences. This can help in understanding how various communications tools or platforms perform. Examples include: 

  • What percentage of district mailings were successfully delivered (not returned to sender)? 
  • What percentage of robo-calls got through successfully? 
  • What percentage of emails are successfully delivered (not bounced back)? What is the open rate for your emails? 
  • How many users did your social media posts reach? What was the engagement rate? 


Outcomes measure our audiences’ knowledge, opinion, and behavior. The tools for assessing these things will depend on the nature and size of the audience. 

For example, knowledge of a health benefit among teaching staff could be assessed through a show of hands at a faculty meeting. On the other hand, evaluating the opinions of your entire voting population may require a more formal tool, such as a public opinion survey. In some cases, knowledge and opinion can also be passively observed through public expressions such as lawn signs, public comments, social media chatter and more. 

Measuring knowledge and opinion for a large or diverse population can be resource-intensive,  but it is a crucial and often overlooked element of formative assessment for strategic communications. 

Behavior can be measured by reviewing things like attendance or participation numbers; sign-ups, RSVPs, or form submissions; and data such as voter turnout or vote outcomes. 

The bottom line 

Just as you would expect better results in the classroom when teachers invest the time into formative assessments, district leaders can strengthen communications by investing in research at the start of a communications initiative. In the second part of this two-part series, we’ll look at how your district can use this formative data to establish clear communications goals. 


Want help getting started on your district’s data-driven approach? Contact Nichols Strategies today to learn more about Strategic Communication & Marketing Planning services.