Benjamin S. Bloom, yes the guy who brought us Bloom’s Taxonomy, played a big role in the science of formative assessment.
Much of his research was on the study of educational objectives and educational assessment. Bloom’s taxonomy can help teachers better prepare objectives and derive appropriate assessments.
Bloom’s Mastery Learning methodology encourages teachers to first organize the concepts and skills they want students to learn into short units. After delivering instruction on the unit, teachers administer an assessment based on the unit’s learning goals. Bloom recommended calling this a formative assessment.
Bloom borrowed the expression “formative assessment” from Scriven (1967). Scriven had used the terms summative and formative to differentiate different types of evaluations.
Bloom, Hasting and Madaus produced the Handbook of Formative and Summative Evaluation in 1971. According to the handbood formative assessment helps students and teachers identify specifically what has been learned well to that point and what has not.
The following article covers Mastery Learning quite well.