A common definition of “QUALITY” is “MEETING or EXCEEDING CUSTOMER EXPECTATIONS”.
The role of assessment is directly linked to meeting expectations and there is a lot to be learned from the field of quality management.
The manufacturing and services sector have managed to increase quality levels significantly over the last 20 years. Many have reached the zero-defect level.
Things in the manufacturing and services sector weren’t always as they are today.
Quality Control (Summative)
The initial role of quality control was to catch defects before they made it out of the factory. Products not passing the control mark were either marked as defective or graded as inferior.
High stakes testing and summative assessment are quality control functions.
Quality Assurance (Formative)
With time, personnel assigned to quality functions, realized that they had to go beyond “Control”. Something was missing. How could we ensure quality by reducing the number of defects. Couldn’t we fix problems at the source before the defects got created. Shouldn’t our goal be zero defects. Quality Assurance was born and quality levels increased.
Formative assessment is a Quality Assurance function. We are still far from the level of quality assurance seen in manufacturing and service sectors.
We learn from the field of Quality Management that Quality Control is the detection of defects whereas Quality Assurance is the prevention of defects.
Total Quality Management
Then, quality practitioners realized that Quality Control and Quality Assurance still wasn’t enough. The employees would often identify solutions that could improve quality but didn’t have sufficient authority to implement. Other times the organizational changes were required to ensure quality crossed departments. People came to realize that Quality didn’t just happen. You had to make it happen. If we really wanted quality we would have to plan, organize, lead, train people and continuously manage the quality related processes. Quality Management was born and quality increased.
We will eventually see this type of evolution in the educational sector.
Zero-Defect (No Child Left Behind)
Phil Cosby in his 1979 Quality is Free book introduced the concept of Zer0-Defect, doing right the first time. At that time North America was in a Quality Crisis and losing grounds to Japanese companies who were into quality management. The book was very popular.
If we want formative assessment to work we should take a good look at what is being done in the field of Quality Assurance and learn from it.
Our efforts to meet expectations in education are trivial when compared to what other sectors have achieved. So lets learn from the other sectors and lets move away from our addiction to quality control.