Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Are Your Child's Essays Being Graded By A Computer?

If you have a child in Minooka Junior High School, chances are that a couple of essays that they have written or will be writing will be graded by a computer program.  Yes, you read that correctly.  The essays are assigned a score by a computer program.

The computer program is called Pearson Essay Scorer (click here for the login screen -- your child has an ID and password).  It is only one among several so-called "automated essay scorers."  These automated essay scorers assign a grade to the essay based on a complicated algorithm (computers, of course, cannot appreciate meaning in the human sense but merely analyze data such as essay length, average sentence length, etc.).  For more background regarding these computer programs, click here and here.

So, what are the advantages to computerized grading of essays?  Cost savings and standardization are generally touted.  What are the disadvantages?  Well, let's start with the fact that a computer cannot appreciate novel and imaginative writing or that students are not robots and standardization in writing (other than spelling and grammar) is not necessarily a laudable goal.  I could go on from there, but I am not alone in my distrust of having a computer grade an essay.  Many education professionals are already voicing their opposition to the use of these programs (see here).  See here for their research-based critique of these programs.

I believe that school districts including Minooka CCSD 201 need to carefully examine, with a much more critical eye, the use of these automated essay scoring programs in language arts instruction.

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