First, news that the Hewlett Foundation is sponsoring to create automated essay scoring software that, in theory at least, will do as good or better job of assessing student writing on standardized tests than the current human graders do. I get the reasoning behind this. Current “scoring mills” have turned test essay readers into skimmers, and the reality that the more kids write regardless of quality the better they score . And as currently structured, there is no way current assessments do anything to improve student writing. As always, it’s a time and money issue, but my initial reaction to this is if we value writing enough to make sure every child can do it reasonably well, we should also value the time and effort it takes to evaluate it reasonably well.
The study was based on a review of more than 16,000 essays from six states. Each set of essays varied in length, type and grading protocols, and all had been hand-scored according to state standards. The challenge for the nine companies (which control almost all of the automated essay scoring commercial market) was to see if their software could produce reliable and valid essay scores, when compared with trained human readers. This was not the first review of automated essay scoring software, but the researchers involved said it is the first comprehensive multi-vendor trial.
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University of Delaware researcher Joshua Wilson is looking at possible benefits of using automated essay scoring software for more than just quick scoring after standardized exams; he's looking at how effective integrating the software into year-long instruction could be for struggling writers.
Automated essay scoring software reads and evaluates students' essays, and then provides feedback. The feedback can be provided in the form of a rating or grade, often from 1 to 6. It can also come in the form of written suggestions and criticisms. Early versions of this software did little more than count words and verify that the essay was as long as it should be. Advanced writing skills are an important aspect of academic performance as well as of subsequent work-related performance. However, American students rarely attain advanced scores on assessments of writing skills (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2002). In order to achieve higher levels of writing performance, the working memory demands of writing processes should be reduced so that executive attention is free to coordinate interactions among them. This can in theory be achieved through deliberate practice that trains writers to develop executive control through repeated opportunities to write and through timely and relevant feedback. Automated essay scoring software may offer a way to alleviate the intensive grading demands placed on instructors and, thereby, substantially increase the amount of writing practice that students receive.