“What if a computer could accurately grade student essays? It could change the way we test students (and the way they’re taught). And a new $100,000 competition is trying to spark auto-grading innovation.”
This is the worst fucking idea ever. A computer will never be able to grade essays, particularly literature essays, due to their subjective nature. Sometimes I hate all of the things technology chooses to be.
As an OCD grammar nazi student teacher who recently spent four or five days — probably 30-40 hours — grading 54 five-paragraph essays written by high school freshmen, I can only hope there is some way to make this a reality.
As a nearly middle-aged adult who has watched the world go from 27-volume print encyclopedias and large pieces of vinyl plastic holding 9 to 16 songs to billions of websites full of more information than a single human can consume in several lifetimes and devices the size of my thumb holding hundreds of songs…
…let alone Google… let’s not even go into that holy-freaking-cow amazement….
Finally, as a strong proponent of high quality education for all, one who strongly despises standardized multiple-choice tests and
MoreNo Child renLeft Behind…
I not only know that this will be, at some point, possible, but I beg that it be so, hoping, of course, that somehow it doesn’t get screwed up like everything else in American education has.
But I don’t think this will eliminate standardized testing; in fact, I think this is a more heinous version of standardization.
I mean, a robot is not going to be able to judge the soundness of a thesis assertion, it cannot tell how well a quote is embedded or whether or not it is pertinent to the argument, it cannot tell opinion from concrete evidence, it won’t be able to differentiate melodramatic or hyperbolic writing, it won’t make sure the right vocabulary is being used (I mean, come on, anyone with Word Thesaurus knows that not all synonyms are applicable in any sentence; in fact, I don’t even believe real synonyms exist, for there is usually a ‘best choice’). So what it’s going to be a program that makes sure everything is spelled correctly, there is the right number of words, and that it has enough talking points, whether or not those are valid. It will be a program, meaning it will be standardized-yet another way to stifle thoughtfulness, because rather than an essay being a tool to think about broader themes in a text, an essay will be quantifiable: how many quotes were used, how many spelling errors?
I’ve graded essays for high-schoolers. Some can be very tedious. Some make you want to rip your hair out. Some make you question your life’s profession because Jesus, do the kids even listen to you at all? I’m as grammar conscious as anyone else who majored in English. But none of these things mean essays should be graded by a robot.
The elimination of multiple-choice does not mean the elimination of standardization.
While your concerns are very legitimate and real and probably the same concerns of any decent teacher of language and writing, it’s not impossible. It might not be in the near future, it would probably be very expensive, and it obviously would require voluminous stores of data on word choice, connotation, and every other grammatical and linguistic concern, but it’s not impossible.
Have you seen some of the things people come up with? This is why it is a contest to see if anyone can build such a cognizant, perhaps AI computer. And why they are comparing computer results to real teacher results.
Of course, with the swift adoption of smartphones, tablets, smartboards, websites and content management, and even just computers into some school systems, and, worse yet, into many classrooms and curricula, even after this technology does become viable (let alone “affordable”), it will still be years before it becomes accepted, let alone standard, practice.
Finally, I don’t expect multiple choice to go away and I think it does have its place in student assessment. It just shouldn’t be the primary method.
Actually, I do have my doubts someone can make it work. After all, Tumblr still can’t even keep tags for reblogs.