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But skeptics say the automated system is no match for live teachers.

Computer Accommodation

One longtime critic, Les Perelman, has drawn national attention several times for putting together nonsense essays that have fooled software grading programs into giving high marks. He has also been highly critical of studies that purport to show that the software compares well to human graders. Perelman, a retired director of writing and a current researcher at M. He is among a group of educators who last month began circulating a petition opposing automated assessment software. The group, which calls itself Professionals Against Machine Scoring of Student Essays in High-Stakes Assessment , has collected nearly 2, signatures, including some from luminaries like Noam Chomsky.

But EdX expects its software to be adopted widely by schools and universities.

EdX offers free online classes from Harvard, M. In all, 12 universities participate in EdX, which offers certificates for course completion and has said that it plans to continue to expand next year, including adding international schools. The EdX assessment tool requires human teachers, or graders, to first grade essays or essay questions.

College Board Approval Required

The system then uses a variety of machine-learning techniques to train itself to be able to grade any number of essays or answers automatically and almost instantaneously. The software will assign a grade depending on the scoring system created by the teacher, whether it is a letter grade or numerical rank. It will also provide general feedback, like telling a student whether an answer was on topic or not. Agarwal said he believed that the software was nearing the capability of human grading.

EdX is not the first to use automated assessment technology, which dates to early mainframe computers in the s. There is now a range of companies offering commercial programs to grade written test answers, and four states — Louisiana, North Dakota, Utah and West Virginia — are using some form of the technology in secondary schools.

A fifth, Indiana, has experimented with it. Members of the advisory group included:. He told Fact Check that he was unable to examine the detail of the data collected in the trial because it was not available online. According to Dr Perelman, computer systems can recognise textual features such as grammar, spelling, numbers of sentences and infrequently used words, as well as the semantic content of essays and aspects of organisation of words and flow.

But, he added, computers cannot assess creativity and other features such as poetry, irony or humour. Nor can they judge the logic of an argument, the extent to which concepts are accurately described or whether specific ideas in an essay are well founded, because computers do not mark essays in the 'holistic' way that humans do. To demonstrate the vulnerability of AES systems to gaming strategies, Dr Perelman developed the BABEL Generator , an automatic essay generator that creates gibberish text, using features such as long, rarely used words and synonyms.

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These essays have received high scores from computer scoring systems. The appendix of his report provides examples. He told Fact Check international evidence showed that automated scoring systems could be gamed. Eventually, such systems could encourage the production of "verbose, high-scoring gibberish". The University of Melbourne's Professor John Hattie is an education expert whose areas of interest include the measurement and evaluation of teaching and learning.

He told Fact Check that automated marking was "stunningly successful", with computers five to six times more accurate than humans -- and cheaper, too.


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Writing essays and convincing the reader is a deeply human affair and it cannot be judged, as a matter of principle, by an algorithm. But there was a "publicity problem", he said, because people wrongly believed humans marked on the basis of content. In fact, we should be doing more of it, except the optics are that people think humans are better," he said. Dr Simon Knight , a lecturer in learning analytics at the University of Technology Sydney, was circumspect, arguing that AES systems could be used for marking essays but, on balance, it was better not to use them for high stakes testing, such as NAPLAN.

Rather, they were more suited to helping students learn how to become better writers. Professor Reimer said if society believed essay writing and essay teaching was only a matter of structure, then it was acceptable to use algorithms. But if the community believed essay writing was about speaking to a particular audience, conveying meaning and that "writing something that has a relationship to our world, matters", then using algorithms to mark NAPLAN essays was inappropriate.

There should be longitudinal studies; there should be open analysis of it. There should be trials for a longer period of time.

Even though AES was now more sophisticated than ever, it risked changing the way schoolchildren wrote, he warned. There's no regard for the ideas and whether what has been written has any relationship in reality whatsoever.

NAPLAN: The low-down

There should be trials for a longer period of time," he said. He said the technology was tested around the world and that ACARA's trial auto-scoring of essays was a "proof of concept" study that provided the green light for the more comprehensive trial that used 12, essays. He acknowledged that computers could not understand an essay as a human did. However, in the long run, the technology was worth using because it could mark "as if it understood just as much as a human".

It doesn't do it in a sentient way, but it is able to do it through its own sophisticated artificial intelligence skills. Topics: education , australia. First posted November 15, Send us your tip-offs, or let us know what you think.

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Automated Essay Scoring Versus Human Scoring: A Correlational Study – CITE Journal

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Photo: Computers have been used for many years to mark multiple choice papers, but can they mark essays and narrative writing? ABC News. Sorry, this video has expired. Les Perelman. Related Story: Fact check: Can the Gonski 2. Contact Send us your tip-offs, or let us know what you think.

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