Computers to Judge Writing Skills of Humans

Posted on May 11, 2005

A new technology which allows student essays to be graded by a computer. Yes, you heard right: the computer is now grading writing assignments.

Wired is reporting that the software was used in a Sociology course at the University of Missouri-Columbia. It is called the SAGrader software. It was developed with funding from the National Science Foundation.

Like other essay-grading software, it analyzes sentences and paragraphs, looking for keywords as well as the relationship between terms.

Other programs compare a student's paper with a database of already-scored papers, seeking to assign it a score based on what other similar-quality assignments have received.

Educational Testing Service sells Criterion, which includes the "e-Rater" used to score GMAT essays. Vantage Learning has IntelliMetric, Maplesoft sells Maple T.A., and numerous other programs are used on a smaller scale.

Most companies are private and offer no sales figures, but educators say use of such technology is growing. Consider the reach of e-Rater: 400,000 GMAT test-takers annually, a half-million U.S. K-12 students and 46 international schools and districts. ETS says an additional 2,000 teachers begin using its technology each month.

Can a computer really grade an essay better than a human being? There have been reports of students running drafts by the machine to learn the tricks of the software, thus easily scoring an A. Students who play computer games should be especially good at figuring out how to beat the system; avid gamers use the same skills to determine patterns and quirks of particular games.

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