Tag Archives: computer-grading

Link: Perrin on robo-grading

My colleague Dave Perrin has written eloquently in this English Journal article about some of the issues we writing teachers have about “robo-grading,” where computers grade student writing. I particularly like:

When facts, logic, and truth become dispensable in the assessment of writing, then writing instruction, ostensibly, will become focused solely on the mechanics of writing. So much for the short-lived return to critical thinking that the Common Core State Standards initiative promises to bring back to the English curriculum. Although the e-Rater and its brethren may not be interested in the truth, the truth is that writing teachers always have been.


“good” writing is always subjective. English
teachers are notorious for their pet peeves and personal opinions of what is “good.” Over time, astute student writers will collect these hallmarks of good writing from various teachers, stack them against one another and their own, reject some and embrace others, and eventually develop their own style and criteria for good writing. The adoption of such a narrowly defined concept of writing in which, for instance, each sentence in a student essay must be at least 15 words long or contain a conjunctive adverb, threatens this process.


The proponents of robo-grading laud it precisely because it provides some sort of objective quantification of writing, but writing teachers
know that a certain degree of subjectivity is inescapable, and indeed even essential to the assessment of writing, as the self cannot be removed from the act of reading (or grading) any more than it can be removed from the act of writing. Students must be taught to read and write in a world where facts matter, where logic is challenged, and where the “truth” is often not only subjective but also subject to nearly inscrutable nuances.

Link: Standardized writing is an oxymoron

A New York Times article about machine-graded essays prompted me to write this comment:

The beautiful thing about writing (I say as a writer and as a writing teacher) is that it precisely is NOT objective, and of course we teachers are judging subjectively (so are employers, consumers, and voters, by the way).
The only way a program can grade is by comparing a sample of writing against a very narrow standard. The essays students are asked to write on standardized tests are artificial topics and the testing situation is also artificial (time-limited, w/o access to resources, revision, etc). Standardized writing is an oxymoron.

Update: I also like how this commenter points out the humanness of writing:
Creativity is human. Critical thinking is human. Empathy is human. Moral dilemma is human. And above all — meaning is human.

Technology should exist to empower, and strengthen, human relationship and meaning. Never should we allow it to replace it.