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Essay-Grading Technology


Computers, grading essays? At first glance, it sounds impractical at best, and nearly impossible. But for teachers who have tried one of a growing number of essay-grading software programs, letting a machine do the arduous work of grading papers is both practical and time-saving.

Existing programs can assess the quality of sentence organization, grammar, usage, and style, and some even use artificial intelligence to evaluate the quality of an essay on a particular topic. In this article from Teacher's August/September issue, Kevin Bushweller looks at how the upshot of such software is the time it saves teachers, but the downside includes its limitations as far as assessing creativity and literary merit.

Should teachers be allowed to use computer software to "electronically assess" students' written work? Are essay-grading programs a more efficient alternative, and one that could be trusted as it is improved? Or will such technology shortchange students of the valuable feedback they need?


I have been interested in this type of software for the past year. It does seem like a good answer to the age old issue of time to assess as many writing assignments as we would like to be able to assign. This would free up the teacher's time to spend on the creative component of students' writing. Has anyone had experience with one of these programs and willing to make a recommendation?

Our district was awarded a one year grant with "MY ACCESS", an online writing/grading program. I started my fifth grade students on it last spring and found it to be a super tool and motivator. The students loved the immediate feedback they rec'd and it sparked them to improve their essays. As a teacher, the program offers many tools to use to group students and assign them a variety of writing assignments. We are lucky to have it for this entire school year.

Personally, I hate grading essays unless I can confer with the students on an individual basis. Writing is such a personal thing and I refuse to mark up a student's essay with red ink. I think it breaks down the desire to write and turns students off to writing.

I have had no experience with any software, but I highly recommend the online site of MY ACCESS.

In education,

Let me offer an alternative view of "My Access":

After observing my fourth grader using this software, I was puzzled and unsettled by the so-called "automatic" scoring of the writing. The evaluation or grading of the writing seems arbitrary and mechanistic, and ultimately demoralizing. He enjoyed writing an essay, but was discouraged by the poor "score" that the writing received. I explained to him that he should ignore the score -- that it was lively generated by a flawed bit of software and that software could never really judge good writing. But the moral of the experience is problematic: don't trust the software, or else adjust your writing to simply please a machine. (I have heard similar complaints from other parents.)

As an educator myself, I do sympathize with the dread of long hours grading student papers -- and the appeal of a machine "fix" to this task. But my sense is that "My Access" is not the way to go. "My Access" may be heavily pushed in this era of machine-scored testing (and that the software is marketed heavily by its commercial creator, "Vantage Learning"), but does it send our kids the right message?

We had a grant to try MyAccess as well, and have had good results. It fits well with the district-wide adoption of "6+1 writing traits" and aligns with the Michigan Gradel Level Content Expectations. It provides student motivation to REWRITE and EDIT, which often a hurdle with middle school kids in the traditinal class setting. Our kids write more, and edit more, than before MyAccess. It is a good compliment to our existing program.

My daughter receives all A's except for the My Access grade which gives her C's & D's, which brings her grade level down. They are not permitted to rewrite or edit their essays for the most part. She does not understand how to write a better essay the next time in order to improve her grade. Her english teacher here in Worland, loves her writing. He MyAccess grades have made it so she does not even want to bother with writing them, as no matter how hard she tries, it brings her entire grade down.

The point of using automated grading is improvement. How in the world can a student improve unless he or she resubmits altered (and hopefully improved) text?

With instant feedback, improvements can cycle three or four times an hour. All a student needs is a way to link the machine criticism to writing strategies. Elaboration, creativity, and structure are typical metrics.

Typically, students can self-correct structural deficiencies such as organization with little help. This allows the teacher to use the time available to devote time to more than mechanics.

Most of the students I see get hand graded essays back from teachers in about a week. Some take longer, some shorter. What in the world is wrong with a vastly faster turnaround?

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Recent Comments

  • Bob Calder: The point of using automated grading is improvement. How in read more
  • Sharon Burnette: My daughter receives all A's except for the My Access read more
  • JR- Middle School: We had a grant to try MyAccess as well, and read more
  • S Campbell: Let me offer an alternative view of "My Access": After read more
  • Nancy 5th gr Teacher: Our district was awarded a one year grant with "MY read more




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