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[] High school essays graded by computer,

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Vielleicht nicht so 100% on Topic. Da stellen sich aber auch andere
Fragen: Wer stellt die Software her? Was ist ein akzeptabler Inhalt?

INDIANAPOLIS In the computer lab at Warren Central High School in
mid-May, Craig Butler, a junior, squinted at the question on his
screen, paused to ponder his answer and began typing.

Craig was one of 48,500 Indiana juniors gathering in high schools
across the state to take the end-of-year online English essay test.
Unlike most essay tests, however, this one is being graded not by a
teacher but by a computer.

Craig has already decided he prefers computer grading. "Teachers, you
know, they're human, so they have to stumble around telling you what
you need to do," he said at a practice session. "A computer can put it
in fine print what you did wrong and how to fix it."

But his English teacher, Richard Dayment, wonders whether the computer
is up to the task. "For the computer to do the subjective grading
that's necessary on an essay, I'll want to see it before I have faith
in it," he said.

Indiana is the first state to use a computer-scored English essay test
in a statewide assessment, and its experience could influence testing
decisions in other states. Eighteen states now require students to
pass a writing test for high school graduation.

"In five years at least 10 more states will be at or beyond the pilot
stage" of automated essay scoring, predicts Richard Swartz, executive
director of technology products and services at the Educational
Testing Service, designers of Indiana's online essay-grading software.

While Indiana's essay test is not a pass-fail "high stakes" test, it
is part of an assessment of student achievement in the 40-credit state
curriculum, known as Core-40, recommended by Indiana educators and
business leaders as preparation for success in college and the work
force. Scores on the Core-40 tests will help determine college
readiness and course placement for students and the performance
ratings of high schools.

With the increasing number of mandates to test student writing,
"there's a certain inevitability to computerized essay grading," said
Stan Jones, Indiana's commissioner of higher education. Indiana's
computerized essay scoring, he said, will reduce by half the cost of
administering a pencil-and-paper test and will free teachers from
distributing, collecting and, above all, grading thousands of test
booklets. Moreover, automated grading will yield almost instant
results, allowing teachers to provide immediate feedback to their
students. It would take weeks or months to receive grades on a
statewide pencil-and-paper test.

To dispel skepticism over computer scoring, student essays were
simultaneously graded by a computer and trained readers during a
two-year pilot program. Using artificial intelligence to mimic the
grading process of human readers, the computer's automated scoring
engine, known as e-rater, generated grades on a six-point scale that
were virtually identical to those of the readers.

Still, skepticism abounds. Although English teachers at Warren Central
applaud the computer's ability to evaluate spelling, punctuation,
grammar and organization, Richard Reed, the department chairman, made
it clear that "we are not 100 percent sold on the computer's ability
to grade content."

Students, too, worry about the computer's accuracy. "We're always told
that even the computer makes mistakes," said Mollie Mott, a high
school senior. "I just think it helps if a person can actually look
at" the essay.

How soon other states will emulate Indiana will depend, in part, on
how well the machine's performance compares to that of human graders.
So far, pilot tests in Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and South
Dakota have failed to persuade those states to abandon human grading.

The New York Times
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