Algorithmic Essay-Grading: Teacher’s Savior Or Bane Of Learning?

A contest is underway at data-crunching competition site Kaggle that challenges people to create “an automated scoring algorithm for student-written essays.” This is just the latest chapter in a generations-long conflict over the nature of teaching, and to that end it’s also just one of many inevitable steps along the line. Automated grading is already prevalent in simpler tasks like multiple-choice and math testing, but computers have yet to seriously put a dent in the most time-consuming of grading tasks: essays. Millions of students write dozens of essays every year, and teachers will often take home hundreds to read at a time. In addition to loading the teachers with frequently undocumented work hours, it’s simply difficult to grade consistently and fairly. Are robo-readers the answer? Mark Shermis at the University of Akron thinks it’s at least worth a shot.